Born in France, Eugène Godard made his first ascension in 1847 under a paper hot air balloon of his own construction. This began a career in ballooning that took him to perform throughout Europe using hot air and hydrogen-filled balloons. He came to the United States in 1854 and 1856 for a series of ascensions. At least twice he mounted a horse carried on a platform under the balloon basket in flight. He also performed gymnastic exercises on a trapeze similarly suspended. Godard extended his 1856 tour to Canada. At that point in time, Montréal had seen ballooning attempts, but none of them successful in lifting an aeronaut. By 1853, the city had become accessible by railway from Boston and New York, and a relatively reliable source of illuminating gas for lift had become available from the New City Gas Company works in Griffintown. However, the balloon intended for his Canadian exhibitions was destroyed accidentally at Boston on August 4. When Godard and his wife, who travelled and performed with him, arrived in Montréal, they advertised for seamstresses for fabrication of a balloon in rented space in the Bonsecours Hall.
On September 8, 1856, Godard made the first free balloon ascension in the province of Québec, and the first with passengers over what is now Canada.
On completion, the « Canada » was displayed in the building before being taken to a vacant lot convenient to the gas works. It would become the first successful aerial vehicle built in this country. On September 8, 1856, Godard made the first free balloon ascension in the province of Québec, and the first with passengers over what is now Canada. With him were three prominent residents of the Montréal area. Two more passenger flights were achieved before the Godards left to return to the United States. The Godard family of aeronauts, originally inspired by Eugène, over a period of 60 years made the majority of public balloon flights in Europe. Eugène Godard supervised plans for observation balloon operations in the 1859 war between France and Austria. In 1870 he built a series of balloons to carry people and messages from besieged Paris. His overall efforts were recognized by his Emperor, Napoléon III, with the title « The Aeronaut of the Emperor ».
Aeronaut of the Emperor