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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.
 
Jennifer Bennett 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.
 
Fern Blodgett

Born 1918, 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. Source: !00 more Canadian Heroines by Merna Forster (Dundurn Press, 2011)
 

Deanne "Dee" Brasseur Born 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. Source: Remembrance Day: “Yes Ma’am” Canada’s female military pioneers. http://foreveryour news.com (Accessed March 2014) : www. Deebrasseur.com (Accessed March 2014)
 
Margaret Martha Brooks Born April 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 Royal Canadian Legion Online  (accessed June 2007)
 

Molly Chadsey née 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. Source: Mollie 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.
 
Wendy Clay 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 Born 1958, 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. Source: Remembrance Day: “Yes Ma’am” Canada’s female military pioneers. http://foreveryour news.com (Accessed March 2014) :
 
Margaret Elizabeth Cooper née Douglas. 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. Source: Fred Langan, Decoder Margaret Cooper monitored U-boats During WW ll.. Suggestion submitted by Cabot You, Ottawa, Ontario.
 
Wafa Dabbagh Born 1962(?) 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

Died March 13, 1980. She Graduated as a medical doctor from the University of Toronto in 1936. She was the first 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 Toronto. In 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 British Empire 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, England.
 

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 Canada. Source: Women’s History Month, Women in Canadian Military Forces: A Proud Legacy. Status of Women Canada. October 2011.
 
Mary Greyeyes-Reid Born 1920 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)
 
Josée Kurtz née 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.  Source: Women’s History Month, Women in Canadian Military Forces: A Proud Legacy. Status of Women Canada. October 2011.
 
Isabel Janet Macneill / MacNeill Born 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. Source: 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 adopted children. Source: “Doreen Nettie Paterson Reitsma”  by  Raymond Reitsma , The Vancouver Hall of Fame, online (Accessed December 2012.)
 

Elizabeth Lawrie Smellie. Born 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.  Source: 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 Kindersley, Saskatchewan. Source: RCAF Photographer Yvonne Valleau. Wartime Wednesdays Blog by Elinor Florence. Accessed September 2015.
 
   
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