Sarah Emma Evelyn Edmonds
US Civil War soldier
née Edmonson. Born December 1841, Magaguadavic, New Brunswic..
Died September 4, 1898. As a youth she fled from her family home to escape
an abusive father and an unwanted arranged marriage. To avoid detection she
cut her hair wore pants to disguise herself as a man. Her ruse was so
successful that she took the name of Franklin (Frank) Thompson and retained
her ...err...his identity. After have earned a living as a Bible salesman in
1865 Frank joined the Union Army and was assigned as a nurse with the 2nd
Michigan volunteers. Frank volunteered to be a spy for the Union army and
with silver nitrate painted skin penetrated the enemy lines as a slave and
sometimes a women. Injured after falling off a horse Frank chose to
disappear to recover. Once healthy it was discovered Frank was considered a
deserter so Sarah Emma Edmonds entered the war as a woman nurse. She would
become one of the most famous and recognizable women to fight in the
American Civil War. She would write her story in Nurse and spy in the Union
Army (1865). In 1867 she married L. H. Seeye, a Canadian mechanic and
eventually settled in La Porte, Texas to raise three children. She
eventually sought and won a full army pension for both her identities. In
2004 the History Channel broadcast The Unsexing of Emma Edmonds.
Hilda Patricia Barry
Rawlinson. Born August 21, 1921 Walthamstow, London, England. Died March 12,
2016 Port Credit, Ontario. After her early education her family could not
afford to send her to college so she worked as a waitress and went to night
school to learn stenography. She began working for the government and became
a decoder during World War ll as part of the Baker Street Irregulars. These
decoders were also called the indecipherable. They read garbled messages
from agents who used secret codes with errors that supposedly made messages
impossible to read. After 1944 she was sent to the Far East to work and met
her husband. She married Frank Barry in India in 1945. In 1963 the couple
and their two children immigrated to Canada where she worked as an assistant
to the headmaster of Lower Canada College, a boys school in Montreal. In
1984 the couple retired and settled in Port Credit, Ontario.
Source: Fred Langan, Obituaries, Globe and Mail April 4, 2016.
Born Hamilton, Ontario. Jennifer earned her BA in Physical Education at
McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario and her Bachelor in Education at
Queen’s University, Kingston Ontario followed with an MA in Leadership and
Training at Royal Roads University. Her father was a long serving Reserves
in the Canadian Forces so it was natural for her to enroll in the Naval
reserve as a Naval Commander in 1975. In 1977 she transferred to the Naval
Reserve Officer and Cadet Program for training as a logistics Officer. In
1979 she was promoted to the level of a Sub-Lieutenant. By 200 after service
across Canada she was promoted to the level of Captain (Navy) and became
Director of Reserves in National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa. In civilian
life she had held positions as a teacher and administrator in elementary and
secondary schools in Ontario and British Columbia. In 2007 she gained a
promotion to Commodore in the reserves. May31, 2001 Rear Admiral Bennett
became the first female Chief Reserves and Cadets. Her position advises the
Chief of Defence Staff on Primary Reserves, the Cadets Organization
Administration and training Service as well as the Supplementary Reserve.
Regina , Saskatchewan. Died 1991. The family moved to Ontario where Fern
grew up watching the ships on the great lakes. She wanted to become a
sailor. She attended school in Toronto and learned to transmit messages on
the spark-gap radio. She wanted to serve in the World War ll but the
Canadian government was not predisposed to accept women in the services. On
June 13, 1941 she became the first Canadian woman to serve in the Merchant
Marines. She worked on a No9rwigian Merchant Navy vessel the Mosdale as a
wireless radio operator. In 1942 she married Captain Gerner Sunde of the
Mosdale. . The couple would have two daughters. In 1942 the king Haakon of
Norway awarded Fern the Norwegian War medal for her wartime service as chief
wireless officer, She was the first woman to receive this medal.
!00 more Canadian Heroines by Merna Forster (Dundurn Press, 2011)
Deanne "Dee" Brasseur
September 9, 1953, Pembroke, Ontario. Her father was a Lieutenant Colonel in
the Canadian Air Force and she is a self labeled Air force brat. The family
lived in 11 different Canadian forces bases as well as two U.S. bases while
she was growing up. After high school she tried university but preferred to
try the military instead. In 1972 she enlisted as a Private and served as a
clerk. She earned a commission as Captain when she completed Officer
Candidate Training Program as an air weapons controller. After all this she
sill wanted to fly. At this time openings were not available for women to
train as pilots but in 1979 a window of opportunity opened and she became
one of the 1st four women to enter the Canadian Forces Flight
Training. She graduated on Feb 13, 1981 and
became the 1st woman flight instructor at Canadian Forces Flight
Training Schools in Moose Jaw Saskatchewan a position she enjoyed for 5
years. In 1989 she and Captain Jane Foster became the 1st two
women fighter pilots in the world when they qualified to fly the CF 18
Hornet. An injury kept Dee out of the 1991 Gulf War and in 1994
Major Dee Brasseur retired from the Canadian military. She became a
motivational speaker and one of her popular topics is “The sky is NOT the
limit”. She founded “One in a million Project to raise financial support to
combat PTSD, something she herself has endured. After 9/11 in the U.S.A. she
rejoined the Canadian Forces as a Reserve Officer and is a part time member
of the air staff.
