CBC Digital Archives

Trans-Canada Airlines goes non-stop

When Air Canada first took flight in 1937, the sky was the limit for the country's new national airline. Originally known as Trans-Canada Airlines, the fledgling company enjoyed a virtual monopoly in the skies. But the post-Second World War economic boom ushered in a new Canadian jet set, eager to take advantage of new airlines that offered cheaper fares. In the decades since, the embattled airline would have to endure runaway inflation, a fuel crisis, a controversial merger, and a near-fatal brush with bankruptcy before its fortunes would rise again.

It's 1957, and air travellers these days prefer "to get on a plane and get to their destinations," says Trans-Canada Airlines' Denis Barclay. Responding to demand, TCA launches its first non-stop commercial flight from Toronto to Vancouver in the summer of 1957. The daily cross-country trips (the first of which is documented in this CBC Radio clip) skips the Winnipeg stopover - flying direct to Vancouver in a record eight hours. The historic flight is witnessed by CBC reporter Tony Thomas, as he and the plane's crew cruise along at an altitude of 4,200 metres.

TCA's first non-stop flight from Toronto to Vancouver took off from Malton Airport around noon on June 1, 1957. Eight hours, 32 minutes and 3700 kilometres later, the Super Constellation jet arrived at Vancouver's International Airport. TCA's first trans-continental flight, which took place in 1939, took more than 16 hours to complete and included stops in North Bay, Winnipeg, Regina and Lethbridge. 
• The Super Constellation (or "Super Connie") had a maximum speed of 603 km/h and had a cruising speed of 539 km/h.
• The plane, which was also known as the Pacific Mercury, had a wingspan of 35 metres and could hold 63 passengers and crew.
• Among the maiden flight's crew were pilot Roy Cartwright and First Officer Clint Ward, who told the CBC Archives the flight was "one of the highlights of my career."

• The 1957 non-stop flight was given a red-carpet send off, with a live band, speeches and press coverage. An ad in the Globe and Mail raved about the flight's "V.I.P. service" which included full-course meals and snacks.
• Air Canada, based in Montreal in 2003, had its headquarters in Winnipeg until the 1950s.
• From 1939 to 1948, Lethbridge, Alta. was the West's busiest airline destination.

• In 1954, a TCA plane flying over Moose Jaw, Sask. collided with a Royal Canadian Air Force training plane. The crash killed 37 people.
• In the 1960s TCA placed job advertisments in overseas newspapers. Renate Gasber replied to one she saw in a German newspaper in 1964. She told Maclean's in 2000 that she was hired because, at the time, TCA began looking for staff that spoke different languages. "You had to speak English, French and German," she explained.

• For a modern-day comparison to the Super Constellation in this radio clip, Air Canada's Boeing 747-400 (in use since 1990) has a wingspan of 69.9 metres and travels 920 km/h. It carries 421 passengers and, when fully pressurized, is a ton heavier. The plane's high-tech baggage system unloads about 3,400 suitcases in under seven minutes.
Medium: Radio
Program: Assignment
Broadcast Date: June 3, 1957
Guest(s): Roy Cartwright
Reporter: Tony Thomas
Duration: 3:38
Photo:
Trans-Canada Airways Super Constellation plane, courtesy Air Canada Archives.

Last updated: April 4, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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