Women’s History Month: Women in Canadian Military History

As Women’s History Month draws to a close, here’s an interesting look at Women in Canadian Military History (extracted and modified from Status of Women Canada).

Laura Secord

Laura Secord

If not for Laura Secord, Canada might be part of the United States today. In 1813, Secord made a brave journey on foot during the War of 1812. She warned the British of an American attack.

Nurses were the first women in the Canadian military. Twelve women served in the Northwest Rebellion in 1885 as nurses in military hospitals.

News must get out, especially in times of conflict. In 1898, Canadian journalist Catherine Ferguson (known as Kit Coleman) became the world’s first woman war correspondent, covering the Spanish-American War.

During First World War, more than 2,800 women served with the Canadian Army Medical Corps.
Wartime military nurses were the first Canadian women to vote in a federal election. In 1917, some 2,000 military nurses were given the vote – a right they exercised in the federal election held that year.

There was a woman behind a big warplane, the Hawker Hurricane. In the Second World War, Canadian engineer

Elsie Gregory McGill

Elsie Gregory McGill

Elizabeth “Elsie” Gregory MacGill (1905-1980) oversaw the production of Hawker Hurricane fighter planes, used in the Battle of Britain. As a result, Elsie earned the nickname “Queen of the Hurricanes.”

During the Second World War, 72 Aboriginal women from Canada served overseas.

Women served with courage in both World Wars. But in 1946, after the Second World War ended, the women’s sections of all three Canadian armed service branches (Airforce, Army and Navy) were disbanded.

In 1951, all three services of the Canadian military begin to recruit women into the reserves. By 1955, more than 5,000 women were serving in the Canadian military.
In 1955, the Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Navy began to recruit women for regular services, not only the reserves. A pregnant service woman would still lose her job, though.
In 1965, the Government of Canada decided to continue to employ women in the Canadian Armed Forces, but it established a ceiling of 1,500 women members across all three services. That’s 1,500 out of half of Canada’s population!
In 1979, the Canadian military colleges opened their doors to women and the first group of female students enrolled in the college the following year.

Bottomley, Brasseur, and Mosher

Bottomley, Brasseur, and Mosher

Major Wendy Clay paved the way on August 19, 1974, when she qualified for her pilot’s wings – alas, before the pilot trade was open to all women. On February 13th, 1981, Canadian Air Force Captains Nora Bottomley, Dee Brasseur and Leah Mosher followed Major Clay’s lead, graduating as the first Canadian women military pilots.

In 1981, Second-Lieutenant Inge Plug became the first woman helicopter pilot in the Canadian Forces and Lieutenant Karen McCrimmon became the Canadian Forces’ first woman air navigator.
In 1987, the Air Force announced that all areas of Air Force employment, including fighter pilot, were open to women.

Until 1992, an order of the Canadian Forces required members of the military suspected of being homosexual to be investigated and subsequently released. This order was repealed in 1992, after a challenge by then-Canadian Forces member Michelle Douglas.  Since then, lesbians, gay men, bisexual and transgendered people have served in the Canadian Forces free from harassment and discrimination.  

Today, women can enroll in all occupations of the Canadian Forces, including combat arms.

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