Petition to name Edmonton International for Max Ward soars past 6,000 signatures


Petition launched after aviator’s death

Max Ward petition
Max Ward stands with Wardair’s first Otter in 1953 (NWT Archives/Ward, Max).

A petition to rename Edmonton International Airport in honour of the late aviator Max Ward is gaining momentum. It has garnered more than 6,000 signatures in a month, but perhaps most meaningful are the hundreds of comments honouring an aviation pioneer.

The Change.org petition was launched November 6 by Western Aviation News, just a few days shy of what would have been Ward’s 99th birthday. Ward died in early November.

The effort has drawn the attention and support of Ward’s family.

“He set the example, right?,” said Jordan Wilkie, Ward’s grandson, in an interview. He shared the petition on his social media feeds with the family’s endorsement. “I know how hard he worked and the example that he set. So when people sing his praises, it’s like yeah, I mean, you can’t sing it enough.”

Ward was born in Edmonton in 1921. After serving as a flight trainer in the Second World War, he went to Yellowknife to fly as a bush pilot in the Arctic. That’s where he founded Wardair with a Twin Otter in 1952.

“Max Ward’s contribution to air travel in Canada is unparalleled,” wrote Geraldine Maguire from Edmonton. “He was a man of integrity, creativity, and energy. He was a pioneer, flying bush planes in northern Canada!”

But it wasn’t until Ward moved his company to Edmonton that he began to hit the big time.

“It started in Yellowknife,” said Wilkie. “But Edmonton is where it blew up and Edmonton is where he started getting recognition all throughout the country, let alone internationally. So he kinda had to come to Edmonton to rise up to the stature that he did.”

First class

By the early 80s, Wardair had a fleet of four Boeing 747s and three DC-10s ferrying passengers to Europe. In 1984, he started flying domestic routes with a fleet of Airbus A310, with ambitions to add McDonnell-Douglas narrow-body aircraft to the fleet.

“He’s the pillar on the Ward side of my family, holding down this ideal of what your life can accomplish,” said Wilkie. “You can see it in his kids and now his grandkids and I’m sure some of that will pass on even to my child is this shoot for the stars and no excuses, it’s on you. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, the cards you’re dealt, it’s about treating people right, working your ass off, and making the sometimes harder decisions to accomplish these feats that most people look at and go ‘I’ll never get there’.”

A model of a Wardair Boeing 747 at the Alberta Aviation Museum in Edmonton (Facebook/Alberta Aviation Museum).

Wilkie described a grandfather who told it like it was and expected a lot. That more or less summed up the Wardair experience.

Anyone who flew Wardair still marvels at the superior service with meals served on Royal Doulton china. His work to transform Wardair from a charter carrier to scheduled airline would help lead to the eventual deregulation of Canada’s air industry. It also sewed the seeds of the airline’s demise.

“Mr. Ward was an aviation innovator,” wrote Kathy Tarnowetski from Calgary. “So many Albertans have wonderful memories of their Wardair experiences.”

“I had the privilege of working for Max for 12 years,” wrote Deb Durocher of Vancouver. “He set the gold standard for how to treat customers.”

He should have his name front and centre

“It wasn’t perfect,” said Wilkie of his grandfather’s personality, adding Ward was heavily influenced by his drive for excellence. “He missed some of the warmth and compassion, because he’s a very stern person. Some of those more human traits… you look at this man and you see a superhero. But he’s a human.”

The federal government has the power to change an airport’s name. Most major Canadian airports that bear a person’s name honour politicians. Think of Toronto-Pearson or Montreal-Trudeau, both named after former Liberal Prime Ministers.

The outlier among the country’s largest airports is Winnipeg. In 2006, the Conservative government named the airport after James A. Richardson, a Canadian aviation pioneer. Like Ward, Richardson founded a Western-based airline that would grow to have national ambitions.

A second petition to honour Max Ward, following official House of Commons procedures, is due to be released in the next little while. It also has the family’s blessing.

“Max Ward represented what excellence in management was all about,” wrote Ottawa’s Judith Grisold. “He wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. He spoke to his people as peers. Definitely he should have his name front and centre.”

“Max’s contributions to aviation in Edmonton and Alberta need to be recognized, and what better way than an inclusion in the international airport’s name,” wrote Steven Virga in signing the petition.

“When you think of Edmonton you think of Max Ward,” wrote petition signer Barbara Gray of Mississauga, Ontario. “He was an aviation pioneer but also ahead of his time in knowing the value of good customer service.”

“Very few Canadians, especially Albertans, have advanced aviation through Alberta and the North as much as Max Ward,” wrote Scott Rowed of Canmore, Alberta. “Naming the airport after him would make us proud and honour his legacy.”

Gateway to the North

Western Aviation News launched the Max Ward petition with the goal of perhaps a thousand signatures. It blew past that goal in the second week. Since then, it has generated some media attention and plenty of enthusiasm. Executives at Edmonton International Airport know of its existence.

People have signed from Canada, and around the world.

“Can’t imagine anyone more deserving of the honour than the incomparable Max Ward,” wrote Kelly Watson of Delta, British Columbia. “He was a true pioneer of charter vacation travel with amazing benefits. Thank you Mr Ward. May you RIP where you belong, in the skies above!”

“It is very fitting to honour Max Ward in this way for his outstanding and unique contributions both to the City of Edmonton and Canadian Aviation,” wrote Barbara Morin from Mexico

“The difference between 10 years ago and now, less people really know the history of Wardair and the accomplishments of Max Ward,” said Ward’s grandson Jordan Wilkie. “So this would be really huge for his legacy.

“This petition and the steam behind it is just a sliver of the amount of accolades this man actually deserves,” he said.

“They called Edmonton the Gateway to the North,” said Wilkie. “I think that that is part of our history. And if you name the airport Max Ward International, then you’re honouring that history of Edmonton being the gateway to the North.”

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