View of Deseronto, Ont. From the Air (Sergeant C.P. Devos photograph 2009.20 (68)

View of Deseronto, Ont. From the Air (Sergeant C.P. Devos photograph 2009.20 (68)

On this day in 1918 Deseronto played a small role in a historic moment: the first delivery of mail by air in Canada. The full story of Captain Brian Peck and Corporal C. W. Mathers’ flight is described in Bill Hunt’s 2009 book Dancing in the Sky. Peck and Mathers’ fundamental plan was to avoid Ontario’s Prohibition restrictions by flying to Montreal to pick up a case of whiskey so that they could celebrate a colleague’s wedding. They got permission by arranging to fly over Montreal in an aerobatic display and leaflet drop to encourage recruitment into the Royal Air Force. The Aerial League of the British Empire got involved with the plan: they were keen to demonstrate the use of aircraft to deliver mail and Peck’s trip gave them the opportunity they had been looking for.

Peck and Mathers took off from Leaside in Toronto on June 20th. They refuelled in Deseronto and landed in Montreal at the Bois Franc polo field (Montreal did not have an airfield at the time). Heavy rain prevented the aerobatic display on the 22nd June and they were unable to fly out on the 23rd because of poor visibility. On Monday the 24th, the two men, their crate of Old Mull whiskey, and a sack of 120 letters finally took off. The extra weight of the whiskey prevented them from flying more than 40 feet above the ground and they had to land at Camp Barriefield in Kingston, short of fuel. There was no aviation fuel in Kingston, so regular gasoline was used to refuel the Curtiss JN-4 aircraft. They were then able to fly the short distance to Deseronto, where the tank was drained and refilled with the correct fuel at one of the RAF camps here.

Beck and Mathers were then able to fly back to Leaside. Peck drove the mail by car to the Toronto post office, while Mathers delivered the whiskey. A plaque at  Leaside commemorates the occasion (without any mention of the whiskey!).

Canada's first air mail plaque

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