Friday, September 25, 2015

Max Ward and Wardair

Image: vintage Wardair post card from Offer
Max Ward was an RCAF flyer who became a bush pilot after the war. In 1953, he bought a de Havilland Otter. Based in Yellowknife, he established Wardair as a cargo carrier and began to transport heavy equipment. After moving to Edmonton, Wardair began offering charter flights to Europe, and was the first to offer package holiday flights to Hawaii.

Ward's business philosophy meant giving his passengers top-notch service at the lowest possible prices. He was directly involved in every aspect of his airline and maintained a close connection with his employees. His individual personality was very much part of his brand; for instance, he named his jets after other bush pilots.

I well recall my first flight on Wardair, which happened also to be my first flight to Europe. In those halcyon days, passengers were treated like royalty, rather than crime suspects. Complimentary wine and delicious meals were served Royal Doulton porcelain dishes with stylish cutlery.

After landing in Prestwick, I took the bus to Glasgow, gazing at the rooflines and chimneys, so different from those at home. Once in the city, I had several hours to wait for the night train to Euston. I climbed the stone steps to the art gallery, astonished to notice to see how they, as well as the stone stairs leading to all the buildings around me, were dented by centuries of passing feet.

I'd heard of jet lag, but never experienced it. Overcome by a sudden desire to sleep, I dozed off while sitting on the grass in the sunny public park and woke mortified. Fortunately, the excitement of having flown safely over the polar route in just over 8 hours and arrived on an unfamiliar continent soon overcame the embarrassment of my public nap and wrinkled clothing.

Max Ward was an innovative businessman who participated in the growth and development of the airline industry. In an effort to provide consumer choice and reasonable prices, he was a longtime proponent of deregulating airlines. This finally happened in 1988.

Native Edmontonian Max Ward is now in his nineties. For his contributions to Canadian aviation, He has been awarded the Alberta Order of Excellence, the Order of Icarus, the Order of Canada and many other awards. An NFB film was made about him and can now be seen on You Tube.

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