Remembrance Day: “Yes Ma’am” Canada’s female military pioneers.
news.com (Accessed March 2014) : www. Deebrasseur.com (Accessed March 2014)
Margaret Martha Brooks
10, 1915, Ardath, Saskatchewan. Celebrating her 100th birthday
2015. Margaret studied household science at the university of Saskatchewan.
After her graduation margaret enrolled in the Canadian Navy on March 9, 1942
as a nursing sister dietician with the rank of a sub-Lieutenant. While
serving in the SS Caribou, the ship was torpedoed in mid October 1942.
Margaret clung with one hand to a lifeboat and with her other hand she held
on the her friend and colleague, Agnes Wilkie. Unfortunately Agnes died due
to the frigid temperatures in the Cabot Straight off the coast of
Newfoundland. Margaret became the only nursing sister during World War ll
to be named a member (Military Division) of the Order of the British Empire
for her heroic effort to save her friend. Margaret remained in the Canadian
Navy and in April 1 1957 obtained the rank of Lieutenant Commander. She
retired in 1962. Returning to Saskatchewan she resumed her post graduate
studies in paleontology earning her PhD. She would author numerous research
papers in her discipline. She retired to Victoria, British Columbia. In the
spring of 2015 she was contacted by Canadian Defense Minister, Jason Kenny
to inform her that the Canadian Navy would name one of the new arctic
offshore patrol ships in her honor.
Sources: James Goldie, “Canada’s Navy names vessel after living Victoria
woman for the first time.” In Globe and Mail April 14, 2015. ;
Arctic/offshore Patrol Ships Naming Biographies – HMCS Margaret Brooks.
National Defense and the Canadian Armed Forces. Online (Accessed June 2015).
Mary Ann Burdette
1st Woman to head the Royal Canadian Legion
née Norstrom. Born Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. In 1958 she enlisted
in the armed Forces and served as an Air Force policewoman. Returning
to civilian life she took a position as an office administrator with the
Provincial Government. In 1969 she joined her local branch of the Royal
Canadian Legion in Terrace Bay, British Columbia. She worked at several
executive positions and became the first woman to serve as President of her
Branch. By 1989 after serving again in several positions on provincial
executive she became the
first woman to head up the Pacific Command of the Royal
Canadian Legion. In 2004 she was elected as the Dominion President,
the first woman to hold this title. In 2005 she took a successful
trip to Afghanistan to visit the troops as part of her outreaching to
encourage the next generation membership for the Legion. She has been
awarded the Canadian Minister of Veteran’s Affairs Commendation for her
dedication and service.
Source: Legion acclaims Dominion President… June 15, 2004
Thompson. Born 1916, Kent, England. Died February 21, 2014 Mitchell,
Ontario. In 1937 she earned her bachelor degree in science, specializing in
Economics at the University of London, England. She was deeply affected by
the bombings she witnessed during World War ll in Kent, and wanting to do
her ‘bit’ for the war effort she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. A
linguist who was fluent in both French and German she was recruited to the
Allied Central Interpretation Unit. She became an expert at air photographic
interpretation and even lectured at Photographic Interpretation School. She
was soon promoted to the rank of flight officer. The Camouflage Section was
responsible for spotting the German ship, The Bismarck, and for tracking
German U Boats (submarines) and more. In 1944 Molly married Captain Philip
Chadsey of the Canadian Air Force. After the war the couple settled in
Toronto, Ontario where Molly volunteered with the YWCA. Molly served as
President of the YWCA from 1969 through 1973 and became vice-president of
the World YWCA in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1961 she was the YWCA delegate to
the United Nations. The War Time Intelligence Unit’s story is told in the
book: Women Intelligence: Winning the Second World War With Air Photos.
By Christine Halsall.
Chadsey, Wartime Photographic Interpreter: A Woman of Intelligence in the
War Effort by Noreen Shanahan in The Globe and Mail. March 20, 2014.
