In the second part of our celebration of Canada’s history in aviation, we’ll be focusing on some amazing women who paved the way for other women in the air.
In 1908, a team of Canadians and Americans (including Alexander Graham Bell) worked together to build the Silver Dart, one of the first aircrafts and the first controlled powered flight out in Canada. This project would have never made it off the ground (pun intended) without the help of Mabel Gardiner Hubbard. Hubbard, Bell’s wife, strongly believed in the ability of a heavy craft to be designed for flight – so much so that she provided inspiration and financing for the Silver Dart project. She put up around $20,000CAD, the equivalent of over $450,000 today. While Hubbard herself wasn’t Canadian, her help with the Silver Dart broke ground for a future of Canadian advancements in flight.
After the success of the Silver Dart’s flight in 1909, it only took one more year for the first Canadian women to take flight. In October 1910, Grace Mckenzie and her sisters flew at an air exhibition.
While all of the excitement around the Silver Dart was brewing in 1908, another Canadian aviation legend was born – literally. Eileen Vollick, born in 1908, would grow up to be the first Canadian woman to earn a private pilot’s certificate. She attended flight school in Hamilton, ON and received her license in 1928.
Following in Vollick’s footsteps, Molly Reilly was eager to earn her wings and attempted to enroll in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1939 but they did not accept women into the program for two more years. After being one of the first women recruits, Reilly went on to learn how to fly after the war and became a charter pilot in 1959, eventually becoming the first woman to ever be named captain.
Not long after Reilly became captain, 17-year-old Rosella Bjornson received her private pilot’s license in only two months. Bjornson’s eagerness to take flight would pay off as she would accumulate many firsts for Canadian women. Over her career, she would become the first woman to be hired as a First Officer in North America, first Canadian woman to be hired by a commercial airline, first woman member of the Canadian Airline Pilots Association, and first woman to be promoted to captain on a major Canadian air carrier.
While these women gained notable firsts for Canada, there are many other groundbreaking women who followed their footsteps and continued to make strides in aviation. However, there is still much room to grow. Today, only 5.4% of pilots in the US and Canada are women. As we celebrate the women who have made history this Canada Day, let’s also celebrate the opportunity that more women have in the future.
Don’t forget to share your #connectedcanada story with us over the next few days for your chance to earn a West Jet gift certificate. Be sure to tag Guestlogix on Twitter and add in #womencrushwednesday if you have a story about Canadian women in aviation!