Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Who was the Queen of the Hurricanes?

Hello all!

As we get closer to Remembrance Day reflections and thoughts about various histories surround war come to mind.  On November 10, 2015 at 7pm I will be delivering a lecture entitled:  "Who was the Queen of the Hurricanes:  The Story of Elsie Gregory MacGill (1905-1980)  at the Ottawa Historical Association's meeting at the Library and Archives of Canada.  

This presentation is open to all and is free.  If you are interested in purchasing books they will be available onsite and I will be signing them.  

Looking forward to seeing you!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Queen of the Hurricanes awarded 2015 OHS Alison Prentice Award!!

I am happy to announce that Queen of the Hurricanes was awarded this year's Ontario Historical Society's Alison Prentice Award for Best Book in Women's History!  It is a wonderful honour which is very humbling knowing the great work of the OHS and Dr. Alison Prentice.

As many of you know the production of a book is a labour of love, and this has definitely been the case with Queen of the Hurricanes.  The passion and determination with which Elsie MacGill lived her life, and her desire to effect positive social change in the world inspired my work towards this book.  This award will help me my colleagues at the Feminist History Society and Second Story Press to continue contributing to the Ontario Historical Society's mission of 'preserving, promoting, and protecting Ontario's history'. 

The journey towards this book's completion could not have been achieved without the incredible help and support of many people including Constance Backhouse, Ruby Heap, Diana Majury, Jennifer Penny and the incredible women within The Feminist History Society, and the dynamic team at Second Story Press.  I owe a debt of gratitude as well to all of my professors and colleagues at Lakehead University and the University of Ottawa who made history come alive for me and encouraged my work over the years.  I am also indebted to the incredible support of my husband Teva Vidal who believed in this book every step of the way.   

Thank you very much,

Crystal Sissons   

Saturday, June 27, 2015

An engaging time at the CAHS!

Last weekend I attended the Canadian Aviation Historical Society annual conference.  It was a very engaging event with high quality presentations on so many topics.  There were a wide range of exciting papers from the  re-interpretation of a primary source on Canadian aviation heroes from the First World War to a presentation on the considerations between replicating, refurburshing and re-creating a vintage aircraft.

I learned a lot, and I was able to share Elsie's story with the CAHS members.  

On Sunday, we had a chance to visit the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum.  It was incredible to see so many of the planes and learn about them from the experts working to either restore them or to maintain them - in some cases to flight worthy status.  I had the chance to visit and explore the interior of the only public;y accessible and flight worthy Lancaster (Elsie worked on Lancasters during her post-war career).  It was incredible.  The Lancaster was so much larger than I anticipated!  Someday, I hope to go up for a spin!

While I didn't go up that day, I did get a chance to imagine flying in a CF-100 fighter jet!

 It was a great day and conference overall!  

To all CAHS members - may your flights be safe and enriching until we meet again!  



Queen of the Hurricanes Sited at Congress 2015

Each year during the Congress for the Social Sciences and Humanities an impressive book fair is included.  Last year, pre-publication notices were available for Queen of the Hurricanes, this year it was amazing to see it on the shelves! 


Saturday, May 30, 2015

Incredible times with BPW Ontario

Already a week has flown by since the BPW Ontario Conference hosted by BPW Barrie!  It was an excellent conference!  I sincerely enjoyed seeing old friends and meeting new ones.

The conference also provided me with an excellent opportunity to share Queen of the Hurricanes with the Ontario Clubs.  When Elsie Gregory MacGill was active in BPW Ontario, 1950s-1980, she rarely missed a BPW Ontario Conference.  So, it was wonderful to bring her story to her BPW sisters in 2015!  Some of the women present still remember Elsie and others told me they were excited to learn more about her.

Thank you BPW Ontario for all the incredible support since 2006 and for your interest Queen of the Hurricanes!  BPW Toronto, Elsie's home club, called here "Our Elise" and it is true!  


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Queen of the Hurricanes' flight plan has been checked out for the CAHS!

On June 20th, 2015, The Queen of the Hurricanes will be landing in Hamilton, Ontario!  I will be giving a presentation about Elsie, and  later that day selling copies of my book before the gala dinner.

I am really looking forward to this exciting venture!


Upcoming Book Sale!

On May 20th, 2015, I will be participating in the Business and Professional Women's (BPW's) Ontario Provincial Conference.  It is taking place at the beautiful Nottawasaga Inn Resort & Conference Centre and hosted by BPW Barrie.

There will be a marketplace for participants to share their talents and sell their products.  The Queen of the Hurricanes will be available for purchase and signing!  Elsie was a prominent member of BPW Ontario and in a sense she will have a chance to participate in another provincial conference - as she rarely missed these engaging events.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

And the APEO Gold Medal goes to...

