New book chronicles Canadian aviatrix

When Mary Ellen Pauli wanted to become a bush pilot, the times didn’t encourage women in aviation. A man even discouraged her.

“If women were meant to fly,” he said, “the sky would be pink.”

But such attitudes didn’t stop her, for her mother told her, “Where there is will there is a way.”

Once she’d saved enough money to pay for her pilot training, Pauli still shocked the manager upon arrival at the training centre.

“We didn’t think you were going to show up,” the manager said. “We only have men in this apartment.”

Pauli offered to move in anyway, and if there were any complaints, she promised to move out. There were no complaints and today Pauli works as a helicopter bush pilot for the Ministry of Natural Resources.

Mary Pauli’s story is one of many in Elizabeth Muir’s, new book, Canadian Women in the Sky, 100 Years of Flight. The book profiles women in aviation and their success despite gender discrimination. In addition to her published books, Muir, an East York resident, holds degrees from three different universities, including a PhD from McGill University.

“I am not a pilot,” Muir said to those attending her book launch at the Dora Keogh pub on Nov. 18. “I know nothing about flying at all except that I find flying to be one of the most magical things there is.”

As a child, Muir dreamed of being a stewardess. After learning the job required her to be trained as a nurse, she was disheartened, but not enough to prevent her fascination with aviation.

“Only six per cent of all the pilots in Canada are women, and this is actually what interested me in writing this book,” she said.

Pilot Akky Mansikka’s is part of that six per cent.

“I never had aspirations to become a pilot,” Mansikka said at the book launch. “I grew up in the Netherlands and women just didn’t become pilots.”

Twenty years ago, Mansikka was diagnosed with cancer and doctors told her she had a year to live.

“I thought, “How do I want to spend my last year?’ And thought, just once to take off on my own in an airplane would be the coolest thing ever,” she said. Mansikka became a licensed pilot at the age of 50.

Today she continues to fly with The Ninety-Nines in Operation Skywatch, the pollution detection program for the Ministry of Environment.

Despite advances made by women in aviation, Wendy Cragg, another pilot in attendance, believes there is still a long way to go.

“I am excited to read more about ladies who have been an inspiration to us and learn more about their stories,” she said, “and hope more ladies are encouraged to fly.”