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KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has been connecting Canada and the Netherlands for 75 years

Today marks the 75th anniversary of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines’ inaugural flight from Amsterdam to Montreal. On May 29, 1949, a KLM crew welcomed the first passengers on board a Lockheed Constellation 749 named ‘Batavia’ and registered as PH-TDB. It was the first commercial connection between Canada and mainland Europe.

The Amsterdam-Montreal flight included refueling stops at Prestwick and Gander, with a total travel time of just over 20 hours. From Montreal, the plane continued to Curaçao, an island in the Dutch West Indies, with a technical stopover in Havana.

At that time, KLM had 400 pilots, including 50 Canadians. Two of the three pilots on the inaugural flight were from Ontario: 26-year-old Richard John Rose and 37-year-old William Lesauvage.

The arrival of the ‘Batavia’ at Dorval Airport on May 30, 1949, was met with a solemn reception. The aircraft was preceded by three Royal Canadian Air Force ‘Vampire’ jet fighters. At the airport, the presence of distinguished visitors, including Albert Plesman, founding father and CEO of KLM, was greeted by a 21-gun salute and an honor guard of 100 men from the Royal 22nd Regiment of St-Jean. The Dutch national anthem was performed by the regiment’s band.

Honorary receptions took place at the Ritz Carlton, the Windsor Hotel and at Montreal City Hall.  In their speeches, Dutch guests emphasized the privileged relationship between the Netherlands and Canada since 1945 and expressed their gratitude to the Canadian government and soldiers for their welcome of the royal family in Ottawa and their contribution to the liberation of the Netherlands during World War II.

The introduction of this service between Montreal and Amsterdam paved the way for KLM’s presence in Canada and contributed to strengthening diplomatic and commercial ties between the two countries,” said Jean-Eudes de La Bretèche, General Manager of Air France KLM Canada. “With 75 years of presence, Canada holds a special place in KLM’s history and network. We are proud to have continued this expansion, operating up to 39 weekly flights to our 5 Canadian destinations this summer: Montreal (7), Toronto (14), Vancouver (7), Calgary (7), and Edmonton (4).”

Even before the inauguration of the Amsterdam-Montreal route, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines had landed planes at Dorval, playing a crucial role in transporting Dutch families. Chartered flights had been organized to allow these families to immigrate and start a new life in Canada, especially in Ontario and the western provinces.