Aviation fan makes petition to rename Edmonton Airport after bush pilot Max Ward

Brett Ballah, publisher of Western Aviation News, says the Edmonton International Airport should be named after bush pilot Max Ward, who was born in Edmonton in 1921.

Petition suggests the name Edmonton Max Ward International Airport

Max Ward served as a flight instructor with the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War. (NWT Archives/Henry Busse/N-1979-052-3789)

There's a push in Edmonton to pay tribute to the legacy of Canadian aviation pioneer Max Ward, who died at 98 years old in early November.

Ward, who was born in 1921, served as a flight instructor with the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War before becoming a bush pilot. In 1953, he founded Wardair in Yellowknife. By 1989, the airline was the third-largest airline in Canada.

And now, Brett Ballah, publisher of Western Aviation News, has started a petition to rename the Edmonton International Airport after Ward. 

"I think it would be the right thing to do," Ballah said. "He really cut his teeth in the North … but he was an Edmontonian and that's where his business hit the big time, so I think it would just be appropriate that Edmonton International be renamed in honour of an aviation pioneer."

The petition suggests renaming the Edmonton International Airport to Edmonton Max Ward International Airport, and be referred to colloquially as Edmonton-Ward International.

Ballah says it's because of Ward's efforts that Canada ended up with a deregulated airline market.

He says the Wardair name in Edmonton made a lasting impression on him in his childhood.

"You could look up and there was the Wardair office. And I still remember seeing that," Ballah said.

"There weren't a lot of airlines that came out of Edmonton. It just didn't happen. And so for this to come out of Edmonton as a kid from the city was just really inspiring."

More than 7,000 signatures

Ballah's petition also notes that many airports in Canada that are named after people are named for politicians and that this is a "perfect opportunity" for the Edmonton airport to change that.

As of Thursday, the petition, which Ballah began about a month ago, had garnered more than 7,000 signatures. It calls on the board of the Edmonton Airports Authority to change the Edmonton airport's name and is addressed to Transport Minister Marc Garneau.

The support people have shown for the petition, especially with the comments they've left, has been significant, Ballah said.

"The comments are overwhelming. The devotion that Max Ward inspired in people, the number of people commenting that 'I got into aviation because of Max Ward,'" he said, "that is what I'm really picking up on, that devotion to his memory."

The Edmonton International Airport control tower. Ballah says it might be some time before the name change is potentially accepted and implemented. (Tom Arban)

'Important for the family'

Ward's family is also on board.

Edmonton-based Jordan Wilkie, Ward's grandson, says the family was first approached by a different person starting a petition, to which they gave their blessing. Wilkie later came across Ballah's petition and decided it, too, was OK with the family. 

He says the support to rename the airport, though not the family's idea, means a lot to them. 

"For me it's like, how do you honour a man that sacrificed so much and worked so hard and did such incredible things for the aviation industry and for Canada," going all the way back to helping map regions of the Arctic, Wilkie said.

He added the recognition would also be significant to Marjorie, his grandmother and Ward's wife.

"She's really the pillar of the family and has been the backbone for my grandfather and all of his endeavours. And, you know, nothing would have happened without her," he said. "It's important for the family."

No plans to change name yet

Tom Ruth, president and CEO of Edmonton Airports, said in a statement that the airport recognizes that Ward was an icon for Canada as well as for the aviation communities in Edmonton and the North. He also recognize the support to rename the airport.

So far, however, Ruth says, there have not been discussions about changing the airport's name, as the "number one priority right now is the safe, confident return of travel and dealing with the impacts of the current [COVID-19] pandemic."

"However, the interest in this is clear to us and we will consider ways we could honour the legacy of Mr. Ward and his contributions to aviation at a future point," Ruth said. "It's touching to see so many people care about Mr. Ward and local aviation history.​"

Ballah says he expects it may take time for the change to happen, if it ever does, and that he will keep pushing for it.

He added there is one more independent petition coming out through the House of Commons.

"It is a process, even in normal times, that would take years, so I don't think it'll happen right away," Ballah said. "But I think you have to start somewhere."

With files from Alyssa Mosher, Amy Tucker and Sara Minogue


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