Winged Messenger: Airmail in the Heroic Era, 1918-1939

Bringing Home the Goods

Air transport and airmail breathed life into the isolated settlements that constituted the Canadian outback. With the mail might come a word of comfort, a message from the folks at home. "My missionaries are very isolated," wrote one Oblate Father in 1932 to the Postmaster General, "the mail brought great comfort to them especially at the approach of Christmas and New Year's." Father Saindon was concerned about the need for a continued postal link to his priests working the Moosonee-Great Whale and the Moosonee-Winisk coasts of James Bay. His request ended up in the airmail file of the Post Office Department, and Austin Airways was eventually awarded a contract for the region in 1944. The airplane was everything to the people of the Canadian North. It flew in dogs, dynamite, mining equipment and food; it brought in what was known as "giggle soup," laughing water, cough medicine, fire-water — in a word, booze; and it delivered the newspaper and that faithful fellow traveller of Canadian mail, the mail-order catalogue. In 1935, one Manitoba postal official was moved to complain:
The mail order houses have derived so much business in Winnipeg since the establishment of these airmail routes to the Northern Mining areas . . . that they have decided to circularize all customers and supply them with the latest catalogue, and one firm on Saturday last gave us over half a ton of catalogue mail alone for which they paid fifteen cents a pound and we are now facing the problem of transporting it all into the various sections without delay.
The bush pilot was always a welcome visitor, by virtue of the variety of items he brought with him. But news was obviously what the people expected and hoped for most. In the course of one long summer day's work in 1938, the pilot and mechanic on the Yellowknife-Gordon Lake run in the Northwest Territories had brought all manner of mail and groceries to 10 or more different camps, and were returning with requests for cigarettes, radio antennae, boots that fit and news. Despite their efforts, one man refused to pose for a photograph alongside members of the expedition because he had yet to receive a letter.

Airmail and the Postal Village | Canadian Airmail: A Late Bloomer | Experiments | Building the System Region by Region | Bringing Home the Goods | The Bush Pilot | Credits