Canada Post’s latest release, Canadians in Flight honours 5 significant Canadians and Canadian creations. This has to be my favourite subjects – Canadian history & pioneer flight. There are 5 stamps, a booklet, souvenir sheet and 5 covers to in the set.
Starting at the top left and working across:
Elsie MacGill – The Queen of the Hurricanes
Elsie MacGill, the underappreciated hero of aeronautical engineering, feminist and all around amazing Canadian. She was a woman of many firsts – 1st female graduate of electrical engineering at U of T, 1st woman to earn a Master’s in aeronautical engineering, 1st female practicing engineering in Canada, when recovering from polio MacGill designed airplanes and wrote articles about aviation, rode along with test pilots to observe her designs in flight, chief aeronautical engineer at Canadian Car & Foundry, headed the Canadian production of the Hawker Hurricane fighter planes in WW2, feminist activist, commissioner on the Royal Commission on the Status of Women and tireless advocate for women’s rights1.
How bad ass was Elsie MacGill? She had a comic book written about her in 1942 called Queen of the Hurricanes – Elsie MacGill. MacGill was the Queen of Badass Women. Not enough Canadians are taught about her contributions to engineering, aviation and feminism so this is a long overdue tribute to a great Canadian.
William George Barker, VC
Next is William George Barker, VC, enlisted as a private in the Canadian army, ended his career as a Wing Commander in the new RCAF. The lad from Dauphin, Manitoba who went on to be a WW1 Royal Flying Corp and RCAF pilot, businessman and the most decorated serviceman in Canadian history. Barker was one of those legendary fighter pilots that emerged from WW1, a small town prairie boy who became larger than life because of a war they were tossed into. Here’s an excerpt from the Barker’s official military records2:
Bush Pilot Punch Dickins
C. H. Punch Dickins, another flier from the prairies, was one of Canada’s great bush pilots. After WW1 ended, many pilots bought decommissioned biplanes and headed north to carry freight, mail and passengers to remote towns and mining camps that dotted the Canadian north3.
In Canada, the word “bush” has been used since the 19th century to describe the hostile environment beyond the clearings and settlements. In bush flying it has been used to refer to flying in adverse, if not hostile, conditions in the remote expanses beyond the ribbon of settlement in southern Canada, into the “bush” of the Canadian Shield and the barren Arctic. By the end of WWI most of southern Canada had been linked by railways, but the North remained as inaccessible as ever by land. Its innumerable lakes and rivers did, however, provide alighting areas for water-based aircraft in summer and ski-equipped aircraft in winter. Bush Flying | The Canadian Encyclopedia
Punch Dickins cut his teeth fighting on the Western Front, serving in the RFC and later RCAF. After the war, he flew to remote locations surveying over 10,000 miles of northern Canada for Western Canadian Airlines.
Western Canadian was one of the companies allowed to print stamps and collect money for the delivery of mail to remote locations. Punch delivered the first mail to the NWTs for WCA. By the end of his career, Dickins flew over 1.6 million miles across the northern Canada.
On the second row is the Avro Arrow, continuing Canada’s fascination with the best aircraft that never got a chance. A Canadian designed fighter craft capable of flying 2x the speed of sound, but buried and sunk in Lake Ontario for political reasons. The cancellation of the Avro is still considered a national scandal 60 years later and hotly argued about.
And finishing out this set is the nibble twin engine Ultraflight Lazair, a Canadian designed ultralight craft that still buzzes around the skies5. Between 1979 and 84, over 2000 were built and sold for under $5000 US. It is considered one of the most successful aircrafts sold in Canada.
This is an OUTSTANDING set. I rushed out and bought the booklet and souvenir sheet the morning they were released.The covers were missing in action everywhere I looked. so it looks like they’ll have to be ordered from the Canada Post website. The booklet of 10 stamps costs $9.50 CDN as does the set of 5 covers. The souvenir sheet of 5 stamps costs $4.50.
Hats off to designer Ivan Novotny6 of Taylor | Sprules Corporation for this beautiful set.
Notes & further reading:
1 – To learn more about Elsie MacGill start with the Canadian Encyclopedia entry
Vintage Wings – The Queen of the Hurricanes includes photos of airplanes MacGill designed
Pick up the book Queen of the Hurricanes by Crystal Sissons, published 2014 by Second Story Press. ISBN: 9781927583531 for paperback and 9781927583579 for hardbound editions. Or check your local library
Comic image courtesy Roberta Bondar Foundation
2 – Read more about William George Barker at the Canadian Encyclopedia
There are many books written about Barker, one of the best is William Barker VC – The Life, Death & Legend of Canada’s Most Decorated War Hero by Ralph Wayne 2007. Published by Wiley Press ISBN 9780470839676
Archives Canada has digitized his WW1 service records and you can download and read them here: https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-war/100-stories/Pages/barker.aspx
The Aerodrome’s page on Barker will give you a thumbnail view.
Today in Ottawa’s History – The tragic death of Lieutenant Colonel William Barker VC
3 – Learn more about Canada’s bush pilots at the Canadian Encyclopedia
Historic Wings entry on Punch Dickins
There are a number of websites devoted to the bush pilots and the planes they flew including Bush Plane
And of course don’t forget Canadian Encyclopedia’s entry on Dickins
4 – Avro Arrow’s development and short life is well documented. I’d start with Canadian Encyclopedia’s brief history
CBC’s Avro Arrow – Canada’s greatest plane that never was is a fascinating read
After years of speculation and searching, the Avro model was located in 2017 at the bottom of Lake Ontario. This story is behind a paywall, but the first couple of articles are free
CTV has an interesting article on the mystery surrounding the destruction of the Avro
6 – Interview with Ivan Novotny http://www.tsworld.com/content_interviews/novotny/novotny.ph