The carriage of mail by air to and from most of the settled areas in northern Canada has become such a reliable and frequent part of our country’s way of life, that it is now taken for granted. All first class mail in Canada today, which weighs under eight ounces, is carried by air, wherever scheduled air lines operate.
Back in the early thirties, however, the pioneer flying companies didn’t have too happy a time flying mail into the areas they served. Most of them originally took on the job of their own free will, because it meant some added revenue; and in those lean days, when every cent counted, the additional money earned often meant getting out of the red side of the ledger.
Over all of the pioneer routes, flying companies were obliged to issue their own stamp-like stickers, which were sold and placed on the back of all covers. The cost varied according to the letter or parcel weight, and the distances flown. Permission to make use of such stickers, and to carry the mail by air, had first to be obtained from the postal authorities at Ottawa. Perhaps they added their good wishes too, but if so, that was all the aid they gave in the early days. Throughout almost all of the twenties, they awarded no contracts, nor gave financial aid, probably waiting to learn whether it was to become a worthwhile project or not before going further into the matter.
A large number of the very earliest air mail flights were just a single trip or two between two points, made by pilots of fling firms who wished to create a bit of publicity or establish a precedent. There were many such ventures throughout Canada and Newfoundland from 1918 to 1930. The make a lengthy and interesting story. Here however I am dealing strictly with air mail progress in the North country, so many of the early flights in the south must be omitted.
Today, the city of Edmonton is rarely defined as being in the north because the expansion and growth of industry has robbed it of that distinction. But back in 1918 it was different, and it seems only right that the flight of a daring young American airwoman from Calgary to Edmonton in 1918 should be classed as the first air mail flight north. The pilot was Miss Katherine Stinson, who thrilled the people of Canada’s three prairie provinces at many points during flying exhibitions given in 1916 and again in 1918.