This Week in History


The First Transcontinental Airmail Flight!

For the week of Monday February 27, 2006

On March 1, 1939, C.D. Howe officially opened the first Trans Canada Airlines transcontinental airmail service flight from Victoria to Montréal. This flight took almost 16 hours to reach its destination, and made many stops to refuel. Today, it takes approximately 5 ½ hours to fly non-stop from Victoria to Montréal, one-third of the time it took in 1939. The first transcontinental passenger flight followed on April 1, 1939.

Honourable C.D. Howe, Minister of Transport, boarding the Lockheed 12 aircraft CF-CCT on the 'dawn to dusk" transcontinental flight from Montréal, P.Q. to Vancouver, B.C.
© Air Canada / Library and Archives Canada / C-084023
Clarence Decatur Howe was born in 1886 in Waltham, Massachusetts, and became a Canadian Citizen in 1913. He obtained a degree in Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and in his early career Howe was a Professor of Engineering at Halifax, Nova Scotia’s Dalhousie University, an engineer with the Canadian Board of Grain Commissioners and ran his own construction firm.

In 1935 he was elected to the local Liberal leadership of Port Arthur (Thunder Bay), Ontario, and ran in that year’s federal election. Easily elected, Howe was assigned Minister of Railways and Canals and Minister of Marine, which was later amalgamated into the Ministry of Transportation. Howe introduced and oversaw a large number of important policies and measures while in political office.

The Hon. C.D. Howe broadcasting on CBC Radio on the occasion of the completion of the first Canadian-built tank, the Cruiser Tank, at Angus Shops, Montreal Locomotive Works
© National Film Board of Canada / Library and Archives Canada / PA-174503
He was especially interested in establishing a national flight service that would provide flight for civil use and, in 1937, he introduced the Trans Canada Airlines Bill aimed at doing so. Beginning with airmail flights, and quickly spreading to passenger service, Trans Canada Airlines, a subsidiary company of the Canadian National Railways, commenced service in 1937. The first regular passenger service route was between Seattle and Vancouver, a return ticket costing $14.20.

Many international flights were introduced between 1949 and 1953. Two main Canadian airline carriers, as well as a number of charter companies, remained responsible for Canadian travel needs until the early 1990s when Canada and the United States reached an agreement allowing their respective countries' carriers access to cross-border markets. Later discount airlines emerged making air travel cheaper and more accessible to Canadians.

Once a luxury mode of transportation, used by only a few, flight is now recognized as a major form of travel and is used frequently by many. For his contributions to the civil air industry in Canada, as well as many other accomplishments, Clarence Decatur Howe was designated a National Historic Person in 1984 and a commemorative plaque was erected in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

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