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Leading Edge: Honouring an aviation hero

As one of the country’s most accomplished aviators for more than four decades, you’d think Roberta Taylor might be ready to slow down just a wee bit and catch her breath. But using the phrases “slowing down” and “Roberta Taylor” in the same sentence is like calling the Avro Arrow a nice little aircraft – one that had some significance in the history of Canadian aviation.


November 3, 2011
By Stacy Bradshaw


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As one of the country’s most accomplished aviators for more than four decades, you’d think Roberta Taylor might be ready to slow down just a wee bit and catch her breath. But using the phrases “slowing down” and “Roberta Taylor” in the same sentence is like calling the Avro Arrow a nice little aircraft – one that had some significance in the history of Canadian aviation.

Of course, one wouldn’t blame Taylor for slowing down. At 65, the grandmother, paddler and environmental activist from Victoria, B.C., has amassed an impressive resumé in our Canadian skies, a career that spans a number of important disciplines – from bush pilot, to search-and-rescue expert, to aviation mentor. It’s a career that has also produced not only personal and professional achievement, but also several important industry awards.

The most prestigious, for Taylor, was the Elsie MacGill Northern Lights Award presented in late September in an inspiring award ceremony in Unionville, Ont.
Awarded annually to a Canadian woman “who has demonstrated determination, enthusiasm, courage, and personal accomplishment in the aviation or aerospace industry,” the Elsie MacGill has found a more than worthy candidate in Taylor.

“I was thrilled to be selected for the award because I greatly admired Elsie MacGill, not only for her aeronautical achievements but also for her work on women’s rights and social activism in a broader societal context,” Taylor told Wings. “I was inspired by her tenacious approach to overcoming adversity and grateful for the trailblazing that she and others in my mother’s generation had achieved.”

The Canadian aviation and aerospace industry is a predominantly male-oriented landscape – just five per cent of Canadian pilots are female – which, in many ways, can produce roadblocks. Although Taylor overcame obstacles, she is well aware of how difficult the industry can be for women.

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“In the past, passengers refused to get into the aircraft because the pilot was a woman,” Taylor said. “And results of a research study that I conducted revealed that there were discriminatory workplace practices for which women did not have the legal protection under human rights and employment equity legislation that exists today. There was a culture in the workplace that allowed sexual harassment and a hostile workplace environment to exist.”

The daughter of two pilots growing up in Thunder Bay, Ont., Taylor began her career as a bush pilot after attaining her commercial pilot’s licence before the age of 20. After working for several years in northwestern Ontario, she relocated with her husband to British Columbia, and started Taylor Aviation in 1978 at the Cranbrook, B.C., airport. The couple built a hangar at the airport and made it available free of charge to the Cranbrook/Kimberley Flying Club for meetings. It was also used as a base to organize the local airshow and co-ordinate search-and-rescue efforts.

While qualifying as a civilian search master, Taylor quickly made search and rescue a significant part of her aviation vocation. She trained and organized volunteer pilots, navigators and spotters for civilian air searches, and was soon making a name for herself as one of the province’s most skilled search-and-rescue pilots. She also flew patrols in the Canadian Rockies for the B.C. Forest Service.

An accomplished pilot, Taylor’s considerable influence extends beyond the piloting realm. She has worked hard to raise the status of women in aviation – much like the woman for whom the award was named. Taylor helped form the Women’s Resource Centre in Cranbrook and was a founding member of the Canadian Rockies chapter of the Ninety Nines. And although injuries sustained in a serious car accident ended her flying career prematurely, she went on to attain her master’s degree and is now a senior instructor in the Faculty of Human and Social Development at the University of Victoria in B.C.

“Roberta was an excellent selection for this award,” said Leggat Aviation’s Anna Pangrazzi, one of the award organizers. “She was a pioneer woman aviator, bush flying in northern Ontario and setting up an aviation flight training/charter/aircraft sales company in Alberta.

Wings congratulates Taylor on this prestigious honour and wishes to recognize all the dynamic women who have blazed a trail in the Canadian aerospace and aviation industry. We will continue to highlight the achievements of these inspirational women in our special Women in Aviation series in future issues.