During her time as one of Canada’s foremost aeronautical engineers, Elsie MacGill was a real high flyer. Born in 1905, in Vancouver, Canada, MacGill quickly displayed an aptitude for fixing things.
Her parents – a lawyer and a judge – both supported her decision to take up engineering at university. And in 1927, MacGill became the first woman in Canada to graduate with a degree in electrical engineering.
However, shortly before she graduated, the young MacGill contracted polio. She was told she might never walk again, but resilient as ever, MacGill taught herself to walk again using metal canes.
During her summer breaks throughout university MacGill had spent her time working in machine shops. It was here that she learned about the emerging field of aeronautical engineering.
MacGill went on to earn a Master’s degree in aeronautical engineering, becoming the first woman in the world to do so. From here, she went on to become Chief Aeronautical Engineer at Canadian Car and Foundry.
When WWII hit, MacGill became instrumental in the production of the Hawker Hurricane fighter aircraft used by the Royal Air Force. This work earned her a place in the comic book halls of fame, after being depicted in the press as ‘Elsie MacGill: Queen of the Hurricanes’.
MacGill went on to found an aeronautical consultancy business, and to participate in numerous committees advocating the rights of women. In 1971, she received the prestigious Order of Canada for this work.
MacGill is remembered as one of Canada’s most accomplished engineers, and a true icon of aeronautical history.
Last updated: 01 February 2018