A legendary figure in the northern sky has passed away. Max Ward was 98.
Born in Edmonton in 1921, Ward served as a flight instructor for the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War 2 before moving to the Northwest Territories to work as a bush pilot.
As Daniel Campbell wrote for Up Here in 2016, you can separate the aviation industry in the NWT into two distinct eras: pre-Max Ward and post-Max Ward.
In 1946, with only a single 14-passenger Otter plane, he founded a charter company in Yellowknife that would go on to become Wardair. It was the first airline in Canada to operate the Twin Otter and Dash 7 planes. Ward’s charters would deliver freight and supplies to northern communities, escort gold bars from remote mining sites, and bring in tourists and dignitaries on northern holidays.
“His competitors first scoffed at his audacity, then quickly copied him just to keep up,” wrote Campbell. “He fought with government regulators throughout his career to keep the industry open and honest, and to keep prices reasonable.”
Ward’s company grew into the third-largest airline in Canada before it was sold in 1989. In Yellowknife, a Wardair Bristol freighter is still displayed as a monument on the way into town from the airport.
“It was a wonderful airplane for the North,” Ward told Up Here four years ago. “We hauled the fire engine into Yellowknife, and all the cows and you name it. When the road was closed due to the Mackenzie River before the bridge, well we moved a lot of stuff from Hay River at the end of the truck road into Yellowknife to keep all the farms going and the farmers and the rest of them. And then we used it throughout the North because it had a good range. We used to carry 45 drums of fuel in it. And we could go right up to the Beaufort Sea with it.”
Ward retired from flying in his 80s, but would return annually to the NWT to visit his camp at Red Rock Lake, north of Yellowknife. He was inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame in 1974, and was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1975.
“He cared about people. He cared about pilots. He cared about flight attendants. He cared about maintenance people," Fred von Veh, Ward’s former lawyer, tells CBC. “He did more for aviation in northern Canada than any person ever did and any person ever will do.”
Ward died at his home in Edmonton on Monday, surrounded by family.
“The North is still my favourite part of the world,” he once told Up Here. “I like to show it off to people.”