When Capt. Rosella Bjornson told her high school career counsellor in the 1960s that she wanted to become a professional pilot, he scoffed.

"He said, 'Oh no, there are no women airline pilots. You can't expect to be an airline pilot,'" Bjornson said Saturday, following a ceremony attended by more than 100 people at the Alberta Aviation Museum honouring her for paving the way for other women to get into the field.

In 1973, Bjornson, from Alberta, was hired as a co-pilot by Transair. She became the first Canadian woman to hold such a position.

During those early years, she remembers landing in Toronto, where she said the ground controller was used to hearing men on the radio.

"The ground controller had never heard a woman's voice before on a big airplane and asked if I had my seat belt too tight," Bjornson said.

In 1990, while employed by Canadian Airlines International, she was promoted to captain - another first for Canadian women in aviation.

Before retiring in 2004, she worked for other airlines, including Pacific Western Airlines, Zip and Air Canada.

Pioneering efforts recognized

Bjornson is an inductee of Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame. She has also been recognized by Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame and with a National Transportation Award of achievement.

She was part of the successful lobby effort to change Transport Canada regulations to allow female commercial pilots to continue flying while pregnant.

Air traffic controller Kendra Kincade is the founder and chair of Elevate Aviation, an organization that promotes the industry to women.

Kendra Kincade

Air Traffic Controller Kendra Kincade attended Saturday's ceremony honouring Rosella Bjornson's contributions to women in aviation. Kincade is the founder and chair of an organization called Elevate Aviation, which promotes careers in the industry to women. (Richard Marion/CBC)

"I can't imagine what it was like to go in and be that first women," Kincade said, noting that still today, only about six per cent of pilots and 15 per cent of air traffic controllers are female.

"Although it may still be hard, it is much easier now because someone did it first and it was her and that's incredible," Kincade added.  

roberta.bell@cbc.ca

@roberta__bell