The First Airmail Flight in Western Canada

Katherine Stinson

The first airmail flight in Canada took place on 24 June 1918. Fifteen days later, on 9 July, the second airmail flight, and the first in Western Canada, occurred between Calgary and Edmonton. The flight was notable for another reason. The pilot was Katherine Stinson (1891-1977) an American aviator.

Stinson was a pioneer in aviation. She was the fourth woman to obtain a pilot’s licence in the United States of America and also one of the first authorised to carry air mail for the United States Postal Service. Obtaining her pilot’s licence in 1912, she and her sister started an aviation instruction school in Texas and during World War 1 she took part in many flying exhibitions raising funds for the American Red Cross. She was invited up to Calgary to participate in an exhibition and was planning to fly on to Edmonton.

Stinson delivering the mail.

Members of the Calgary Exhibition Board came up with the idea of carrying some mail on this flight. Receiving permission from the Postmaster General in Ottawa, the Calgary Postmaster was instructed to provide her with a small amount of mail. Advance notice to the public of the planned flight was provided and a special three line boxed rubber stamp cachet was made.

The flight was not without incident. Leaving at 1:30pm Miss Stinson developed engine trouble soon after taking off forcing her to land a few miles outside of Calgary. Repairs were made and at 5:55pm she took off again. Following the railway line she arrived in Edmonton at 8pm. Some 259 covers were carried on the flight (there is some dispute as to the actual number). Unfortunately many of the covers have been lost to posterity.

On 9 July 2006 the flight was re-enacted. The impetus arose from a project being undertaken by the Alberta Aviation Museum who were producing a replica of Stinson’s plane. Special covers, with a cachet similar to that for the 1918 flight, were produced. The mailbag used on the flight was the original one used on the first flight carrying airmail between Canada and the United States of America.

By Neil Donen, July 2016

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