NORTH ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo.—A delegation of St. Louis-area political, civic and business leaders embarked on a trade mission to Montreal Thursday aboard the first direct Air Canada flight from St. Louis to the Quebec province.

Air Canada’s expansion here on top of its direct service to Toronto, comes as St. Louis Lambert International Airport tries to build upon its international growth two years after adding direct Lufthansa flights to Germany.

Missouri exported $6.5 billion worth of goods to Canada in 2023 and the country is the state’s leading trade partner. More than a dozen Canadian companies have offices in St. Louis and 17 Canadian companies have offices in St. Louis, while recognized names here like Emerson, Enterprise Holdings and Energizer have stakes in Canada.

The relationship with Quebec province is burgeoning, officials note, with trade growing by 8.5% to near $2 billion over the last five years.

“There’s a lot of connectivity that’s already there but we also see so many opportunities in the aerospace, bio and life science, ag technology industry and others so as part of this group, part of our delegation that we’re leading up there, we’re gonna have some conversations around that,” said Tim Nowak, Executive Director of the World Trade Center St. Louis.

But there are other opportunities, like shared interest in French historical culture and Jazz.

 “Connecting the innovation zones that we have in Montreal with the ecosystem here….I hope we see some sparkles,” said Jean-Francois Hould, a delegate of the Quebec government office based in Chicago.

“I’m here to learn,” said St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones before she was the first to board the flight, her first trip to Canada. ”I’m here to explore and here to bring back more relationships between St. Louis and Canada, our neighbors to the north.”

The new direct flight offers more than just the chance to connect St. Louis to Montreal. Air Canada services European destinations like Athens, Amsterdam, Dublin, and Geneva, as well as Delhi and Shanhai.

“We think being able to bring more visibility being able to show that there are people in the St. Louis region that travel to Europe, Montreal other places and there are people coming in from those destinations so each one of these brings a level of prominence that we haven’t had for a long time,” said airport director Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge.

Air Canada’s direct flight to Vancouver is on a wish list for Hamm-Niebruegge that also includes re-establishing direct domestic service to Cincinnati, Indianapolis and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The St. Louis to Montreal flights will start as a seasonal offering, ending in October.