The Webster Memorial Trophy Competition has been a part of Canadian aviation history since the early 1930s – a time when Canada was becoming considerably “air minded”. Although Canada’s first aeroplane flight (J.A.D. McCurdy and the “Silver Dart”) had taken place in Baddeck, Nova Scotia in early 1909, aircraft were still relatively new to most Canadians – many Canadians at the time had never seen an aircraft fly.
Following World War I, many former military pilots and some civilian pilots purchased some of the hundreds of decommissioned military aircraft. Some of these pilots established commercial operations carrying cargo or passengers; others took to “barnstorming” — touring the countryside performing aerobatics, wing walking, and other activities to the amazement and enjoyment of curious onlookers.
In 1927, the government of Canada signed an Order-in-Council to develop flying clubs. These clubs needed at least 30 members who were either already licensed pilots or interested in becoming trained as pilots. The members were required to invest in an aerodrome and workshop area and, in return for this investment, would receive two light aircraft. The clubs needed to hire an instructor and mechanic.
Not surprisingly, the plan was met with considerable enthusiasm from the Canadian public. To promote the clubs and to increase the interest in aviation, clubs began hosting “Air Pageants” – with aerobatic displays and offering passenger rides. One of the major events was the Trans-Canada Air Pageant. It spanned the period July to September of 1931. Pilots from the Royal Canadian Air Force and from various flying clubs flew across Canada providing aerial shows to nearly one-third of a million members of the public.
John Webster Jr. was one of the civilian pilots who participated in the 1931 Trans-Canada Air Pageant. In July 1931, John flew his Curtiss-Reid Rambler representing Canada in the King’s Cup Air Race in England. A month later, while in St. Hubert, Québec practising for an aerobatic competition as part of the pageant, John Webster was involved in a fatal aircraft accident. The following year, John’s father (Dr. John C. Webster, of Shediac, New Brunswick) established the John C. Webster Memorial Trophy Competition to perpetuate his son’s memory.
The renowned Canadian sculptor, R. Tait MacKenzie designed a bronze figure of the Greek god Icarus representing youth and flight. This figure became the Webster Memorial Trophy and is on display at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa. The trophy is made available during Webster Week each year for an appearance at the Webster Memorial Trophy Awards Banquet.
The Webster Memorial Trophy Competition has operated since its inception in 1932, interrupted once by World War II and again in 1954 due to escalating administrative costs.
Winners and Finalists