Suggestion submitted by June Coxon, Ottawa, Ontario.
Raised on Canada's west coast she earned her medical degree
in 1967 through the Medical Officer training Plan of the Canadian Armed
Forces. Her military career is a long line of achievements. She was the
first female officer cadet in the Royal Canadian Navy and the first medical
officer in the Canadian Armed Forces. She was also the first Canadian woman
to receive her degree in aviation medicine. She was the first Canadian woman
to graduate from the military's basic pilot training in 1972 and the first
female to earn her military wings (non operational) in 1974. She retired
from her successful military career as Brigadier General in 1998.
Michelle "Mickey" Colton
Kitchener, Ontario. Mickey joined the Canadian Armed Forces and in 1980
became one of the 1st Canadian women trainee pilots. At the
beginning it was difficult with only so few women pilots. Mickey says she
got through those years and felt really accepted when people stopped calling
her a female pilot and simply called her a pilot!. She believes women have
made the air force much more professional.
She is the 1st Canadian Herculese pilot to reach 5000 hours of
flying. She retired for full service in 2001 but remains in the
reserves where she will serve but not fly. In 2009 for the 100th
anniversary of flight in Canada, 100 names of Canadian Aviation giants of
flight history were painted on the side of a CF-18 plane monument. Mickey
Colton is one of those names.
Remembrance Day: “Yes Ma’am” Canada’s female military pioneers.
news.com (Accessed March 2014) :
Margaret Elizabeth Cooper
Born January 25, 1919, Punta de Este, Uruguay. Died July 18, 2016 Hamilton,
Ontario. Her father was a Canadian to moved to raise cattle in Argentina
where she was raised. She married Craig Cooper an officer in the Royal
Canadian Air Force in March 1945. During the War she joined the women’s
Royal Naval Service known as the WRENS. She worked as a decoder at Britain’s
Bletchley Park Code Breaking Facility where she became an officer. She
worked on the Memory Project where she was sworn to secrecy. She kept her
knowledge of German U-boats secret for decades after the war. In the 1970’s
the official secrets act lifted the veil of secrecy. She returned to Canada
as a War Bride and settled on a arm in Carlisle, Ontario near Burlington.
The couple raised their 4 children on Cherry Hill Farm.
Langan, Decoder Margaret Cooper monitored U-boats During WW ll..
submitted by Cabot You, Ottawa, Ontario.
Egypt. Died June 5 2012. At 15 she decided to “cover” herself as part of her
religious dedication to being a Muslim. She was the 1st woman in
her family to wear a hijab (a Muslim Woman’s head covering). She earned a
bachelor of science while living in Kuwait and later earned a MBA. Wafa
moved to Montreal in 1990 and in 1996 she
relocated to Windsor, Ontario. Unable to find a suitable job and one day
unable to get into the employment offices she found herself in a Canadian
Forces recruitment office. After considering what the armed services had to
offer Wafa joined the Canadian Naval Reserve.
She was the 1st Muslim woman wearing a head covering to enlist
and serve. . Although the initial reaction of the service personnel
was reluctance she soon proved that she was an able individual who fit right
into the program. Determination is one of her strong suits. She found that
the female uniform skirt was too tight fitting for her belief so she donned
maternity smock. There were no opening for an officer when she enlisted so
she underwent basic training as a non-commissioned member. Once her training
was complete an officer position became available so she was back in basic
training. Unfortunately she was injured and after 3 months recovery she was
back in basic training meeting all requirements. She would obtain the rank
of Lieutenant Commander. In 2006 she was training Naval Cadets. In 2007 she
participated in Operation Proteus, a Canadian training mission in Jerusalem.
In 2012 she was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal. She did not start
out to be the 1st but she was pleased to be able to show that
“covered” Muslim women could have a place in Canada’s military if that is
what they desired. Sources:
Various obituaries from several different publications.
Jean Flatt Davey
March 13, 1980.
She Graduated as a medical doctor from the University of Toronto in 1936.
She was the
Canadian woman doctor to enter the Canadian Armed Forces.
From 1941-1945 she served in the Royal Canadian Air Force as squadron leader
forming a unit that provided medical care. For her war time services she
was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1943. After the war she
became the first Canadian woman to receive the fellowship of the Royal
College of Physicians and Surgeons. In 1959, while working at the Women’s
College Hospital, the hospital was accredited as on of the teaching
hospitals, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto and she was the first
woman to be appointed to a department of medicine in a teaching hospital. In
1973 she retired and was awarded the Order of Canada.