Winning a gold medal is often considered the ultimate achievement of an individual.  In sports individuals and teams earning this honour are held up as heroes and champions - they have aspired to reach this elusive merit and they have succeeded. 

In 1979, Elsie Gregory MacGill was awarded a gold medal - the Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario (APEO)'s Gold Medal.  This was not an award she had sat down and devised a training plan for consciously, but it was an award that recognized years of dedicated service and training - years of commitment and service to her both her engineering colleagues and Canadian society as a whole.  In fact, the person selected was considered to have given "outstanding service to the country". (Queen of the Hurricanes, 208)

Elsie's colleagues had chosen her for this honour.  They had recognized the degree of dedication with which she undertook her engineering projects and service duties to the profession while still finding time to contribute to various non-engineering organizations (most notably the Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs).

Elsie admitted that the honour was such that she went "soaring into the wild blue yonder" as she considered that her name was added to the list of twenty accomplished engineers to have held the gold medal including C.D. Howe who held the first one. (Queen of the Hurricanes, 208)  Ever one to joke - Elsie's famous humour lightened the mood at the awards ceremony where she spoke about cracks in aircraft.

Elsie Gregory MacGill was a dedicated professional engineer.  As national engineering month comes to a close I hope that some of these reflections have given you insight into the world of engineering.  If you are an engineer, I hope that these historical reflections have added to your existing knowledge base, if you are not, I hope that they have you curious to know more about this creative and dynamic profession.  

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Bridging Worlds

One of the many amazing things about Elsie Gregory MacGill was the degree to which she served as a bridge.  She advocated that scientists and engineers should take an active role in government and public life.  Elsie modeled her ideas.  She encouraged her engineering colleagues to reach beyond their areas of expertise to learn about new and different subjects:

"More and more we find that because technology shapes social and economic change, we are required to anticipate not only the technical but also the social and economic consequences of our work, bringing subjectivity into an otherwise fairly precise profession". (99, Queen of the Hurricanes) 

At the same time, she encouraged her feminist colleagues to ensure they were well-versed in the technological changes sweeping Canadian society in the twentieth century.

It still amazes me to think that Elsie was born in 1905 - only a few short years after the first powered flight at Kitty Hawk by the Wright Brothers - and she lived to see rockets and the moon landing.  

         (Wright Flyer at the Smithsonian Aviation and Aerospace Museum - Photo by C. Sissons)

Elsie saw major changes in women's advancement from winning the vote and being declared "persons" to the recommendations of The Royal Commission on the Status of Women.

In her words, actions and identify Elsie served as a bridge.  She knew that Canadian society needed the knowledge and expertise of scientists and engineers and she knew that scientists and engineers needed the knowledge and expertise of society.  

Today our world is increasingly more technological by the minute and it cannot be denied that we are living in the knowledge-based society.  Take time to stop and think about the various technologies you use - learn a little bit more about them and who makes them.  Reach out and explore an a subject or area you know little about - what you learn may surprise you.  You may be surprised by how many links there actually are between seemingly divergent areas.     

Monday, March 16, 2015

Queen of the Hurricanes with New Optics

During the long period when I was working on my graduate studies and then Queen of the Hurricanes I was asked from time-to-time if I had any intention of writing a book for youth or something that was less scholarly in nature.  My usual response to that question was something to the effect that I was finding the current project rather overwhelming and before starting a second book I wanted to finish the first!  

When I finished Queen of the Hurricanes I jokingly promised my husband that I would wait at least three weeks before starting another book.  I had no idea that before that time period had even passed that someone would already suggest a very interesting collaborative project!  That project has yet to materialize, but the question about a less scholarly book on Elsie resurfaced.  During a presentation to the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) group of Ottawa, one of the questions was will there be a youth book?  This time I paused, and then noted that it would be a good idea - as suddenly dialogue was coming to mind!  

Shortly after that presentation I wrote down what had come to mind and I found it hard to stop writing - that has happened repeatedly as of late and the story is really coming to life.  It is a completely new world, despite the fact it is essentially the same story because it is historical fiction.  The limits placed on a historian regarding exact evidence are loosened and I am free to imagine what Elsie may have been thinking in certain instances - who she spoke to - what their responses were.  

It started out as a youth book - but it might end up being a regular novel - it is too early to tell at the moment.  In the meantime I am enjoying the challenge of changing from a thematic biographical study to a largely chronological story.  

Where it is headed for sure is unclear at this moment, but I do know that I am truly enjoying the journey and learning a lot along the way! 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

International Recognition with SWE in 1953

In 1953, the Society of Women Engineers recognized Elsie and her achievements with their second annual award.  The first award, incidentally, had gone to Dr. Lillian Gilbreth "The First Lady of Engineering"!  This was quite a recognition for both Elsie and Canada!  

