Women Pilots in Canada

The walls are lined with paintings of Airplanes, and shelves and bookcases are crammed with mementoes marking her many achievements. A windsock ripples in the breeze at the end of the driveway of Rosella Bjornson’s sprawling acreage southeast of Edmonton; a half-century-old Cessna 170 is parked in the garage.

On clear days, when she feels the yearning, she occasionally rolls out the aircraft, climbs into the cockpit and takes off. To where, it doesn’t matter.

“My Dad had a plane on his farm and I grew up thinking that riding in it was as routine as riding in a car,” says Bjornson, who turns 67 on Sunday, looking out over her property across from the landing strip at the Twin Island Air Park in Strathcona County. “As a kid, any time anybody ever asked me, "I would tell them I wanted to be an Airline Pilot.”

There were women that flew before Bjornson — on Charters, as instructors, and as auxiliary Pilots in the Second World War — but in April 1973 she became the "first female commercial Pilot" in Canada. That three-stop flight aboard a Transair Fokker F-28 from Thompson, Man., to Winnipeg was the beginning of a groundbreaking career that is being celebrated tomorrow with the release of a commemorative postage stamp by the East Canada Chapter of the Ninety-Nines, an International organization of "women Pilots." an International organization of "women Pilots."

The ceremonies will take place at 1:30 p.m. at the Air West Flight School in Lethbridge, where Bjornson took her first flying lesson, a birthday present from her parents, 50 years ago to the day.

“She really had a heart for flying,” says Roy Price, the instructor with whom she flew on July 13, 1964. He is 81 and gave lessons to hundreds of students over 43 years, but Bjornson stood out. “She was really gung-ho, and being an Airline Pilot was all she ever talked about.

“I was just glad to be a very tiny part of it.”

Now retired for 10 years, Bjornson went on to become the first Canadian woman to achieve the rank of captain when she was promoted by Canadian Airlines International in 1990, a position she also later held with Air Canada. She was flying Boeing 737s for Zip, a short-lived discount carrier, when she retired in 2004.

Over the course of her career she flew for five different Airlines and accumulated more than 18,000 hours on the flight deck, and was the first woman among 2,800 males in the Canadian Airline Pilots Association.

“There were always a lot of women Pilots, but before 1973 the Airlines had a closed-door policy when it came to hiring them,” Bjornson says. “A lot of people considered it a breakthrough, but I considered myself to be fortunate to be in the right place with the right qualifications at the right time.

“I just wanted to fly.”

Married 37 years to a fellow commercial Airline Pilot, Bjornson was inducted into the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame in 1997, and currently serves as its secretary-treasurer and executive director. She was also inducted into the Women in Aviation International Hall of Fame in 2004, and is currently being recognized in a display honouring women’s work achievements by the Alberta

Mohini Porwal [ B Sc]
Trainee News Editor







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