Canadian bush pilot & aviation pioneer Max Ward dies at age 98

Max Ward, founder of the Canadian airline, Wardair, has died at the age of 98.

An Edmonton, Alta., native, Ward earned his wings with the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War, and served as a flight instructor at various Canadian bases during the same period. He went on to work as a bush pilot in Canada before founding Yellowknife, N.W.T.-based Wardair in 1952.

Max Ward founded Wardair, which officially began operations in 1953 with one, single-engine de Havilland DHC-3 Otter. NWT Archives Photo
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Wardair officially began operations in 1953 with one, single-engine de Havilland DHC-3 Otter that operated on wheels, skis and floats.

“The Otter revolutionized bush air transport, opening up the Arctic to Wardair, which carried mining prospectors, mine machinery, medical teams . . . and all people and things needing transportation in Northern Canada,” reads a statement in the Alberta Order of Excellence.

Wardair changed from a small bush operator to a charter airline after receiving its first Douglas DC-6B in 1962.

Years later, the airline took delivery of its first jet – a Boeing 727 – which was joined by several DHC-6 Twin Otters and a few Dash 7 aircraft for northern operations. According to the Alberta Order of Excellence, Wardair was the first to operate the Twin Otter and Dash 7 in Canada.

Pictured is Max Ward with a model of his first plane, the de Havilland Fox Moth, which he bought in 1946. The Canadian Press/Jason Franson Photo

Soon after, the airline added Boeing 707s to its fleet. The 707s enabled Wardair to begin nonstop, trans-Atlantic flights from Canada to the U.K. in 1970, as well as flights from Canada to Hawaii.

The airline then went on to acquire four 747s and two DC-10s. An expansion into scheduled services in Canada, the U.K., France and Puerto Rico in the mid-1980s led Wardair to order a fleet of Airbus A310s.

The airline became the third largest in Canada by the late 1980s, but steep competition prompted Ward to sell Wardair in 1989 to Canadian Airlines.

“Mr. Ward’s pioneering of air transportation in the Northwest Territories has been of immeasurable value to Alberta and has maintained for this province its standing as the supply base for the western Arctic and the Yukon Territory,” reads the Alberta Order of Excellence.

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Ward’s family said he was “a true Alberta maverick.”

He was flying in Canada’s North before planes had radios, and before GPS and adequate maps were available, according to a report from CBC.

Ward at his office in Yellowknife, N.W.T, in 1979. NWT Archives/Henry Busse Photo

Former Wardair employee Wayne David Atherholt said in a tweet on Nov. 3, “Wardair Canada was the best airline and I am so honoured to have worked for Max and Wardair. The best service. The best aircraft. Fly high Max. Fly high. So many former employees love you.”

Ward was inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame in 1974, and was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1975.

Ward was just 20 days shy of his 99th birthday.

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