Elsie received her award in New York. The joy her chosen profession brought her was reflected in her words during the awards ceremony:

"Some work to fly faster; some work to fly cheaper; some work to fly safer.  All work primarily to fulfill themselves". (Queen of the Hurricanes, 97)

Elsie became an active member of SWE and followed its progress throughout her life.  Even when she could not be present for the launch of the first International Conference of Women Engineers and Scientists (ICWES) she sent a financial donation to support it.

For more information on this dynamic organization see:


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What does professional service mean?

Being a P.Eng or a Professional Engineer comes with the expectation of providing a service.  The most obvious form of service, is that to one's employer or client(s), but that is not the full meaning of professional service.

Service for a professional usually includes participation in professional societies.  Elsie was a strong supporter of that and advocated that her fellow engineers should do more than the bear minimum of just joining a society and paying dues.  She believed that they should also consider looking for organizations and societies that would broadened their ideas and points of view, and that reached out in to society at large.  From her perspective, this would allow engineers to contribute their knowledge and expertise to the larger population, while at the same time offering untold benefits to the individuals willing to stretch themselves.

Elsie led by example.  When she joined an organization she fully engaged with it.  She committed herself to being present at meetings, serving on committees and taking leadership roles.  Even later in her life, when she had held many key leadership positions, she was always willing to what needed doing - even if that meant taking minutes at the meeting.  

Elsie knew that engineers could contribute a lot to society because of their knowledge and experience with rapidly changing technologies.  She was interested in the possibilities and opportunities of what we now often refer to as knowledge mobilization or knowledge translation.

Regardless of whether you are en engineer, is there an area in your professional life where you can stretch yourself a little this week?   


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Happy International Women's Day!

Today is International Women's Day!  It is a great day to stop and reflect about all that women have achieved throughout the world and within Canada.  Some of the key highlights in the 20th century for Canada include:

  • Fighting for and winning the right to vote
  • The Famous Five's battle for Canadian women to be known as "persons"
  • Taking active roles in politics  
  • Stepping up in a wide and diverse range of leadership positions
  • Working together to obtain a Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada
  • Creating a wide range of women's studies courses at universities
  • Advocating for women to take up non-traditional professions such as engineering
Women have worked together to take these great strides and many others.  Excellent examples of what is still possible include this past week's celebration of women in aviation during Women of Aviation Worldwide week.  For more information about this exciting venture see:

This year also marks 40 years since the UN encouraged the celebration of women through International Women's Year or IWY in 1975.  When IWY was declared Elsie MacGill was very excited and she participated in many different ways.  She joined a Canadian speaker's bureau set-up to celebrate the year, she wrote articles about women in engineering and she undertook special projects to celebrate, promote and help women.  

As always, Elsie's promotion of women was done with men in mind.  As an engineer, she new that to really achieve anything significant teamwork was necessary and she was living proof that men and women could work together to achieve joint goals and objectives.  

As she noted:

"And give men a break.  Don't keep them on the outside.  Let them join us in our projects to help other women."  (p.195 Queen of the Hurricanes)

Happy International Women's Day!  Let the important women in your life know that you appreciate them, and share the celebration with the important men in your life too!



Saturday, March 7, 2015

Canada's First Practicing Woman Engineer

Elsie Gregory MacGill was Canada's first woman to practice engineering.  What does that mean?  Essentially it means that she studied earned her necessary degrees in engineering (in her case electrical and then aeronautical) and then opted to work in her field as an engineer.  However, as engineering is a profession, she had to comply with the expectations of that profession.  In addition to finding a job and performing it to the best of her ability, she needed to be licensed within the area in which she was working.  

As a result, Elsie had to seek approval from the provincial licensing bodies such as the Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO) in order to work.  These bodies are regulatory in nature and ensure that all their members are upholding their codes of excellence and ethics.  

For Elsie however, being an engineer was about more than finding work and ensuring she complied with the expectations of the regulatory bodies, she sought to fully engage with the profession.  As a result, she sought membership in various engineering organizations and societies, and once she gained access to these organizations she fully committed herself as a member.  

The Engineering Institute of Canada or EIC featured prominently in Elsie's life.  She was the first woman to be accorded membership in 1938 and she dedicated a larger amount of her time to this organization and served in many leadership roles within it.  

For more information about PEO see: 
For more information on the EIC see: 

Stay tuned for more of Elsie's professional journey!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Celebrate National Engineering Month!

March is National Engineering Month in Canada.  It is a great time to stop and ask just where would be be without engineers.  If we really stop and think about it, and learn all we can about the incredible diversity of the engineering profession we would quickly realize that many aspects of our daily lives have been developed by or are still dependent on the important work engineers do!

