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Transportation History

National Treasure

The History of Trans Canada Airlines

by (author) Peter Pigott

Harbour Publishing Co. Ltd.
Initial publish date
Nov 2001
History, General, Commercial
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Nov 2001
    List Price

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Before the birth of Trans Canada Airlines (TCA) in 1937, Canada was one of the very few countries of the world that had no organized air service connecting its principal cities. In 1936, many of the one million people who travelled on scheduled flights in the United States were Canadian citizens who needed to travel south of the border to reach destinations in Canada. C.D. Howe, Minister of Transport in Prime Minister Mackenzie King's cabinet, was the chief architect of the government-owned TCA. From the beginning, the company was ennobled as more than a means of commercial transport: it was hoped that the TCA, like the Canadian Pacific Railway before it, would "overcome vast geographical barriers, thwart the Americans, reassure the British and unite the country." Other air companies provided transportation; this one was to be a symbol of national identity - a maple leaf with wings.

National Treasure details the ins and outs, the backroom politics and the ground-breaking decisions that led to the creation of Trans Canada Airlines, through its early years, to its metamorphosis into Air Canada in the 1950s. The book is an entertaining, well-written account that covers everything from the "teething" problems of the airline in its infancy (such as how to choose the right passenger plane for trans-Canada travel), to the company's role during World War II, to TCA's rapid post-war expansion and the notorious infighting between TCA and its rival, Canadian Pacific Airlines.

Here are the planes: the Lockheed "14," which suffered from embarrassing engine failures, the Electra, which featured radio antennas that were prone to lightning strikes, and the Lancaster, which held the Trans-Atlantic non-stop speed record from Montreal to the United Kingdom (11 hours and 14 minutes); the employees: Zebulon Lewis Leigh ("Lewie"), a "barnstormer" who became TCA's first pilot, and Lucille Garner and Pat Eccleston, registered nurses who became TCA's first female employees and Canada's first stewardesses; and the flights: first the Vancouver-Seattle route, then onward across Canada, then over the Atlantic Ocean to international ports of call.

Packed with photos, and enlivened by interviews with past pilots, flight attendants and other employees, quotes from TCA staff newsletters, excerpts from the company's annual reports and letters from passengers all over Canada, National Treasure is an absorbing and well-researched look at commercial aviation in Canada.

About the author

As the son of an airline employee, Peter Pigott grew up at the edge of airports around the world, including Santa Cruz, Bombay, London and Montreal. He attended the University of Montreal Teacher's College (B.Ed.) and Loyola College in Montreal (B.A.). and then went on to receive a M.A. from the University of Vermont in Burlington USA and a diploma in history at Oxford University in England.

Pigott joined the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs in 1978 and has served at embassies in New York, Hong Kong, Vienna and The Hague. He returned to Ottawa in 1993 and began his writing career, specializing in books about aviation.

Also by Peter Pigott: The Official History of Aviation in Hong Kong, Flying Canucks! Famous Canadian Aviators, Hong Kong Rising: The History of a Remarkable Place, Gateways: Airports of Canada, Flying Colours: Commercial Aviation in Canada, Flying Canucks II: Famous Canadian Aviators

Peter Pigott's profile page

Other titles by Peter Pigott