TRENTON – Take off. To go up. Ground.
This is how the mail arrives at Pictou Island twice a week. On Tuesdays and Fridays, one of Truro Flying Club’s Cessna 172s lands at Trenton Airport, collects letters and packages for the island, and departs for the approximately 10-minute flight.
It’s a ritual that Ray Agich, CFI for the Truro club, regularly performs and he brought a journalist with him.
With small planes, weight and balance are key, so Agich made sure to weigh every piece of mail that had to go through the water, including a particularly heavy box destined for the Island of Fire Department. pictou. It also included weighing in on this reporter, so I’m glad I didn’t lie when he asked me.
Winds were gusting to about 16 knots in Trenton, and Agich called postmaster Nathan MacDonald on Pictou Island to get an idea of conditions there. Satisfied with what he heard, Agich made the decision to leave.
A few minutes later, we were doing a “down-and-over” along the dirt road that skirts the island and also serves as its airstrip. All looked good, winds were no problem, and Agich steered the plane around to line up on final approach.
It looks like a tricky landing, at least from the right seat. The road isn’t that wide, it’s not entirely flat, and it’s not entirely straight. But Agich dropped us off smoothly and without hassle.
He said it takes practice and the key is properly aligned and kept centered on the pavement.
“The hardest thing is how narrow it can be… The most important thing is to stay straight. I think that was the most stressful thing. It was definitely intimidating the first time around.
A minute or two after landing, Postmaster Nathan MacDonald came to pick up incoming mail and deliver outgoing mail. He said this air connection is crucial for the community.
“It’s a vital link. We are so happy. I know a lot of people rely on email and stuff these days, but a lot of people still get their bills and stuff, packages and stuff. We are very grateful that this continues for us. There has been an increase in people ordering packages, things they need… We have to remind them that it has to fit on the plane. People buy water heaters, auto parts and order them through Canada Post.
The ferry service carries plenty of essentials to Pictou Island, but throughout the winter months the air connection takes on even more importance for island residents.
“When the ferry stops at the end of November…that’s when we get regular air-delivered groceries,” MacDonald said.
Because they are so dependent on the Truro Flying Club to make their deliveries, MacDonald said islanders are always watching the weather and checking it with apps.
“We try to keep an eye on it. We’re pretty lucky to have good high-speed internet spots here.
Not the shortest, definitely not the longest
It’s not the shortest mail flight, as a photo of the Trenton airport terminal claims, but it’s not that far, according to Canada Post’s Lisa Liu.
“The mail flight which spans 23 air miles from Trenton to Pictou Island is the fifth shortest link in the northern system,” she said in an emailed statement. “This route started in the early 1940’s… The shortest air route is between Moosonee, Ont. and Moose Factory, Ontario. with a distance of three airmiles.
According to Liu, there are currently 254 northern airmail links. The longest airmail link is from Prince George, BC to St. John’s, NL (5,983 air miles), while the longest airmail link in northern Canada is Ottawa, Ont. to Grise Ford, Nunavut (4,058 air miles).