Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Sepia Saturday 360: Elsie McGill, Aeronautical Engineer

Drilling A Dive Bomber (1943) Alfred T Palmer - Library of Congress

This week's riveter brought back memories of Fort William, Ontario in Canada, where I was born in 1942. Fort William was a lake head port without even a decent road connecting it with the rest of Canada. My father was posted there training troops. Mom was pregnant with me.

My father, middle front row, with officers of A company, 102nd CABC, Ft. William, Feb. 26th, 1942
The Canadian Car company in Fort William began manufacturing the Hawker Hurricane aircraft in 1939 under the supervision of Elsie McGill, chief engineer and the first female aeronautical engineer in Canada.
Elsie McGill "Queen of the Hurricanes"

At the beginning of the war, the manufacturing plant employed five hundred people. By the war's end, four thousand five hundred people worked there, over half were women. Men hated having the women working there, but eventually came to accept them. "They needed us. It was as simple as that." The women were better welders than the men and they showed up every day.

Here's an excellent video made by the National Film Board of Canada in 1999 about Elsie and the Canadian Rosies, "Rosies of the North." It's long but even the first three minutes gives you a feel for the women of those times.

Visit Sepia Saturday for more Rosie tales about WWll.


  1. Thanks for that great video. Fun seeing the older gals recognizing the ways in which they helped. As one said "Can you imagine we built those planes?" :)

  2. Fascinating video, and absolutely perfect for this week's prompt! I love the lady telling how she would go home and dream of riveting all night, then be back into it for real in the morning. My late father-in-law and uncle both did part of their pilot training in Canada in the early 1940s.

  3. What a fascinating personal connection to the prompt. Thanks for linking the video.

  4. Fort William must have been a busy, busy spot in those years. Elsie Mcgill was must have been a brilliant engineer and manager to hold that position at that time.

  5. The war changed gender roles in all the nations involved. Its astonishing how quickly many wartime industries set up in remote locations and still managed to put together a labor force of women.

  6. Great video, and I appreciate all those women (and the men too) did so we could live in freedom. I was born the same year as you, and my father worked in an aviation company as an accountant.