Elsie MacGill

The Elsie MacGill Collection

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2023 Commemorative Collector Keepsake Card – Honouring Elsie MacGill

$18.29 USD
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2023 $1 Honouring Elsie MacGill Colourized Special Wrap Roll

$40.29 USD
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Honouring Elsie MacGill Special Wrap Roll Set

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2023 Commemorative Collector Keepsake Collection

From $18.29 USD per product
FREE SHIPPING
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The 2023 Special Wrap Roll Commemorative Collection

From $40.29 USD per product
Hawker Hurricane
Blueprints
Maple Leaf Trainer II
Lapel Pin
Engineer’s Iron Ring
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Early Years & Education

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Photo: Elizabeth Gregory MacGill "Elsie" - Aeronautical engineer and Feminist
Source: Library and Archives Canada/Elsie Gregory MacGill fonds/a148380

Young Life & Influences

Elizabeth Muriel Gregory “Elsie” MacGill was born on March 27, 1905 in Vancouver, BC. Descending from a lineage of women’s rights advocates, Elsie was raised with feminist values. Her maternal grandmother and mother were suffragists—and her mother, Helen Gregory MacGill, believed in a woman’s right to equal participation in education. Leading by example, Helen obtained multiple post-secondary degrees and, in 1917, was the first woman in British Columbia to become a Juvenile Court judge.

Her mother’s influence played an important role throughout Elsie’s life.

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Photo: University of Toronto:Charlie Morrison, Elsie MacGill, Ross Spital, Tommy Bingham
Source: Library and Archives Canada/Elsie Gregory MacGill fonds/e006611178

Electric Undergrad

Following in her mother’s footsteps, Elsie pursued post-secondary education. She first attended the University of British Columbia and, in 1923, Elsie enrolled in the electrical engineering program at the University of Toronto—which had its roots in the same university her parents had attended. She was not only the first woman accepted into the program, but also became the first woman in Canada to graduate with an undergraduate degree in this discipline.

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Photo: Portrait of Elsie Gregory MacGill
Source: Library and Archives Canada/Elsie Gregory MacGill fonds/a200745

Unstoppable Elsie

Next, Elsie pursued her master’s degree in aeronautical engineering at the University of Michigan after working as a mechanical engineer in the United States. Unfortunately, just as graduation was around the corner, she contracted polio. The disease left her bedridden and unable to walk.

Despite her condition, Elsie added another “first” to her growing list of accomplishments. In 1929, she became the first woman in North America to earn a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering.

But Elsie was just getting started. After three years of rehabilitation with her family in British Columbia during which she kept busy drafting, writing articles for popular magazines, and keeping up with the field of aviation, Elsie was back on her feet (with the help of two canes) and ready to take on her next challenge—her career.  

Engineering

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Photo: A Fairchild Super 71, tested by Elsie MacGill

Credit: Ingenium 01097

A Soaring Start

After further studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Elsie kicked off her career in the aviation industry. In 1934, Elsie was hired by Fairchild Aircraft. At their Longueuil, QC facility, she contributed to various aviation projects including the Fairchild Super 71 (the first aircraft designed and built in Canada to feature a metal fuselage), the Fairchild 82 (a bush plane), and the Fairchild Sekani.  

“Engineering in industry holds out the greatest promise for any engineer. Industry in the main is progressive; energy and initiative are rewarded in terms of salary and advancement, and advancement may be very rapid. Convention and public opinion exert little pressure.”

Four years later, Elsie was elected to the Engineering Institute of Canada and once again made history as their first woman member.

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Photo: L. to R.: David Boyd, Brian Sheaver, Elsie MacGill and Mary Boyd watching flight of Hurricane aircraft at Canadian Car and Foundry Co. flying field
Source: Library and Archives Canada/Elsie Gregory MacGill fonds/a148465

Photo: Hawker 'Hurricane' I aircraft of the R.C.A.F. at Canadian Car and Foundry Ltd
Source: Library and Archives Canada/Robert A. Joss collection/a072436

Queen of the Hurricanes

In 1938, Elsie was hired as the Chief Aeronautical Engineer at the Canadian Car & Foundry (Can Car) in Fort William, ON (now Thunder Bay). Here, she became the first woman in the world to design an aircraft—the Maple Leaf II Trainer.

