Alberta Aviation Museum honours 2 pioneering women in aviation
Two women who made their mark in the aviation industry during the Second World War were honoured at the Alberta Aviation Museum this weekend.
As part of the worldwide celebration of Women of Aviation Week, the museum celebrated Hazel Fausak and Lois Argue, who didn’t let a male-dominated field keep them from signing up to serve.
Fausak, from Evansburg, Alta., worked as a radio operator for the Ferry Command in Gander, N.L. Her daughters, who were on hand for Saturday’s ceremony, said she was in charge of secret communications for military aircraft flying overseas to Europe.
“It was a very covert, kind of secretive place because they could never let any of the enemy know where any of the planes were, so it was all done in code,” Mary Belle Thompson said.
“Because it was a secret operation, they were never recognized. They weren’t part of any army or navy, they got no pensions. They didn’t even get recognition, so our mom really fought for that the last 20 years of her life. She was scared that they would all die and nobody would know what went on.”
Thompson said her mother would have loved to have been a part of the ceremony. Fausak died last year.
“The idea that something would be written down, that people would remember not just her, but what happened… she’d be so proud of this,” Thompson said.
“She worked for the last 10 or 20 years to try to get this out,” added her sister Valerie Boyer. “It was a very difficult process. We just wish that she was here to see this because she would be so honoured.”
Lois Argue, now 96, was part of the Royal Canadian Air Force Women’s Division and was the first woman hired to work at Edmonton’s Blatchford Field, where she served as a medical assistant.
Women make up only about six per cent of private pilots in Canada and fewer than five per cent of all airline transport pilot license holders are women. When it comes to air traffic controllers in Canada, only about 16 per cent are women. It’s something the Alberta Aviation Museum hopes to change through events like Saturday’s tribute.
“We want to increase those numbers,” said Jean Lauzon, executive director of the Alberta Aviation Museum. “We’re hoping that the ladies take away that they can get into these fields. These are not just select male-oriented fields.”
Capt. Liz Williams, who spoke at Saturday’s event, said she was inspired as a child to join the RCAF and hopes she can do the same for the next generation of women.
“I was a Royal Canadian Air Cadet when I was kid and I had a lot of opportunities to be introduced to the possibility of doing this as a career, and I think that’s the big thing,” said Williams, one of two women actively flying on her squadron.
“I still have little kids come up and if they’re brave enough to talk to me they’ll be like, ‘I didn’t know girls could be pilots.’ And that just kind of breaks my heart.
“There’s no job that you’re not allowed to try to do and one of the biggest things that joining the military really taught me was not to be afraid to fail. It wasn’t smooth sailing all the way through for me… But if I’d never tried just because I was afraid to fail, I wouldn’t be here. I’d be doing something less awesome for my job.”
Capt. Rosella Bjornson, Canada’s first female airline pilot, was also on hand for Saturday’s event, which included crafts, tours and displays.
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