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Innovation Canada

“Queen of the Hurricanes”

Always a pioneer, Elizabeth “Elsie” MacGill (1905–1980) accumulated a unique list of firsts during her career. She was the first Canadian woman to obtain an electrical engineering degree (Toronto, 1927), the first woman in North America to earn a degree in aeronautical engineering (Toronto, 1929), and the world’s first woman chief aeronautical engineer.

  Elizabeth 'Elsie' MacGill, pioneering 'Queen of the Hurricanes' (Courtesy National Archives of Canada/PA-148464)
Elizabeth “Elsie”
MacGill, pioneering “Queen of the Hurricanes”
(Courtesy National Archives of Canada/PA-148464)

One of Canada’s best known aircraft makers, Fairchild Aircraft of Longueuil, offered MacGill a position in 1934. Four years later, she became chief aeronautical engineer at Canadian Car & Foundry (CCF) in Fort William (now Thunder Bay) where she was asked to design a basic trainer for use in Mexico. The Maple Leaf II first flew in 1939, with MacGill as passenger. Unfortunately, CCF’s desire to also sell the airplane to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) did not materialize.

The Maple Leaf II trainer, designed by Elsie MacGill (Courtesy Canada Aviation Museum)
The Maple Leaf II trainer, designed by Elsie MacGill (Courtesy Canada Aviation and Space Museum)

Regardless, CCF had more than enough work to keep it busy. Contracts from the Royal Air Force and the RCAF for Hawker Hurricane fighters led to mass production under MacGill’s supervision. The first airplane flew in January 1940. The RCAF operated many Hurricanes in Canada for local defence. When production ended in mid-1943, the “Queen of the Hurricanes,” as MacGill was nicknamed, had supervised production of about 1 450 of the fighter craft.

MacGill opened an office in Toronto as an aeronautical consultant. In the 1950s, she became increasingly involved in campaigning for women’s issues such as day care and maternity leave. She was appointed commissioner on the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada in 1967, and was among the most respected women engineers in Canada when she died at the age of 75.

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