Air Canada: The History
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Begun as a social experiment in 1937, Air Canada has evolved into one of the world’s greatest airlines.
Air Canada: The History explores a modern miracle that has made commercial air travel in our country an everyday occurrence. The airline was born in 1937 as "Trans Canada Airlines," a ward of the Canadian National Railway. Renamed "Air Canada" in 1964 to reflect its status as a jet-age airline, it survived devastating air crashes, financial deficits, self-serving politicians, strikes, privatization, and the Airbus scandal.
It was reviled in the nineties by the likes of Peter Newman, who joked, "If God had meant Man to fly, he wouldn’t have invented Air Canada." Today it is a much loved national icon. Fortunate at times to be run by great CEOs like Gordon McGregor and Claude Taylor, Air Canada has fought off a hostile takeover, merged with its arch-rival Canadian Airlines, and touched countless lives during its 75-year history.
This is its story.
Picketing began at all Air Canada bases, with rallies at the larger ones. Well prepared for a strike, Air Canada had trained supervisory and non-union staff to replace the counter agents and flight attendants, keeping service going in a pinch. Passengers would be checked in with the use of simple manual procedures, and seat selection would only be offered on transatlantic flights. With J. R. Bouchard, the airline’s director of labour relations, mailing a letter to each agent, the company invited ticket agents to drop the strike.
S. Patterson pointed out that as a matter of routine in the North, his pilots landed on gravel strips that were too short with little or no approach facilities and yet there had not been a single accident — unlike the performance of Air Canada pilots at Sainte-Thérèse, Ottawa, or Toronto. At the CTC hearings, Taylor promised to run Nordair as an independent subsidiary of Air Canada, allowing the airline its own board of directors and management. There would be no conflict of interest, he said, since only 7 percent of Nordair’s operations competed with Air Canada’s.
Air Canada chairman René Amyot who made no secret that he favoured that site and delivered copies of this to Pepin and Trudeau in late October. But Amyot was unaware that the month before, A. E. Lepage (this time of Toronto), completed a second report that chose Place Beaver Hall as more suitable. It was two blocks from Place Ville Marie and closer to Central and Windsor stations for commuting airline staff than First Quebec Corp. Also, since it was being constructed by the Trizec Corporation of Calgary (which also owned Place Ville Marie), there would be no penalty if the airline moved before the lease ended.
Although the only Francophone airline in North America, because it had been bought in 1969 by Howard Webster, a prominent member of the Montreal Anglo oligarchy, Quebecair was kept at an arm’s length by the provincial government in Quebec City. It was only when taken over a decade later by the Francophone Alfred Hamel that North America’s only French-speaking airline was elevated to the status of a cultural symbol, and its demise would be embarrassing to the Trudeau government. Now financially assisted by the Parti Québécois government, Quebecair attracted great public support in its province.
But the tough former fighter pilot loved the airline dearly and spoke his mind to protect it. It was typical of McGregor that during a labour dispute he asked if he could talk to the rank-and-file personally, to appeal to their “better natures. ” Never one to hide his opinions of aircraft acquisition, McGregor blamed Ottawa for dumping the noisy Canadair North Stars on TCA, which was competing on the Atlantic run against airlines that operated quieter, more reliable DC-4s. He adamantly refused to purchase the Toronto-built Avro C-102 jetliner in 1950 and the Canadair CL-44 airliner in 1966, despite pressure from the government to do so and keep both companies in business.