Women in aviation celebrated at Alberta museum

On the heels of International Women’s Day, the Edmonton event was one of several around the world celebrating Women of Aviation Worldwide week.

'Women could not fly in my day'

Women from the aviation industry celebrated Women of Aviation Worldwide Week at the Alberta Aviation Museum Saturday. (CBC)

Issy McLean still remembers how her office looked when she worked for the Royal Canadian Air Force in the 1950s.

McLean was one of just a few women who worked as flight control operators in Ontario. She served from 1951 to 1953, but was asked to leave when she got married, a regular practice at the time. 

"Women could not fly in my day," said McLean, who is also the president of the RCAF Air Women's Association of Alberta. "If a man or a woman had the same job, the man would get it. But that was the time and we took it."

Issy McLean looks at a mannequin wearing the same uniform she used to wear in the 1950s when she served for the Royal Canadian Air Force. (CBC)

Trailblazers like McLean were recognized at the Alberta Aviation Museum on Saturday during a celebration for Women of Aviation Worldwide week.

On the heels of International Women's Day, the Edmonton event was one of several around the world.

The celebration featured a guest speaker, and had current and former aviation employees on-hand to share their experiences in the aviation industry.

Alberta Aviation Museum spokesperson Zena Conlin said the aviation industry is still a male-dominated field.

Less than 19 per cent of people in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 2014 were women, according to Statistics Canada. Conlin said about six per cent of private pilot licenses are held by women.

"When you look at when aviation started through the two wars, it was all men that flew and that translated into the private and commercial industries," she said. "Women actually came to aviation quite a bit later, and so those barriers are harder to break down."

'If you want to do it, you can'

Helicopter pilot in training Sarah Bachand wants to break through those barriers.

The 20-year-old made the leap to aviation after studying astrophysics at the University of Alberta. She said she didn't want a desk job, which led to her search for a career that allows her to be outdoors.

Sarah Bachand is training to be a helicopter pilot. (CBC)

Bachand is two months into her studies, and says so far, the aviation industry has welcomed her and her fellow female classmates with open arms.

"I feel definitely as an equal in this environment, so it's a good outlook as far as the industry is going," she said.

Banchand said she encourages women to give the career a chance.

"If you want to do it, you can," she said. "People hear that a lot of the time, but it's true."

About the Author

Stephanie Dubois

Journalist

Stephanie Dubois is a journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has nearly a decade of experience reporting in print media. Share your stories with Stephanie at stephanie.dubois@cbc.ca