In 1986 Dennis Toews was a frustrated and confused ten –year- old boy. His family had just arrived in Canada, and Dennis was trying to learn to speak English in a special class at Southwood School in Steinbach, Manitoba. If you had told him then, that someday he would be living in Hong Kong, and working as a pilot for one of the top-ranked international airlines in the world, he would never have believed you. When I was living in Hong Kong I interviewed Dennis and he told me his dreams do come true story.
Dennis, who is the son of Cornie and Maria Toews, immigrated to Steinbach from Paraguay with his family in April of 1986. He attended Southwood and then Elmdale School, the Steinbach Junior High, and eventually the Steinbach Regional High School. During grade eleven and twelve he worked part-time at a car dealership Penner Chev pumping gas and washing cars. He took a full-time job there when he graduated from high school.
Waldo Neustaeder, his boss, had an incentive and education program to bring in new business. He sent his workers to customer relations seminars in Winnipeg and every six months he rewarded the employee who had referred the most new customers to Penner Chev, with a thousand dollar travel voucher. Dennis won the reward three times and decided to use his travel money to go on a trip to Hong Kong with his friend Ed Wiebe.
Ed’s brother Wilf was a pilot for Cathay Pacific Airlines and Ed and Dennis flew to Hong Kong on a plane Wilf Wiebe was piloting. Wilf asked Dennis if he’d like to sit in the jump seat in the cockpit during the Vancouver to Hong Kong leg of the journey. Wilf also arranged for Dennis and Ed to spend time in the flight simulator Cathay Pacific housed in its Hong Kong headquarters. Dennis was hooked! For the next two nights, he woke up sure that his bed had sprouted wings and he was flying. He decided then and there that he was going to be a pilot and fly for Cathay someday.
It was January of 2000 when Dennis arrived back home in Steinbach from his trip to Hong Kong. Before saying anything to his parents about his new career plans he went to Harv’s Air Service to find out about getting his pilot’s license. Owner Harv Penner told Dennis he could take his first ground school class for free. Five minutes into the first class Dennis knew he’d been born to fly. He went home and told his parents he was going to be a pilot. During the next five months, while still working at Penner Chev, he got his pilot’s license and upgraded some of his high school courses so he would qualify for admittance to Mount Royal College in Calgary where he earned a Diploma in Aviation.
After both his first and second years of college, he gained valuable experience flying fishermen up to the Grass River Lodge near Flin Flon owned by Ike and Liz Enns from Steinbach. A tip from a college classmate landed him a job at an aviation company called North Write in the fall of 2002. He worked for them for four years. He flew Cessna 172s and Twin Otters often landing on water or ice with pontoons and skis. He delivered personell and supplies for oil and diamond exploration, brought cargo to northern communities and flew hunters and fishermen to vacation spots.
While working for North Write he was able to log the 1500 hours of flying time he needed to have a chance at a job with Cathay Pacific. He also had to study for two difficult written exams. He went to Calgary to write the exams and then decided to fly to Hong Kong and personally hand in his resume at Cathay Pacific headquarters. In December of 2006, they gave him a job.
In 2009 when I interviewed Dennis in Hong Kong he was flying the Air Bus 340 and 320 to London, Paris, Johannesburg, Rome, New York. Bahrain, Sydney, Auckland and many other destinations. He loved the opportunity to see the world and travel to so many different places. From what I could find out from Linked In and Facebook Dennis continues to live in Hong Kong today, has been promoted to the rank of captain and still flies for Cathay.
Dennis said the question he gets asked most often when he tells people he is from Steinbach, Manitoba is whether he is related to Miriam Toews- since he and the well-known Canadian writer share a common last name and hometown. While he can’t claim Miriam Toews as kin, her father Melvin was his teacher at Elmdale School, so he does have one connection with the best selling author.
Dennis says he never would have believed during his childhood in Steinbach that someday he’d be a pilot for Cathay. He has a photo he’s kept to remind him of his dreams come true story. The day he came home from his first flying lesson at Harv’s Air Service he asked his sister to take a picture of him standing in his bedroom pointing to a model Cathay plane he had hanging from the ceiling. He told his family that someday he was going to fly planes for Cathay. And that is exactly what he does!