Engineering is an incredible diverse field.  For example there are:
  • electrical engineers
  • civil engineers
  • geological engineers
  • environmental engineers
  • aerospace engineers
  • mining engineers
And this is a very short list!  For more information in engineering in Canada check out Engineers Canada:

I would also recommend you check out #30in30 to learn about incredible woman engineers all throughout the month of March!

As Elsie Gregory MacGill was the first woman to practice engineering in Canada, I will be highlighting some of her key engineering achievements throughout the months of March. 

Stay tuned!

Monday, February 16, 2015

A Commission Worth Fighting For - 48 Years and Counting!

      On February 16, 1967 Canadian women's groups across the country won a significant victory, the right to have an inquiry into the status of women in Canada.  Today this idea may seem very strange to most people - after all why would women have to win this right?  Why would women across the country want an official check on their status within the country?  We are talking about the 20th century right?

     What many people fail to realize is that there were many areas of Canadian society that were not very open to women at this period.  One of the best examples is that in many cases if a woman wanted to make a large purchase at a store she needed her husband's permission in advance.  Women may have received the vote in most provinces before the 1920s and the right to be known legally as "persons" in 1929, but there were many areas where women were not treated equally.

      As a result, women's groups started to call for a Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada.  This idea was one that was catching on in many other countries around the world - as more and more women wanted to really know the full extent of their status in society and from that base their advocacy for change.

     The name Laura Sabia became tied forever to the Canadian fight for this inquiry when she told a Globe & Mail reporter that women would be willing to fight and even march on Parliament Hill if needed to get a commission started.  The next day Sabia's words made front page news in the Globe & Mail and shortly there after on February 16, 1967 a Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada was announced by the Pearson Administration.  


      One of the reason's royal commissions are important is that they focus attention on an important topic in order to further investigate it and make recommendations for change.  Commissioners are selected from across the country to work with a team of administrators who will conduct interviews, ask for public input, conduct public consultations.  This work is backed up by research and data collection.  The commissioners then work to synthesize all the data and come up with concrete recommendations for change.

     Elsie Gregory MacGill was selected as a Commissioner on the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada.  She recognized the importance of this role immediately and she was determined to commit herself to the project fully - as she new that it could lead to important changes for Canadians.  As she noted herself:

"It is possible that the effects of this Commission will reach further than people think.  When considering the status of women, it is important to realize that for both men and women technology is rapidly changing the existing Canadian patterns of employment, full-time and part-time work - and leisure, too - and the social and economic values upon which status is based.  Insight gained there could drastically change Canada's social philosophy" 

(Page 147 Sissons 2014)

Read more about the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada in Queen of the Hurricanes:  The Fearless Elsie MacGill.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

January just fly by!

It seems like the New Year only started, and yet here we are and it is February 4th already!  When I stop and think about all that happened during January 2015 it is a bit of whirlwind to be sure!  

It was wonderful to work on the documentary filming with April Butler for the Calgary Mosquito Society (, and I look forward to hearing more about their work on the Hawker Hurricane.  As soon as I have more information I will pass it along!

I had a chance to share Elsie's story two more times during the month - once with my colleagues and just this past weekend at Vintage Wings at the Gatineau Airport.  If you have never seen the vintage aircraft there, which is airworthy, it is really worth seeing!  For more information see:

I had a wonderful time learning about the planes, seeing the functioning Hawker Hurricane and the initial work on a second one.  It was incredible to see just the wood frame completed.  One of the next steps will be to sew the cloth covering onto the wood.  That's right - planes have not always been all-metal in their construction.  

 Thank you to everyone who has been able to come out to the book launches.  Your support means a lot!  I look forward to continued reasons to share Elsie's story as the year progresses!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Flying into the New Year!

Happy New Year!  I hope that everyone has had a wonderful holiday season and is looking forward to the new possibilities that 2015 brings!  The year is already flying along - no pun intended - really!  On January 11th, 2015 I had a wonderful opportunity to work with April Butler from Pan Productions.  She conducted a video interview with me for a documentary on Hawker Hurricanes.  Elsie's role in their production during the Second World War was of interest and her activities afterwards in engineering and feminism.  

The following day I was able to share Elsie's story with my some of my colleagues at work.  It was wonderful to share it with them as I have often spoken of the work with a number of them.  

I am also looking forward to a new opportunity.  At the end of the month I will be at Vintage Wings Canada at the Gatineau Airport for a presentation and book signing from 1pm-3pm!  This is an excellent opportunity to learn about vintage aircraft and hear about Elsie if you are interested.  I would also encourage you to check out their website for more information:

Here is hoping that you have a wonderful year and that you always have unlimited horizons in all you do!