The R-100 Airship

In August, 1930, nearly 100,000 people gathered in St. Hubert, Quebec to see the R-100 dirigible, fresh from its maiden cross-Atlantic voyage. Many are hysterical with excitement. To know more about this story, visit the exhibit The R-100 Airship, produced by the Société historique du Marigot and virtualmuseum.ca. Leave us your comments below, and tell us why this History Matters to you.

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Transcript

Why would thousands of people, in a small Quebec town, climb metal stairs 200 feet straight up into the air?

It’s August 1st, 1930. The largest metallic object ever to fly over Canada has landed.

Close to 100,000 people gather at Canada’s first international airport at St. Hubert, Quebec to see the alien ship. Many are hysterical with excitement. Local companies advertise everything from Life Insurance to cigarettes to beer.

A song pokes fun at the crowd’s fascination with the cylindrical monster attached to its mooring mast.

Chosen souls climb high into the air on a narrow, metal stairway to enter the magnificent R100 British airship nick-named the Titanic of the Skies.

This modern answer to transatlantic crossings, which Canada has invested so much in, is doomed after its sister ship, the R101, explodes in a giant fireball. A little more than a year after its historic flight to Canada, the R100 and its mooring mast are scrapped.

To know more about the R100 go to History Matters at virtualmuseum.ca.

And tell us why this history matters to you?

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One Response to The R-100 Airship

  1. This is from our May, 2006 newsletter:
    On January 9 a request for pictorial cancellations arrived by mail at Toronto’s First Post Office. That this had first been opened and then forwarded by Station R seemed odd, but the postmistress had inked cancel in hand when she noticed a small scrap of paper peeking out of the torn envelope from Germany. On it was the image of a seemingly regulation Canada Post pictorial cancel, but not our own. Clearly what was asked for was this other cancel, ascribed to Station R. Why then had this been sent to us? Perhaps because the year-end had passed and Werner Hildebrand’s letter, postmarked December 28, had arrived too late.

    Sensing an injustice, we rang Station R only to be informed that they had never had a pictorial cancel and only used “date stamps.” The facts just didn’t add up. The depicted cancel plainly said “R” on it, but 1903 to 2005 does not make 100. And why the 75th Anniversary? Why the King-Kong-sized blimp and the skyscraper? This was a job, we thought, for Peter Butler, President of the Greater Toronto Area Philatelic Alliance and the man who had helped us obtain our own pictorial cancel. But Peter was as mystified by it as we were. Undaunted, he took the image up to Station R in person, only to meet with the same response as we had: they had never laid eyes on it, hadn’t ordered it and didn’t even know such a thing was possible.

    One thing they did know: they had been receiving requests for cancellations since last summer and, for lack of a better idea, had been forwarding them all to Station K. Just before Christmas, one of the clerks remembered, she had been busy and had delegated a colleague to send some of them “downtown.” This was how Mr. Hildebrand’s picture of the cancel had ended up at TFPO and in the hands of our two intrepid sleuths, one of whom – now Inspector Butler – set off for Canada Post headquarters in Ottawa to get to the bottom of things.

    Meanwhile on January 13 when regular customer Mike Piette arrived at the post office the story was shared with him. Not having the image of the mysterious cancel at hand, the postmistress sketched it out over an imprint of our own as best she could and, as the thing took shape, a light dawned in Mike’s eyes. “Why, that’s the R100,” he said without missing a beat. “The British airship. It flew over Toronto in 1930. It was a very big deal.” So there it was; both the image and the 75th Anniversary were explained. Obviously the “1903” was a mistake and one that might have led to the cancel never having been released. Barely able to contain her excitement, the postmistress rang Peter Butler and left a long, incoherent message about British dirigibles. Two questions yet remained: who had ordered the cancel if not Station R, and where had our German friend seen it?

    On March 7, at the funeral of their mutual friend, Peter Butler ran into Dick Malott who gave him a few possible leads, from the ranks of Canadian aerophilatelists, towards answering the first question. In the end our man turned out to be Barry Countryman, a resident of Leaside (he lives just around the corner from Station R) and the author of The R100 in Canada. Mr. Countryman had not only commissioned the cancel, he had ordered picture postage and had printed a number of postcards bearing the image of the airship docked at St. Hubert. He had never received the cancel – it had been destroyed when the error was discovered and a promised replacement never produced. As for the second question, at some point the cancel must have appeared on the Canada Post website as that is where Mr. Hildebrand told us (by e-mail) he had seen it. Evidently, others had too.

    Last August, as the 75th Anniversary of the R100 flight loomed, Mr. Countryman was faced with the dilemma of what to do with his postcards. The intended cancel had meant to show the airship flying above the 1929 Bank of Commerce building at 25 King Street West, then the tallest building in the British Commonwealth but still shorter, by 218 feet, than the R100. He therefore decided to get his cards serviced at the postal outlet in Commerce Court, the PATH-system mall underneath the bank building. The unflappable Mr. Countryman was gracious enough to see the error in this fall-back cancel – it reads COMMERCT COURT – as “charming.”

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