During World War II, Elsie contributed to the retooling of the plant—enabling the mass production of the Hawker Hurricane. She even engineered adaptations to winterize the plane, which sought to make it suitable for cold-weather conditions. Under her supervision, over 1,450 Hawker Hurricane aircraft were produced.

“War effort is something, which is as microscopic in the unit as the individual, but as mighty in the sum total as an army."

Elsie became so well-known for her wartime engineering work that, in 1942, she was featured in the comic book series True American Comics and dubbed “Queen of the Hurricanes”—a moniker that has stuck ever since.

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Photo: Elsie MacGill in front of the Maple Leaf II trainer.
Credit: Ingenium 04947

Photo: Maple Leaf II, a training aircraft designed by Elsie MacGill, in production.
Credit: Ingenium 12819

Wind Beneath Her Wings

Elsie’s work at Can Car ended in 1943, but her career was far from over. She moved to Toronto, launched her own consulting firm and, in 1946, was the first woman to serve as Technical Advisor for the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Elsie’s many achievements, extraordinary talents, and lasting legacy in the field of aviation did not go unnoticed. She was awarded the Canadian Centennial Medal in 1967, became an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1971, achieved Fellowship with the Engineering Institute of Canada in 1972, and was awarded the Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario’s Gold Medal in 1979. Elsie was later inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame in 1984 and the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame in 1992.

Equality

A True Trailblazer

While Elsie certainly made a name for herself as a trail-blazing engineer, she was also—and still is—a prominent figure for Canadian feminism. Throughout her career, Elsie advocated for equality in the workplace. She did not see herself as a “woman engineer,” but simply as an engineer. Because of this school of thought, she made great strides for women’s rights while still pursuing her dreams.

“It is only habit, custom and complacency that keep us chained to outworn ideas and outmoded institutions. Once we recognize the desirability of change we can readily find the way to accomplish it.”

Elsie set the stage for her future feminist activism in 1947, after the passing of her mother, when she wrote My Mother the Judge: a Biography of Helen Gregory MacGill. By the time the book was published in 1955, Elsie’s feminism was fully re-ignited. Elsie had achieved a high level of professional success, and she continued to use her platform to support other women on their career paths as well.







Photo: Female employees of Canadian Car and Foundry working on the Curtiss SBW Helldiver.
Credit: Ingenium 14592

Sky's the Limit

From 1956 to 1958, Elsie served as Ontario’s provincial president of the Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, and the national president from 1962 to 1964. From 1967 to 1970 she was a commissioner for the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada—a group mandated to ensure equality for women in all aspects of society.

Until her passing in 1980, Elsie dedicated herself to seeing as many of the Commission’s 167 recommendations to the federal government implemented as possible.

It is possible that the effects of this Commission will reach further than people think. When considering the status of women, it is important to realize that for both men and women technology is rapidly changing the existing Canadian patterns of employment, full-time and part-time work – and, leisure, too—and the social and economic values upon which status is based. Insight gained there could drastically change Canada’s social philosophy.”

Photo: A female worker assembling aircraft parts.
Credit: Ingenium 14706

Photo: A woman working in the cockpit area of a Bristol Bolingbroke at a Fairchild Aircraft factory.

Credit: Ingenium 14711


Photo: A member of the RCAF Women's Division does welding work on an aircraft.
Credit: Ingenium 14748

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Photo: Queen of the Hurricanes / Elsie MacGill
Source: Library and Archives Canada/Elsie Gregory MacGill fonds/c147741k

A Tribute to a Lasting Legacy

Elsie MacGill was a force to be reckoned with. She excelled despite adversity, embraced what made her unique, broke new ground in both engineering and the fight for equality, and still, to this day, continues to be an inspiring role-model for all Canadians.

“All of us, be we nine years old or fifty-five, have a stake in the future because we live in it. You who are young have the greatest stake for you have the longest time there: HOW WILL YOU USE YOUR EXTRA TIME?”

We honour and celebrate Elsie MacGill with the 2023 $1 commemorative circulation coin—a tribute to the lasting legacy of her life’s work.

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Elsie MacGill

Honour an extraordinary woman whose life and achievements are among the most exceptional and noteworthy Canadian stories of the 20th century with our collectable coins and keepsakes.