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From the Archives — 100 Years Since First Trans-Canadian Mail Flight!

By Ian Brown, Editor

May 2020It's interesting that we have a 100-year celebration coming up that most of us have never heard about. In thumbing through an EAA Sport Aviation from 50 years ago, I came across this suggestion to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first trans-Canadian mail flight, which was made by Father John MacGillivray, uncle to our own Jack Neima, Canadian Council member. Why don't we figure out how to celebrate this very important anniversary, starting here? How about a trans-Canadian flight of EAA volunteers? They could pass a symbolic airmail baton. This is the article printed 50 years ago this month. Father John's musings might give you some ideas. — Ed.


Men posing with aircraft used in the first trans-Canada flight, 1920. CAVM 4638

A Proposal by Father John MacGillivray
(Reprinted courtesy of January-February 1970 Canadian Flight)

DURING THE PAST year the 50th anniversary of the first air mail flight in the Maritimes was commemorated. It was attended by much publicity in local papers, radio, and TV, and this all helps the cause of private flying. This particular flight was sponsored by Royal Trust in cooperation with local Boards of Trade in Truro and Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

Royal Trust has some experience in this field having previously sponsored the Alcock-Brown Commemoration, and 50th Anniversary air mail flights between Montreal and Toronto, and Calgary and Edmonton. This year is the 50th Anniversary of the first Trans-Canada air mail flight which departed Shearwater on October 7th, 1920 and arrived at Vancouver ten days later after using up 49 flying hours on several types of aircraft. Royal Trust is interested in sponsoring a re-enactment of this trip next year and there is also much interest on the part of Armed Forces since the original flight was carried out by pilots of what was later to be called the RCAF.

The original flight was made in several stages (Dartmouth-Ottawa, Ottawa-Winnipeg, Winnipeg-Calgary, Calgary-Vancouver), so it would seem logical that the anniversary flight should be set up on this basis as a series of individual legs. Judging by past experience, it would seem that Royal Trust would be interested in arranging for one vintage plane to carry the mail between the different stage points. As there are EAA Chapters at these areas, this would be an excellent opportunity for this organization to participate in the flight and possibly arrange fly-ins or other activities along the way. It would also seem that flying organizations such as COPA, RCFCA, CARS, etc., would be interested in supporting such a venture.

Those interested could fly on one or several of the legs of the flight. Because the original flight took place rather late in the season and was much delayed by snow and bad weather, the anniversary flight might be staged earlier, possibly beginning on the July 1st holiday or on July 17, the date of one of the preliminary test flights from Halifax. Another significant date was August 12, 1920, when the first concrete steps were taken to put the idea into operation.

Although the suggested event is several months away, it is not too early to start thinking it over and making plans. We in the Maritimes would be interested primarily in the Dartmouth-Ottawa section of the flights which would be via Saint John, Fredericton, Riviere du Loup and Quebec City. Any ideas, suggestion or observations regarding the Anniversary Flight may be sent to Tommy Lee, 630 Dorchester Blvd., West., Montreal 101, P.Q. Those interested will be kept informed as the plan develops.

One thought is that the Anniversary Flight could be arranged to tie in with various events of interest along the way, such as the Governor General’s Cup Rally at Weyburn, the Calgary Stampede, and Centennial Celebration in Winnipeg. Perhaps our "Maritime Operation 360 Degrees" could be run along this route to Ottawa instead of in a circle. One event with which conflict should be avoided is the EAA Fly-In which for 1970 runs August 1-7 at Oshkosh.

The longest leg would be from Ottawa to Winnipeg (via Sault Ste. Marie and Kenora) and this might have to be divided up at The Soo. The most difficult leg would be the last one over the Rockies, but this could be flown by those familiar with the mountains. The usual lightplane route is via Cowley, Kimberley, and Cranbrook, although the original flight in a DH-9 was to the north via Revelstoke and Merrit.

We would like to hear from those who have flown these routes by light aircraft with suggestions. For the Truro-Charlottetown and return, Royal Trust came up with some 1919 red two-cent postage stamps for the letters carried. To encourage participation, it might be possible to offer one of the special letters to be carried to each pilot or decide which plane would actually carry the mail just before the start of each leg. Or maybe each participant could be offered a 1920 silver dollar for each leg he flew.

Oh yes, if recent experience is any indication, arrangements would have to be flexible to allow for delays caused by bad weather.

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