Wardair Canada was a privately run Canadian airline, founded by Max Ward in 1953 under the name Wardair Ltd, before formally changing its name to "Wardair Canada" in 1976. The airline was acquired by and folded into Canadian Airlines in 1989.
Wardair had its roots in the air charter business in the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. From a modest start with small biplanes as a passenger and cargo charter company, the airline expanded into the more populous regions of Canada and turned into a holiday charter airline, from 1962 onwards. Wardair was not a discount airline but an airline providing good service at lower-than-average prices. They were known for high quality meals and friendly staff. "Steak & Champagne" flights was a popular advertising tag line in the 1980s, and won various awards from magazines for their service (Holiday Which? magazine charter airline of the year 1985, and scheduled carrier of the years 1986 and 1987). Flight attendants served food on Wardair branded Royal Doulton china on tray-table tablecloths on the passenger tray. The seats featured generous pitch. Max Ward started his airline in Edmonton, and it is remembered as one of the most luxurious Canadian airlines.
The operations from the early 1950s were small bush-type runs based in Edmonton, Alberta. and Yellowknife, NWT. Wardair's first large aircraft was a DC-6B, leased in summer 1962, which started the airline's emphasis on charter flights — to Europe in summer and to Mexico, California, etc. in winter. The first jet was a Boeing 727 (Canada's first Boeing) in 1966, the first Boeing 707 (allowing non-stop flights to Europe) in 1968, and the first Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet in 1973. Although initially centred on Edmonton, the long-haul flights were moved to concentrate on Vancouver and Toronto as their main origins, also serving other major Canadian cities. Hawaii became a significant winter destination, and London Gatwick a major summertime one.
The 1970 mainline fleet consisted of two 707s and one 727; in 1980 it was four 747s and two DC-10s. Wardair was a small, steady-growing company. In 1987, from a fleet of seven jets, Wardair undertook a major expansion, ordering 38 aircraft: 14 A310, 12 MD-80 and 12 Fokker F100 —an exponential expansion of operations that would ultimately prove unsustainable.
Only the first 12 A310s had been delivered —the remaining A310, MD-88 and Fokker F100 deliveries were cancelled after the takeover.
The airline changed from charter to scheduled service in 1986. Rapid expansion, problems with their computer booking system, and failure to attract business customers, who had developed customer loyalty to frequent flier programs on competing airlines, led the airline into financial difficulties, ultimately resulting in the sale to Canadian Airlines in 1989.