Elsie MacGill, Canada’s Amelia Earhart

This article was originally written and submitted as part of a Canada 150 Project, the Innovation Storybook, to crowdsource stories of Canadian innovation with partners across Canada. The content has since been migrated to Ingenium’s Channel, a digital hub featuring curated content related to science, technology and innovation.

Elsie MacGill during her CCF tenure. Source: Library and Archives Canada, reference number: PA-139429

Molly Gatt

Algonquin College Journalism Program

Since the first practical airplane was developed by the Wright Brothers in 1905, aeronautical engineers have strived to make the best possible aircrafts for love and war. Incidentally, 1905 was the same year that Canadian scientist Elizabeth MacGill was born. Today, she is also known as Elsie, or the Queen of the Hurricanes.

Most notable for her work during WWII, MacGill was chief of engineering in the development of the Hawker Hurricanes. She personally modified these planes to be best equipped for cold weather flights. MacGill was the first woman in Canada to graduate with an electrical engineering degree. And to this day, her aircraft – the Maple Leaf Trainer II – is the only plane to be completely designed by a woman.

Her drive for education and success can be traced back to her mother, Helen Gregory MacGill, who was a judge, journalist and suffragist. Elsie wrote a biography of her mother in 1981 called My Mother the Judge, where she calls her mother a Canadian heroine. MacGill never learned to fly any of the planes she helped create. But she always accompanied the pilots on the dangerous first test flights. Those flights were the most likely to end in a crash. But Elsie was as brave as she was beautiful.

MacGill was inducted into the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame in 1992.

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