The spectacular development of aviation during World War I made possible the blossoming of airmail service in the postwar period. The resulting acceleration of postal communications contributed to forging the identities of nations, lending more cohesion to their air space, and bringing the peoples of the world closer together.
Airmail links were established between Philadelphia and New York in 1918, between London and Paris in 1919, and between Toulouse, France, and Rabat, Morocco, in 1919. Postal correspondence between Western Europe and South America by way of Africa was introduced in the 1920s. The non-stop crossing of the South Atlantic in 1930 by a pilot of the French airline Aéropostale, carrying 120 kg of mail from Senegal to Brazil, was typical of the excitement that prevailed during this heroic era of airmail. From 1919 to 1939, postal routes were laid out in the Earths skies.
In Canada too, the first attempts at transporting the mail by air began in 1918, but they were very timid. Here as elsewhere, however, the airplane had made its mark in transportation history with the closing of World War I. All the same, there was resistance in the Post Office department to developing an airmail policy, despite the success of a private airmail service set up in 1926.
The department did not begin to seriously consider establishing an airmail service until 1927. The dispatch of mail by hydroplane from the port of Montréal to the transatlantic liners anchored in Rimouski and the award of airmail delivery contracts (Pointe-au-Père) on the Lower North Shore and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence region were among the experimental flights undertaken at the time, testifying to this new will on the part of the government. A latecomer compared with other industrialized countries, Canada officially entered the age of air transportation in 1928 when the Post Office adopted a national policy on the subject.
In May 1928, the economic, political and urban core of Canada (Toronto, Montréal and Ottawa) was provided with airmail service. However, the pull of the American postal network resulted in the faster development of North-South postal arteries (Montréal-Albany, Toronto-Buffalo, Vancouver-Seattle, Lethbridge-Great Falls, Winnipeg-Fargo) to the detriment of the great East-West postal route that was christened the "Trans-Canada Airway."
In reality, the structure of the Canadian airborne postal network was erected in sporadic, segmented fashion, by regional pockets. Curbed by the Depression of the 1930s, the link to the Maritimes was not completed until 1939. Neither did the West Coast have a link to the rest of Canada until 1939. In the Prairie provinces, airmail was introduced in 1930. Canadian pilots first experimented with the night postal flights in the West; however, the service was cancelled. Until the return of airmail in the late 1930s, the only link to the outside from the Prairies was by railway mail service.
Finally, of all the parts of the country, it was the North where an air link was the most vital to the population, for it provided them with supplies, dogs, mining equipment, dynamite, alcohol, newspapers, letters, mail-order catalogues, etc. One can imagine the warmth with which the bush pilot was greeted in these isolated places. The success of the postal delivery was very often in the nature of a veritable exploit. The imperfect state of geographic knowledge of the Canadian bush, the obligation to land in winter on surfaces of ice that were not always reliable, and the ever-changing whims of weather were some of the many factors that increased the risks of damage and potential danger to the pilots lives.
By 1939, the Canadian government had invested sufficiently in the airmail service for it to become a national reality, as attested by the advent of the long trans-Canadian postal corridor between Halifax and Vancouver.
Gendreau, Bianca and John Willis. "Les fous volants and the Wings of Mail: The International Heritage of LAéropostale and a Brief History of Airmail in Canada, 1920-1940." Canadian Postal Museum research paper, April 1996.
Gendreau, Bianca. "Moving the Mail." In Special Delivery: Canadas Postal Heritage, by Chantal Amyot, Bianca Gendreau and John Willis; edited by Francine Brousseau. Fredericton, N.B.: Goose Lane Editions, Canadian Postal Museum/Canadian Museum of Civilization , 2000, pp 125-139.
Willis, John. "Winged Messenger: Airmail in the Heroic Era, 1918-1939." Canadian Postal Museum research paper.