Courtesy Airmail of Canada

For those who are not already aware, here’s something else I collect, courtesy airmail of Canada. Finding commercially used examples (philatelic CTO examples also exist) can, to varying degrees, be difficult but I have managed to compile an interesting group over the years. Here are four examples from my collection: Queen Charlotte Airlines, “Ginger” Coote Airways, Pacific Western Airlines and, not wanting to leave out Eastern Canada, Dominion Skyways of Quebec.

These covers were all carried by favour or “courtesy” by the airline from one location to another as de facto airmail even though applicable airmail postage rates were not applied because the mail was carried at the airline’s discretion, rather than as a Canadian post office service. These letters typically originated from a remote or isolated location and were carried to a major city where they were then placed into the postal system and postmarked (though not always) at that location rather than at the point of origin. The covers from Zeballos and Campbell River below are two such examples of mail that only entered the postal system after they were flown to Vancouver.

To my understanding, these airlines had no official sanction from the post office to carry mail but seem to have done so to endear themselves to those who would benefit from expedient air service with the idea that they would then also use their paid services such as cargo and personal air transport. They also obviously were wanting to promote themselves and the handstamps they applied to the mail that they carried served as advertising.

The courtesy airmail covers I have begin with General Airways in 1933 and continue up to 1955 with Pacific Western Airlines, though I have a few later into the 1960s with Lamb Airways and Rusty Myers Air Service and even two from the 1970s carried by Canadian Pacific Airlines. Later uses typically, though not always, tend to be philatelic in nature. This area of collecting follows nicely from my semi-official airmail collection as it continues the story of private airmail service in Canada. I have prepared a revised listing of known courtesy airmail for the new addition of the Canadian Airmail Catalogue which, I believe, is due to be published later this year or maybe into early 2021.

by Tom Watkins

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