1946: Montréal confirmed as capital of international civil aviation


A matter of high importance for the Provisional International Civil Aviation organization (PICAO) was the setting of the First Session of the PICAO Assembly. This Assembly was originally scheduled from 21 May until Sunday 8 June 1946, but ended in fact on 7 June. Although the Assembly was held at the Windsor Hotel, Montréal, some of the meetings were held at the Dominion Square Building (10th floor). Mr. Louis de Brouckère, Chairman of the Belgian Delegation, was elected President of the PICAO First Interim Assembly. The Assembly comprised representatives of forty-four Member States, observers from ten non-member States, and eight international organizations. The session closed with two plenary meetings, one on 6 June, devoted to the selection of the site of the permanent organization and the filling of the existing vacancy on the Interim Council (left by the USSR), and the other on 7 June, at which the Assembly considered the final reports of the Commissions.


The Windsor Hall of the Windsor Hotel, Montréal, on 21 May 1946, the first day of the PICAO Assembly, was attended by some 400 people in all from every part of the world.

On 6 June 1946, toward the conclusion of the first PICAO Interim Assembly, Montréal was selected as the permanent headquarters of the Organization, by 27 votes; the other candidates cities obtained respectively: Paris 9 votes, Geneva 4 votes, a city not named in China 1 vote. The choice of Montréal was formally proposed by Chile and was supported by Peru, the United States, United Kingdom and Australia.


Why was Montréal selected? In 1946, Montréal was the most populated and cosmopolitan city (due a large immigration in the past) in Canada. More importantly, the main features of Montréal’s development as a world air centre were explicitly highlighted. In 1923, Canadian Vickers Limited began building flying boats; five years later in 1928, St. Hubert airport (the first and only airport in Canada at that time) was inaugurated; a second airport was opened in Dorval in 1941 for military purposes.


In 1930, the British airship R-100 made its first trans-Atlantic flight to Montréal; in that year also, 42 out of the 146 airplanes manufactured in Canada were built in the city of Montréal.


The airplanes having limited range at that time, transatlantic flights had to stop at Montréal to refuel. The largest national air carrier, Trans Canada Airways (created on 11 April 1937; renamed Air Canada since 1 January 1965), had its head office and main base of maintenance of its aircraft in Montréal. With its airport infrastructure and away from battlefields, Montréal was the training center for airmen of the Commonwealth countries during the war. Montréal was the center of aviation in Canada, a major hub in North America.


Fairchild Aircraft Ltd. was an aircraft manufacturer active at Longueuil, Québec, Canada from 1929 until 1950. In 1929, in Longueuil, Québec, Fairchild Aircraft of Canada Ltd. (a subsidiary of Fairchild Aircraft company of the United States) acquired, along the St. Lawrence, a very large lot and built a private airport, a hydrobase, a dock, and especially a huge factory of 3 300 square meters to manufacture aircraft. At the time, this plant was the largest and most modern in Canada. The plant closed in 1947 and the site was occupied at that time by Weston bakery.


Airmail services were an important component of early air transport and was started between Montréal and other important points; before the war, Canada carried more airmail than any other country in the world. In the early 1930s, Boucherville (its maritime activities fell within the port of Montréal) was selected as the site of choice to host the hydrobase on Canadian soil, for the establishment of a future transatlantic postal service. The partners in this adventure were Great Britain, the Irish Free State, Newfoundland (then British colony), Canada and the United States. The first transatlantic crossings began only in July 1937 with the Caledonia and Cambria flying boats of Imperial Airways. At each stop, the mail bags and freight were unloaded and taken care by the local authorities. The Cabot flying boat took off for the last transatlantic flight on 29 September 1939 thus ending the carriage of mail between the European and American continents. During WW2, the Boucherville hydrobase was used for military operations by the Royal Air Force and the Ferry Command. In 1936, air express for valuable freight was organized, linking Montréal with 32 countries of the world.


The practice of ferrying aircraft from US manufacturers to the UK was begun by the British Ministry of Aircraft Production (MAP). Its minister, Lord Beaverbrook, a Canadian by origin, reached an agreement with Sir Edward Beatty, a friend and chairman of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, to provide ground facilities and support. MAP would provide civilian crews and management. The first delivery flight took place in November 1940. In 1941, MAP took the operation off CPR to put the whole operation under the Atlantic Ferry Organization. Pilots were to fly the aircraft to the UK. The pilots were then ferried back. Aircraft were first transported to Dorval airport near Montréal, and then flown to RCAF Station Gander in Newfoundland for the trans-Atlantic flight. Ferry Command was officially formed on 20 July 1941, by the raising of the RAF Atlantic Ferry Service to Command status. Over the course of the war, more than 9,000 aircraft were ferried across the ocean and, by the end of the war, crossing the Atlantic had become a routine operation, presaging the inauguration of scheduled commercial air transport services after the war.


