Petition to rename Edmonton airport after famous aviator takes flight

Max Ward aboard the original Wardair craft, a single-engine Otter. Photographed in 1953, courtesy the Northwest Territories archive.

A petition to rename Edmonton International Airport after one of the city's most famous aviators has taken flight. 

Started by Brett Ballah, publisher of the Western Aviation News who is based in Vancouver, the appeal seeks to rename Edmonton's airport “Edmonton Max Ward International Airport” to be referred to colloquially as Edmonton-Ward International, just like other major Canadian Airports, such as Toronto-Pearson and Montreal-Trudeau.

Max Ward, born in Edmonton in 1921, was a flight instructor with the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War before following the heroes of his early years and becoming a bush pilot where, after his discharge in 1945, he would fly missions to Canada’s north contributing to refining maps of some of the arctic territories.

“Very few airports in Canada are named after aviation pioneers,” Ballah writes on his petition. “Most airports that are named after people are named for politicians. Edmonton International has a perfect opportunity to change that.” 

A true Alberta Maverick, Ward is recognized as one the country’s most accomplished aviators, earning - among other accolades - the Order of Canada in 1975 and the Alberta Order of Excellence in 1989. Ward was also bestowed honorary doctoral degrees from four Canadian Universities, inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame in 1993 and was one of the original inductees into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame in 1963. 

Ward first founded his charter company, Polaris Charter Co. Ltd. in 1946. Based in Yellowknife the company carried supplies and passengers throughout the sub-Arctic. 

Later in 1953, he launched Wardair Ltd. with just one 14-passenger single-engine Otter (pictured above) that operated on wheels, skis and floats. The company would expand to offer service on Beaver aircraft and Bristol Freighters. 

Wardair was in fact, the first to offer service in Canada on the DeHavilland Twin Otter and then the 4-engine Dash 7 when they were released. The company would become known as Canada’s largest international charter air carrier, offering departures to and from a variety of holiday destinations, along with scheduled flights between Canada and the U.K.

Wardair Ltd. was Canada's third largest airline when it was sold in 1989. Photo courtesy the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada.  

The airline became the third-largest in Canada in 1989, operating an international fleet of three Boeing 747-100 aircraft, three McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 aircraft and 12 Airbus A310-300s. Mr. Ward sold the airline that same year to Canadian Airlines International for a tidy $248 Million. 

In his later years, Ward would spend his summers with his friends at Redrock Lake in the Northwest Territories, about 300 km north of Yellowkinfe, where they would fish at a private camp staffed with a chef and some other workers who would serve Mr. and Mrs. Ward and their guests three meals a day and do maintenance on the boats and buildings. 

The camp had been in existence since at least 1980s and according to a Macleans magazine article from 1989, Ward would frequently take foreign visitors to Redrock. “I have a great enjoyment showing them the Canadian Arctic,” he told the magazine, “the crystal country, the grizzly bears, the caribou -all those good things.”

According to a worker who spent a summer helping out at the camp, it consisted of about four buildings. Because the area was quite swampy, they had built a boardwalk. 

Mr. Ward had a reputation of being strong willed, intelligent, determined and a bit stubborn. He was often found working on the camp property even into his early 90s. He could be strict with employees and there were stories of him getting upset and firing them on the spot, but by at least one account, he had mellowed in his old age. 

There is an unconfirmed report of one of the planes used at the camp being stored just outside Edmonton at Cooking Lake. 

The airport at Cooking Lake is Canada’s oldest operating airport and was established by another of Edmonton’s aviation greats, Wilfrid Reid “Wop” May - a flying ace who was part of the dogfight that gunned down the infamous Red Baron during the First World War.  

Cooking Lake was originally a seaplane base supporting aircraft flying expeditions to the north and served as a gateway between Edmonton and remote northern communities. It was also the location of the filming of “Wings of Chance” one of the first Hollywood films to be filmed entirely in Canada.

For Ballah, the petition’s creator, naming Edmonton’s airport after Max Ward would rightfully turn a long standing tradition of naming airports in Canada after politicians on its head. 

This was the topic of an article he penned in March 2019 for the Western Aviation News.

“You can count on two hands the number of Canadian airports named after aviators, and have fingers left to spare,” he writes. “There are only seven, what’s worse, few are high profile.”

Meanwhile, airports in Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Saskatoon, Moncton and Halifax for example, are all well known and all named after former politicians. 

It’s time to honour Canada’s aviation greats, Ballah says and there are many to choose from. 

Initially setting its goal as 1,000 signatures, Ballah’s petition had surpassed that by the morning of November 26 and was steaming ahead towards 1,500. 

It is unclear at the time of publication what impact, if any, the petition will have on changing the name of the airport. 

To sign the petition, click here. 

Condolences on Mr. Ward’s passing can be sent to his family at: 

The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Max’s memory to any aviation museum to “help preserve the legacy of his aviation heroes and the contributions they made.”

Here's a national Film Board documentary on Max Ward for your viewing pleasure: 

Mike Carter reporting for Yeg City

Contact Mike at


  1. Technically, Ward Air was sold to Canadian Pacific Airlines and then renamed Canadian Airlines. But, excellent article though. I miss the days of Ward Ar and CP Air. Back when airlines believed in customer service.

    1. Actually, the sale of CP Air to Pacific Western Airlines And subsequent absorption into Canadian Airlines (which later rebranded itself as Canadian Airlines International) happened in 1987, two years before their purchase of Ward Air. Thanks for the comment and I am glad you enjoyed reading.

    2. PWA, damn you're right. I stand corrected. I was confusing PWA with WA. I seem to remember WA being acquired after PWA. I should have googled it better. :)


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