Margaret Craig Eaton Dunn
née Eaton. Born 1913 ?,Toronto, Ontario. Died
June 6, 1988. She and her twin brother Jack were born into
the famous Eaton business family of
1942 she joined the Canadian Women’s Army Corps as a Captain. She would
serve in Italy and Northern Europe war fronts where she became Director
General of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps in 1944. She was awarded the
Order of the
for her wartime service. In 1946 she married Lt. Col. J. Hubert Dunn and
would become an active member of the Women’s Canadian Club in London,
Marie Louise Fish
In 1974 Marie
Louise began her career in the Canadian Military. She would become the 1st
woman to serve as a naval officer at sea. It was part of a pilot project to
employ women in previously all-male naval units. There were very few women
in the Navy at this time and training meant arduous training alongside male
counterparts. When she retired from the Canadian Military she was the 1st
woman to serve as president of the Ontario Association of College and
University Security Administrators. At the three graduate institutions she
was associated with, The Royal Military College, Kingston, Ontario, Queen’s
University, Kingston, Ontario and Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario
she developed policies and practices to enhance women’s safety and increased
the representation of women on security staff. In 2010 she was one of the
recipients of the Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons
Case which recognizes women who have worked to advance equality for women in
Women’s History Month, Women in Canadian Military Forces: A Proud Legacy.
Status of Women Canada. October 2011.
Muskeg Lake Reserve, Saskatchewan. Died March 2011. At 5, Mary was taken
away from her family to attend and Indian Residential School. Here she
received extra tutoring in laundry, cooking and sewing from one of the
teaching nuns. In 1942 may became the 1st
aboriginal woman in the Canadian Army when she enlisted in the Canadian
Womens Army Corp. She worked as a cook and in the laundry
services while stationed in Aldershot, England. There was a famous
photograph taken of Mary supposedly receiving a blessing from her chief. In
fact, 70 years later, the truth came out that the photo had been staged with
“the Chief” wearing a makeshift costume. In reality the two, Mary and “The
Chief” had never met previous to the photo. Real or not the photo was used
to represent aboriginals in the Canadian Armed Forces during World War ll.
Mary was not the only member of her family to enlist, in total ten Greyeyes
family members, including 4 woman served during World War ll. After the war
Mary returned to Canada and married Alexander “Bud” Reid and the couple
raised two children in Victoria and later in Vancouver. Mary worked in a
restaurant and later she was an industrial seamstress.
Sources: Women’s History Month: Women in Canadian Military Forces: A proud
Legacy. Status of Women Canada. October 2011. Online (Accessed March 2014)
Boisclair. Born Joliette, Quebec. In 1988 she graduated from CEGEP de
Lanaudière, Joliette and joined the Canadian Navy. In the 1990’s she taught
and was an administrator at the Naval Officer Training Centre. By 2005 she
had earned her B.A. in history and geography from the University of Ottawa
and in 2007 she earned her Masters of Defense Studies at the Canadian Forces
Defense College, Toronto, Ontario. In 2007 she was an executive Officer on
the HMCS Ville de Québec. On April 6,
2009 she became the 1st woman to command a major Canadian Navy
warship, the HMCS Halifax. In 2012 she served as Commandant of
the Canadian Forces Naval Operations School, Halifax Nova Scotia. She is
married and has one daughter. She is a member of the Board of Directors of
the HMCS Sackville a World War ll Corvette. The volunteer group wants to
secure the long term future of this ship. She also volunteers with Camp Hill
Veterans’’ Memorial Hospital in Halifax.
Women’s History Month, Women in Canadian Military Forces: A Proud Legacy.
Status of Women Canada. October 2011.
Isabel Janet Macneill / MacNeill
June 4, 1908, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Died August 18,1990. Isabel attended
Halifax Ladies College, Mount Saint Vincent Academy followed by attending
the Nova Scotia College of Art and graduating in 1928. She wanted a career
in scenic design but soon found herself working as a counselor. In 1942 she
joined the Wrens and in March 1943 she was promoted to 1st
Officer. Two months later in June 1943 she
became commanding officer of HMCS Conestoga, the 1st woman in
the British Commonwealth to hold a command. In June1944 she was
awarded the Order of the British Empire in recognition of her training
Canadian Wrens. In April 1945 she was promoted to the rank of Commander.
After World War 11 in 1946 she was employed by the Ontario Government as
Director of Special Services for Wayward Girls and she headed the Training
School for Delinquents in Coburg and then in Galt. She believed that the
girls should achieve self confidence to re-enter successfully life in
society. In 1954 she returned to duty in the Canadian Navy to help establish
a small permanent force of Wrens. She retired from the Canadian Navy in
June. In 1960 she became the 1st
woman prison warden when she was appointed to head the Prison for Women
(P4W), Kingston, Ontario. Here, as she had done for the Girls
Training School she encouraged development of the women to encourage
change. When her beliefs became contrary to prison regulations in 1966 she
resigned her post. She became a life member of the Elizabeth Fry Society
and continued to promote prison reform. . She was also a charter member of
Veterans Against Nuclear Arms. She was a recipient of the Queen’s Coronation
Medal in 1953 and in 1971 she was inducted into the Order of Canada.
