The Flying Seven
Its a cold misty morning in November 1936.
On the tarmac at Vancouver airport sits a motley collection of small
aircrafta couple of Fairchild biplanes, a Golden Eagle, two
Fleets, two Gypsy Moths. Standing by them, shivering in the coolness
and looking up into the sky, seven women wait. The first faint trace
of light appears in the east and someone says, Well, lets
start.Its 6:16 a.m.
Tosca Trasolini snaps on her flying helmet, climbs into the cockpit
of the Fairchild, shouts Contact! and rolls down the
runway and up into the mist.
Canadas first all-woman dawn to dusk patrol has
For just under 11 hours, in alternating stretches of 25 minutes
each, these womenThe Flying Seven Clubwill circle the
Vancouver area in their little planes. They want to make a point,
says one of them: A womans place is in the air.
The idea behind the patrol is to keep a machine in the air all
day from dawn to dusk, with at least one member of the club off
the ground at all times.
Besides Tosca, the club includes Margaret Fane, a 22-year-old bookkeeper
and steno; Rollie Moore, whos been giving her Burnaby family
wonderful frights by learning stunt flying; Jean Pike, the baby
of the group at 20 and a secretary in the airport office; Betsy
Flaherty, a buyer for the girls clothing department at Spencers
Department Store; Alma Gilbert, the wife of a commercial pilot and
the president of the club, and Elianne Roberge, a stenographer and
one of the two members of the club who also holds a commercial licence
(Margaret Fane is the other).
In 1940 four of the clubs members will stage a pamphlet raid
over Vancouver, dropping 100,000 bomphlets from New
Westminster to English Bay, bearing messages like SMASH THE NAZIS!
And GIVE DIMES OR DOLLARS TO BUY OUR BOYS MORE PLANES! As the bits
of paper fluttered down, sirens wailed over the city.
Later, the Flying Seven will make a contribution to the war effort
by sponsoring the first aerial training centre for women in Canada.
They taught flying theory and parachute packing. Some graduates
of that course found work with Boeing, some in aircraft factories
in eastern Canada.
Back in 1980, the Provinces Chuck Davis interviewed
Elianne Roberge. She was Elianne Schlageter by then, and she and
her husband Fred lived in South Vancouver.
I got interested in flying in Prince Rupert back in 1921,
Elianne said. Wed seen a plane flying over the town
once, but one day a man who was going from Mexico to Siberia brought
his plane through on a train. It was a biplane and everyone was
just fascinated by it. Well, he had it tethered down that night,
but a high wind came along and started knocking it around, and by
the morning it was in bad shape. Kids were taking pieces of the
fabric from the wings and I wanted some, too, but I was in school
in the convent. So I put up my hand and said I needed to leave the
room, and they let me go, but instead I ran outside and down to
where the plane was and got a big chunk of the fabric.
She laughs at the memory. That night, I cut the fabric into
one-inch squares and wrote my name and the date on each piece in
ink. I sold them next day for a penny apiece. It was September 13,
[We just Googled for that Mexico-to-Siberia trip and found this:
Polar Bear 1921 = 2pOB. Built by Morton Bach in his
backyard with design help from Clarence Prest. Used for an attempted
flight from Mexico to Siberia, which ended short in northwest Canada.
The Polar Bear referred to is likely the name of the
The first time my mother ever saw me fly, Elianne says,
To join the Flying Seven, you had to have a flying licence. We
wouldnt take learners, Elianne explains. All the
girls were experienced. I started flying in 1929 and stopped in
1963. My licence is No. 678, and I still have it. You wont
find many people in Canada with a lower number.
In 1980 all the club members, with the exception of Betsy Flaherty,
who had died a few years earlier, were alive. And the Flying
Seven still exists, Elianne says in this 1980 interview. We
never disbanded. We still have a little bank account. We still get
together now and again. Tosca flew up from California on a commercial
flight to see us at the Abbotsford Air Show last weekend. Were
There is a very good background piece on the club on the web site
of the BC
Aviation Hall of Fame.
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