Max Ward | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Max Ward

Maxwell William Ward, OC, aviator, businessman (born 22 November 1921 in Edmonton, AB; died 2 November 2020 in Edmonton). Max Ward was a bush pilot and aviation entrepreneur who founded and ran the airline Wardair.

Max Ward
In 1953 Ward formed his company, Wardair Ltd, which pioneered the air transport of heavy equipment to the far North. He is shown here in 1953 with a new de Havilland Otter (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-60892).
Maxwell W. Ward
Max Ward at the former Wardair hangar facilities in Toronto, 1987. Wardair was sold to Canadian Airlines and formally ceased operations in 1990 (courtesy Wardair International).

Early Career

During the Second World War, Max Ward served as a flight instructor in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He worked as a bush pilot in Canada’s North after the war. (See Bush Flying in Canada.) In 1946, he organized Polaris Charter Company Ltd., based in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. With a single-engine DH 83C de Havilland Fox Moth, Ward carried supplies and passengers throughout the Subarctic. Many of his clients worked in the mining industry.


In 1953, Max Ward returned to Yellowknife with a newly formed company, Wardair Ltd., which pioneered the air transport of heavy equipment to the Far North. The de Havilland Otter was the first aircraft in the company’s fleet.

In 1962, Ward was operating six aircraft in the North and had acquired a Douglas DC-6A. This airliner provided the company with an opportunity to test the market for transatlantic charter flights. Ward obtained a licence to operate international air charters, changed the company name to Wardair Canada Ltd. (later Wardair International Ltd.), and moved his head offices to Edmonton. War brides returning to Europe for visits were among the company’s key customers.

By the mid-1970s Wardair had developed into Canada’s largest international air charter carrier. It began flying scheduled routes in the 1980s. The reputation of the airline remained unsurpassed, but the burden of debt accumulated in its rapid expansion during the 1980s proved too much. In 1989, Wardair was sold to PWA Corporation and absorbed into Canadian Airlines International Ltd.


In 1991, Max Ward published his autobiography, The Max Ward Story: A Bush Pilot in the Bureaucratic Jungle.

Honours and Awards

In addition to honorary degrees from several Canadian universities, Max Ward’s awards included:

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