Wings Magazine

Canadian aviation pioneer Max Ward has died

November 4, 2020  By Wings Staff

Maxwell William Ward died on November 2 in Edmonton, Alberta, at age 98. Ward began his aviation career in 1940 when he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, where he would eventually receive his wings and in 1941 begin training pilots during World War II at various bases across the country.

With his stationing at an RCAF base in Regina, Ward married Marjorie Skelton in 1944 and the two remained married for 76 years until Ward’s passing, having four children, 11 grandchildren, and 13 great grandchildren. After leaving the RCAF in 1946, Ward went on to fly bush planes in Canada’s north, demonstrating his life-long love of flying, adventure, enterprise and the Arctic, and contributing to mapping the Canadian north.

Ward received his Commercial Pilot’s Licence in 1945 and began his flying career when he was hired by Jack Moar as a bush pilot for Northern Flights Limited, operating from Peace River, Alberta, to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. In 1946, he organized his own air operation, Polaris Charter Company Limited, based in Yellowknife, with a de Havilland Fox Moth, flying prospectors and supplies into the mining exploration camps. In the book Picking Up The Pieces, Denny McCartney explains Ward then formed Wardair in May 1953 with this Class 4B Charter license and a brand new de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter single-engine prop aircraft.

Wardair grew the company into one of Canada’s largest scheduled carriers over the next 25 years with a network of international and domestic routes. It became the third major Canadian carrier to operate pure jet aircraft in 1966, with the purchase of a Boeing 727. With the addition of Boeing 707 and 747s through the 1970s and 1980s, Wardair would become Canada’s largest international air charter carrier before being sold in 1989 to PWA International, which through other mergers and acquisitions formed Canadian Airlines.


Ward received many recognitions in his career including the Order of Canada in 1975, the Alberta order of Excellence in 1989, the Order of Polaris, as well as seven honourary degrees from Canadian Universities. Ward was inducted into the Business Hall of Fame, and was one of the original inductees into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame in 1974.

An Induction Citation from Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame, explains “His lengthy and continuing efforts to responsibly service this nation’s northern frontier by air, despite adversity, together with his development of a viable international charter service, have been of outstanding benefit to Canadian aviation.”

In a statement about his passing, the Ward family explains, that during his retirement, Max’s love of the Arctic shone as he and his family and friends enjoyed summers at Redrock Lake in N.W.T., where he shared his passion for photography, travel, and building fine furniture.


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