In 2009 a small group of Ninety-Nines (International Organization of Women Pilots) from the First Canadian Chapter, under the leadership of the award creator, Anna Pangrazzi, met to discuss the purpose and vision for this exciting new initiative.
As is typical of this group of dynamic and talented women, the idea was to begin the first award dinner event the same year. With no time to waste, the Elsie MacGill Awards and the first event was locked in for October 1st at The School Restaurant in Markham/Unionville.
How was the name Elsie MacGill Awards chosen?
There were three basic considerations: 1- to name a woman who made a significant contribution to aviation and/or aerospace in Canada; 2- to visually signify Canada; and 3- should it be named after an individual?
The name Elsie MacGill
Elsie Gregory MacGill was a significant achiever in Canada with multiple talents both within and outside aviation, who pushed towards her goals with a physical handicap that didn’t stop her. This award is named after Vancouver-born Elsie Gregory MacGill. Elsie lived by what she called her “golden thread”….passionate, yet objective. She grabbed onto this thread throughout her unique and often challenging life. She was the first Canadian woman to graduate with a degree in electrical engineering, the first woman in North America with an advanced degree in aeronautics, and the world’s first woman to become an aircraft designer. Elsie designed, oversaw production and was aboard the test flight of the Maple Leaf Trainer II. She was “Queen of the Hurricanes” and pivotal in the production of the Hawker Hurricane in Canada during World War II and designed a series of modifications including de-icing and skis to equip the plane for cold weather flying. She went on to serve on aeronautical research and regulatory committees for the National Research Council and the United Nations. During her appointment to the Canadian Royal Commission on the Status of Women, she supported abortion and tax laws that made women responsible for themselves. Among several awards, Elsie earned four honourary doctorates, made an officer of the Order of Canada, and The Ninety-Nines, Inc., International Organization of Women Pilots presented her with the Amelia Earhart Memorial Scholarship medallion. All her work and achievements were accomplished even though she contracted polio at the age of 24. The only thing that this stopped was her deep desire to obtain a pilot’s certificate. However, from the rear seat of the Maple Leaf Trainer and for thousands of hours hovering over her engineering drafting table, Elsie flew.