While insisting on the excellent hospitality offered since of the beginnings of PICAO by the federal, provincial and municipal authorities, the delegates described Montréal like a roundabout of the international means of communication and a strategic centre with a formidable economic, scientific, technical and aeronautical expansion being felt for a few years. One insisted on the vast spaces of the Canadian territory, offering unlimited possibilities for the scientific and practical experiments in the field of aviation.


There had also been a certain degree of competition displayed between the United Kingdom and the United States regarding the ultimate headquarters of ICAO, with each wanting to become the location of the Organization’s permanent seat. While the negotiations which would lead to the development of the United Nations Charter were still being finalized at that time, one detail already accepted was that the Headquarters of the fledgling UN would be in New York City. Consequently, Montréal was further acknowledged as a very suitable compromise location, with Canada being an important member of the British Commonwealth on the one hand, and an important neighbor of the United States on the other. Montréal’s geographic proximity to the central head office of the UN in New York also contributed to its selection.


A Journal of the Assembly was issued daily, giving the order of the day, summaries of meetings of the previous day and important announcements.

In parallel with the General Assembly of the Provisional International Civil Aviation Organization (PICAO) which completed its work on 7 June 1946, the first regional air conference (called AIR CONFERENCE/CONFERENCE DE L’AVIATION on the postmark) was held from the 6 to 8 June in the large room of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Montréal, under the auspices of the Montréal Board of Trade. It brought together the delegates of the air industry, the representatives of PICAO and the IATA. More than 250 delegates from the various provinces of Canada, the United States and overseas took part in the three-day discussions, the first of the kind in the East of Canada. The various aspects of aviation were discussed under the general topic of "Montréal in the Age of Aviation". Several lecturers of mark presented various aspects of the commercial aviation of the moment and the future. Six particular committees were formed in order to discuss the means to be taken by Montréal to play in its role of administrative capital of international aviation.


The conference completed its work by declaring that Canada had to play a great role in the future development of world aviation, so much because of its strategic position to the roundabout of the international air lines than because of the vast spaces that the travelers must traverse to go from one ocean to the other. Canada was at that time in a critical as well as strategic position of the geographical map where every direct route between North America, on the one hand, and Europe or Asia, on the other, crossed the country. Canada was recognized as a power of first importance in the commercial operations and the development of aeronautics.


Cancellation showing the slogan related to the

Air Conference, held in Montréal from 6 to 8 June 1946

Meanwhile, the 400 delegates taking part in the General Assembly of PICAO selected Montréal to establish the permanent headquarters of PICAO; moreover, Montréal also became the permanent head office of IATA. It was further confirmed in IATA’s eventual Articles of Association that its headquarters (HQ) would always be in the same city as ICAO’s HQ. It was agreed in 1946 that the secretariats of these two organizations would be located in a new building, to be constructed shortly in Montréal thanks to an important subsidy of the federal authorities. Montréal became thus the centre of the world civil aviation.


Canada is the second largest country in the world in terms of geography, covering more than 5 500 km from Atlantic to Pacific and through the Arctic. In 2014, it had over 35 000 registered aircraft, the second largest civil aviation registry in the world; moreover, Canadian air traffic control centers helped to guide almost all trans-Atlantic flights and most trans-Pacific flights with destinations in key North American population centers. It is clear that Canada remains one of the states of chief importance in international air transportation.


See more information the subject at the following link: Montréal: World capital of civil aviation.


Guide Book for the Interim Assembly,

setting the pattern for all future Sessions.


Postcard showing the Ritz-Carlton Hotel

where the Air Conference was held on 6-8 June 1946.


Service cover franked with the meter of the 6th United Nations General Assembly, and addressed to Mr. A.D. Thiessen,

the PICAO Librarian, Officer in charge of the library for members of the Delegations during the Interim Assembly

(in the Blue Room on the ground floor of the Windsor Hotel).


Commercial cover sent to Mr. H. Vaage, Officer in charge of the document distribution during the Interim Assembly.