Wings Magazine

Elsie MacGill Northern Lights Award

elsiepostJuly 15, 2009 – The Elsie MacGill Northern Lights Award honours women who have contributed significantly to aviation in Canada. Heather Sifton, CEO of Toronto Airways Ltd. is the first recipient of the award.

July 15, 2009  By Suzanne Wiltshire

Event Date:
Thursday, October 1, 2009
The School Restaurant
4121 14th Avenue
Unionville (Markham), Ontario
Cocktails at 6:30 pm
Dinner & Award Presentation follows
Individual Tickets: $75
RSVP by September 15, 2009
To RSVP and purchase tickets please contact:
Anna Pangrazzi at 905-477-7900 or e-mail:

Heather Sifton, first recipient of the 'Elsie MacGill Northern Lights Award'
Heather Sifton has been a champion of general aviation and a leader in the Ninety-nines, opening so many doors so that thousands of pilots could fly. She will be honoured at a tribute dinner October 1st, sponsored by the FCC Ninety-nines, when she will be presented with the first Elsie MacGill Northern Lights Award.
An active member of the FCC, Heather flew in the Toronto to Nassau Angel Derby with Shirley Allen in 1970, helped establish the FCC Canadian Award in Aviation, and in 1984 attended the “Fly Away” tree sapling ceremony in Atchison Kansas with Margo McCutcheon.

The Sifton family through their business, Toronto Airways, has owned and operated the Buttonville Municipal Airport since 1963.

As President and CEO from 1990 to 2006, and continuing as CEO, Heather has fought bitterly to keep the airport open for GA, a fight that will come to a head again in 2010. Home to over 300 aircraft, Buttonville Airport is the 10th busiest airport in Canada, with 150,000 aircraft movements a year in one of the most complex airspaces in the country. Over 300 people work at Buttonville, 100 of them directly for Toronto Airways which operates the largest flight school in   Canada, with a fleet of 41 training aircraft and 250-300 students enrolled at any one time.


Heather’s personal contributions, supporting charities particularly for health and the arts, have created bridges between aviation and the greater community. Her devotion to the aviation industry, her determination to enforce their rights, her grace and her love of flying have inspired, and protected the rights of, thousands of pilots who fly for pleasure and who have  pursued exciting and rewarding careers in aviation. 

Buttonville has been Heather’s gift to aviation.

Elizabeth Muriel Gregory MacGill


first female aeronautical engineer,

in Canada, and the first female

aircraft designer in the world.

Elsie Gregory MacGill, P.Eng.
Born in Vancouver, two years after powered flight at Kittyhawk, Elsie MacGill became the first Canadian woman to graduate with a degree in electrical engineering (U of T) and the first woman in NA with an advanced degree in aeronautics (U of Mich).

In 1939, as chief engineer for the Canadian Car and Foundry Company in Thunder Bay, Elsie designed the Maple Leaf Trainer II making her the first female aircraft designer in the world.                     

During WWII,  Elsie oversaw production of the Hawker Hurricane and she designed a series of modifications to equip the Hurricane for cold weather flying. Elsie flew right seat for the test flight of every aircraft produced, earning her the title, “Queen of the Hurricanes”. She was immortalized with awards and in comic book appearances alike.

Elsie went on to serve on aeronautical research and regulatory committees at the National Research Council and the United Nations and was appointed to the Canadian Royal Commission on the Status of Women where she supported abortion and tax laws that made women  responsible for themselves.


Awarded four honourary doctorates, an officer of the Order of Canada and, in 1975, the Ninety Nines Amelia Earhart Medal, Elsie earned a long list of lifetime achievements.

“One of the most important individual women of her time, a woman who entirely changed the nature of a country, legally, economically, and certainly in terms of quality of life.”  – RBD
However, Elsie never earned a pilot’s license.

On the day of her graduation from U of Mich, after celebrating late into the night with friends , Elsie went to bed, sore and aching. She woke up the next morning, paralyzed from the waist down, suffering from polio. She was 24.

It took her years of hospitals and  therapy to learn to walk with two heavy canes. But this did not define her. From the right seat of the Hurricane, and for thousands of hours hovering over her engineering drafting table, Elsie flew.


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