Since 1918, Canadians have been sending airmail from one community to another — sharing greetings with family and friends. From 1918 to 1927, the majority of airmail delivered was aboard unofficial flights — either stunts, exhibitions or private companies — delivering mail to their own operations.
During the 1920s, the Post Office allowed private companies to charge for the letters they carried, and to issue their own “semi-official” stamps. However, the Post Office did not assume responsibility for the airmail or help with the cost of service.
The holiday season was an especially busy time of year, and winter flying was a cold and unpredictable experience in the aircraft of the day. For a fee, pilots would deliver mail between communities; some flew in open cockpit aircraft to remote northern locations, others dropped bags of mail from their monoplanes over small-town post offices. Below is a “flypast” of the early days of the Canadian airmail deliveries.
The Post Office first budgeted money for air mail services in 1927.
Air Mail Special: Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson
As you enjoy these photographs from the Ingenium Archives, try listening to Air Mail Special, played by Canadian jazz pianist, Oscar Peterson, as he accompanies the great Ella Fitzgerald
Caption: June 24, 1918: First Canadian airmail flight, from Montreal to Toronto being flown in a Curtiss JN-4 Canuck by Royal Air Force Captain Brian Peck and Corporal E.W. Mathers.
Description: A black-and-white image depicts a front view of a biplane flying over flat land.
Credit: Ingenium | Ken Molson Fonds (KM-04584)
Caption: In 1927, Air Mail began with a Fairchild FC-2W, which belonged to Canadian Transcontinental Airways, along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River.
Description: A black-and-white image depicts a winter scene of men posing with aircraft and mail bags, with a horse on one side and a child with dog on the other.
Credit: Ingenium | Ken Molson Fonds (KM-07008)
Caption: The official opening of Prairie Air Mail in 1930, in a Fokker F.14 which belonged to Western Canada Airways.
Description: A black-and-white image shows a dozen men standing around a truck and an airplane.
Credit: Ingenium | Ken Molson Fonds (KM-08377)
Caption: The first Air Mail delivery to Fort Resolution, NWT in January 1929, in a Fokker Super Universal operated by Western Canada Airways.
Description: A black-and-white image shows an aircraft being unloaded. There are several people unloading, with a dog sled waiting.
Credit: Ingenium | Ken Molson Fonds (KM-05594)
Caption: Loading mail on to a Bellanca Pacemaker CH-300, which was operated by Canadian Airways.
Description: A black-and-white image depicts a winter scene of aircraft being loaded up by men, with several tall mail bags are lined up ready to go.
Credit: Ingenium | Ken Molson Fonds (KM-05446)
Caption: Trans-Canada Air Lines mail service in Dorval, QC in 1942, using a Canadair North Star.
Description: A black-and-white image shows a large aircraft with its door open, along with a truck with a man.
Credit: Ingenium | CN Images of Canada Collection (X-28419)
Did you know?
- The first Canadian airmail delivery took place in a Curtiss JN-4 Canuck in 1918. It was a planned recruitment publicity event in which RAF pilot, Capt. Brian Peck and Cpl. E.W. Mathers flew 121 letters from Montreal to Toronto.
- The JN-4 was the first mass produced aircraft in Canada a total 1,210 of them were built in Toronto for the First World war.
- On July 9, 1918, Katherine Stinson was the first female pilot to transport mail in Canada. She was chosen for the first postal flight in western Canada, which was part of an airshow. Read more about this historical flight.
Learn more about this and other aircraft used in airmail deliveries from the museum’s collection.