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High Flight: Aviation and the Canadian Imagination

by Jonathan Vance

Although history professor Jonathan Vance clearly began his research on High Flight long before the tragedy of Sept. 11, his meticulously researched book nevertheless comes at a time when Canadians are paying special attention to aviation and fills an important gap in our understanding of how flight technology got its start in this country.

Beginning with the early balloon-flying “aeronauts” of the mid-19th century, Vance traces Canadian flight through the beginning stages of self-propelled airplanes and into the military application of the technology, wrapping up his narrative with the airplane’s successful and terrible use as a weapon of mass destruction during the Second World War.

Airplanes have always been more than just artifacts of technology, though. They’ve long represented the actualization of one of humankind’s greatest dreams: to take to the air in flight. Along these lines, Vance successfully demonstrates that the history of the aviation industry in Canada has been more than just a tale of this or that engine being combined with increasingly sophisticated wing designs.

He also deftly marries the growth of Canadian aeronautics with larger national aspirations and political trends. In his chapter on the 1920s, Vance chronicles how the decreased travel time between East and West made possible by flight not only made cross-country business easier to conduct, it improved social and political contact between both halves of the nation. We’re constantly hearing about how technology is “bringing the world closer together,” but back before the days of e-mail and faxes, Vance explains, the pioneers of the aviation industry were aiming for the same goals.

High Flight is a compelling tale of a major chapter in Canadian social and technological history, one told in an engaging style that will appeal to anyone looking for a solid non-fiction read.