Herstory 2006: The Canadian Women’s Calendar. Coteau Books, 2005) ;
Macneill, Isabel 1908-1990. Fonds. Memory Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia
Public Archives. Online (Accessed October 2014)
Doreen Nettie Paterson Reitsma
née Paterson. Born December 12, 1927, Vancouver, British Columbia. Died
April 30, 2000 Delta, British Columbia. In 1949, while working at the front
desk of the Hotel Vancouver, Doreen was inspired by meeting Eleanor
Roosevelt, the former 1st Lady of the United States. Doreen took
steps to make her dream of serving in the Canadian Military come true in
1951. She made history as the 1st to enlist in the new Women's Division of
the Royal Canadian Navy. She began training October 2, 1951 as an elite
radio intelligence operator for the top-secret wireless communications base
in Coverdale, New Brunswick. She also served a term at the Naval Radio
Station at Churchill, Manitoba in 1953-54. On January 26, 1955, Doreen
Patterson helped inspire Prime Minister
Louis St. Laurent and his cabinet to create a permanent and fully
integrated regular force for women in the Royal Canadian Navy. This
decision—the first in the Commonwealth—paved the way for thousands of
Canadian women to follow in her footsteps. Doreen married Gerard “Bill”
Reitsma, a Korean War veteran, on August 18, 1960 and was the mother of two
Nettie Paterson Reitsma” by Raymond Reitsma , The Vancouver Hall of
Fame, online (Accessed December 2012.)
Elizabeth Lawrie Smellie.
Port Arthur (Thunder Bay), Ontario March 22, 1884. Died March 5, 1968. A
nurse who served in both world wars. She was a builder of the Victoria Order
of Nurses, helping it to become a nationwide organization and was its chief
superintendent from 1923-1947. She was granted leave from the VON to serve
as matron in chief in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corp from 1941 till
1955. In 1941 she laid the foundations for the establishment of the Canadian
Women’s Army Corps. In 1944 she was the first woman to become a colonel in
the Canadian Army.
Susan L. Wigg
In 1980 Susan visited a Canadian Military recruiting
office and then became one of the 1st 32
women to attend the Royal Military College (RMC),
Kingston, Ontario. She graduated in 1984 and served with
distinction. From 2006-2010 she was stationed at Supreme
Allied Headquarters Europe located in Belgium as Senior
Staff Officer for Strategic Operational Planning. She
planned NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Association) actions
during Kosovo’s declaration of independence. Susan was a
founding member of the Defense Women’s Advisory
Organization which provides members perspectives to
Canadian Forces leadership regarding efforts to address
diversity issues and to create a more inclusive
environment. In 2009 she received the General Campaign
Star South-West Asia Medal for her service in
Afghanistan. During 2010 -
2012 Lieutenant Colonel Wigg was the 1st woman to become
Director of Cadets at RMC.
She is also the 1st
Canadian service woman of this rank to have children.
Women in Canadian Military Forces: A proud Legacy.
Women’s History Month, October 2011. Status of Women
Canada. Online (Accessed March 2014.)
|Yvonne Valleau Wildman
née Valleau. Born August 1, 1923, Portland, Oregon,
U.S.A. Her family lived in Portland 7 years before
returning home to Kindersley, Saskatchewan when Yvonne
was 4 years old. Seeking to provide for his family of 8
children her father searched for work in British
Columbia and in September 1937 his wife and children
joined him on the West coast. Yvonne helped out working
on a chicken farm. She also cleaned house for a piano
teacher in exchange for lessons for herself. At 19 she
and her girlfriend headed for Victoria, British Columbia
to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. Basic training
took place in Ottawa, Ontario. She was assigned to
photography and had her 1st trip in an
aeroplane during aerial photography, part of her course.
After training she was posted as Service Flight Training
School Number 19, Vulcan, Alberta where she was
nicknamed ‘Val. ’Of this time in her life she remembers
the close commraderie best but there was also hard work
developing training pictures. After the War she returned
to Duncan, British Columbia. On July 17, 1946 she
married Clarence Wildman and they raised 7 children in
Source: RCAF Photographer Yvonne Valleau. Wartime
Wednesdays Blog by Elinor Florence. Accessed September