First India, Now Canada!

Canada's first delivery of airmail, in 1918, l...
Canada’s first delivery of airmail, in 1918, landing in Leaside (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the anniversary of Canada‘s first official airmail flight in 1918. Most first class mail now goes by air, except on routes where another method of transportation is more convenient.  The first airmail anywhere in the world was flown in India in 1911 — five miles!

The inauguration of airmail in Canada was haphazard.  Captain Brian Peck was a Royal Air Force officer at a training base at Leaside, Toronto.  The Royal Canadian Air Force had not yet been formed.  Peck wanted to spend a weekend in Montreal and received permission from his commanding officer to fly there on the understanding that he would do some stunt flying to attract recruits.

Peck arrived in Montreal safely, but rained all weekend and he wasn’t able to put on his flying exhibition. However, the Montreal branch of the Aerial League of the British Empire persuaded postal authorities to sanction the delivery of a sack of mail to Toronto.  It was loaded and board Peck’s JNIV Curtiss aircraft on June 23.  Unfortunately, the flight was delayed because of the heavy rain.

Curtiss JN-4, Reuben Fleet, first air mail
Curtiss JN-4, Reuben Fleet, first air mail (Photo credit: San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

Peck finally got away from the airfield, Bois Franc Polo Grounds, at 10:30 on the morning of June 24.  In those days, Montreal was “wet” from more than the weather.  The rest of Canada had prohibition as a wartime measure, but not Quebec.  There was going to be a wedding at the air base in Toronto, so Peck was carrying a cargo of supplies, as well as the sack of mail.  He also had a passenger, Corporal C. W. Mathers.

The plane was so heavily laden that it could hardly take off.  Peck had to fly it under telephone and electric wires, and bank clear of a bridge, before he gained altitude!  He landed at Kingston for fuel, which was just ordinary automobile gasoline.  He then flew on to Toronto where he arrived at 4:55 p.m.

The mail was received by Postmaster W. E. Lemon.  Thirty years later, cancelled envelopes from the flight were worth $200 to $250 if they bore Peck’s signature.  The envelopes are dated June 23 and not June 24, when the flight actually took place, because the flight on June 23 was cancelled after the letters had been sent to the airfield.

Surely this is worth learning more about it. I’ve come up with a few places to begin your journey. Let’s start at Toronto History.org, and for an interesting read, you must visit Mysteries of Canada.com. Then there’s Leaside Life News for a recent article by Alan Redway. Lastly, I recommend going to Aeroplilately.ca to read “A brief history of Canadian Air Mail Flights.”

 

22 comments

  1. I miss a “real” handwritten, 6 pages long. Nobody does it anymore. However, that’s is history in the making. I see that Ajay was at your doorsteps. He came to mine, so don’t even think about it, my friend. 😛

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    • Heehee He does get around, doesn’t he? I was thinking about it …

      Yes, I miss letters, too. I get one a year from my Uncle at Christmas. That’s it. I used to write letters all the time. Now, it’s like “I’ll just e-mail.” Sad! I wonder if the “kids” are missing out on something by not writing or receiving postal mail?

      🙂

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      • Yes, the are missing out. How to write legibly and right usage of English, grammar, punctuation and composition. Not to mention, imagination and creativity.

        I’ll write you a letter. Send me your address via e-mail.

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  2. It’s also Discovery Day in my province. Sitting here at Starbucks, just finished a post on it. Think the staff here’s ready to throw me out now :>)
    On the idea of air mail, I have fond memories of getting ‘areograms’ from my Grandparents in Ireland when I was very young. These were formed from sheets of very light paper. You wrote on the paper itself and then folded it along the lines indicated to form the thing into an envelope. Lower postal rates and air mail meant a short trip and lots of room to write if you wrote small. Yesterday’s skype!

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