I burst out laughing when I came upon an old poster! It was Mrs. Morin, drawn with perfect curls, smiling, and letting a bomb drop from her small plane.
I rushed down the attic stairs snickering. «Aunt Elsie, look what I found. What is it?» I yelled. The mood changed almost instantly, noticing the look on my aunt’s face, I felt as if a bomb had exploded in the living room.
Without knowing it, I was holding in my hands a small piece of women’s history.
My great aunt and I share the same name. I knew she was one of the first women engineers in aerodynamics in the world, but I was not aware of her nickname «Queen of the Hurricanes». She came by it when she worked as an engineer in charge of Canadian combat airplanes during the Second World War. She told me, «The Hawaker Hurricanes were a determining force in the battle of Britain». My Aunty was a war hero!
She then recounted the role of women during the two world wars and the rights that narrowly link them together.
Aunty went on to tell me about the thousands of women nicknamed «bluebirds». Over 2 500 Canadian nurses dressed in blue robes and white veils; hence, the nickname crossed the Atlantic Ocean to serve in combat zones.
She told me that in 1917 they granted the right to vote to the «bluebirds» and to women whose spouses, brothers, and sons had served in the war. This was a great victory for Canadian women.
She went on at length about how the two world wars profoundly affected the role of women. Men left for war and women ran the country.
During the First World War, there were over 30 000 to leave their homes to work in factories, offices, and farms. During the Second World War, there were hundreds of thousands helping the country prosper. At the end of the conflict, women knew they had the skills to work in all trades.
Aunt Elsie also told me about the 50 000 women who served in the Canadian armed forces between 1941 and 1945. There were mechanics, parachute load masters and wireless operators. These women played a vital role, and without them, World War Two could not have been won by Canadians and their allies.
I also learned about «the war saving stamps» Mrs. Morin purchased when she did her groceries once a week. These stamps helped finance the Canadian war against the Nazis. From her plane, it was on a swastika that she dropped her bomb.
Standing before me, I no longer saw Aunt Elsie but Elizabeth MacGill, world renowned aeronautical engineer, a key player from the Second World War and militant for women’s rights over the last 50 years.
On that day, I finally understood the importance women played in the history of my country. Despite doubt and apprehension, women dared to defend and stand up for what they believed in.
Aunt Elsie died on November 4, the very next day she told me about her life. My mother told me she passed with that familiar twinkle in her eye.
Young Elsie, who will also one day grow up.
Texte : Sylvain Dodier – illustrations : Luc Pallegoix ©2016 Traduction : Tammy Bailley