Canadian Aviatrix #19 – Ailsie Coghlin (1905-1980)

Dorothy Ailsie Jean Coghlin was born on 19 December 1905 in Montreal, Quebec, to Bernard William Palin Coghlin (steel manufacturer, philanthropist and president of the Montreal Board of Trade) and Louise Jean Dawes.


1911 census

1921 census


Montreal QB

Montreal QB










B____ [daughter]







On 1 October 1925, Ailsie married John Clarence Webster – Montreal amateur pilot and sportsman.

On 20 May 1930, Ailsie passed her flying test and received PPL #556, making her the nineteenth female pilot in Canada. She was 24 years old.

Canadian Aviatrix #19 - Ailsie Coghlin (1905-1980) 

Photo: The Montreal Daily Star (April 23, 1932)

As part of the Montreal Light Airplane Club, she regularly took part in flying meets, including formation flying over the city and entering point-landing competitions. The flying couple even entered an aerial treasure hunt as a pair in 1931 and took first place. Ailsie was also a member of the Junior League, training to sing “as a social service contribution” at hospitals and institutions.

In 1931, John was the first person to represent Canada in the King’s Cup race around Britain. Ailsie sailed to England to watch him compete. John placed 20th out of 40 competitors and was one of only 23 to finish the event. He was praised for sticking to the course, despite unfamiliar conditions, being the only overseas entrant. After the race, Ailsie continued travelling in Europe with her parents.

John arrived back in Montreal on 4 August and was due to attend a dinner in his honour on 11 August, but that afternoon, crashed his plane and died. He was practising maneuvers for an air pageant with two other pilots, stalled his plane only a couple of hundred feet above the ground, crashed and had to be cut out. The other pilots knew he was injured, but didn’t think it was serious. However, he had internal injuries and died in hospital. A funeral was held on 14 August, with six planes flying in formation over Montreal during the service. Ailsie returned from England on 29 August.

John’s father established the John C Webster Memorial Trophy in his honour, for the best “airmanship” of amateur pilots in Canada. Ailsie continued to present the trophy to the winner for years.

By 1946, Ailsie was remarried to Cedric Herbert Beresford Hands. They were divorced in 1952.

In 1956, Ailsie married Colonel Joseph Ralph Harper OBE. Joseph had an exceptional military career, including the evacuation of Dunkirk. He moved to Canada and entered the export business in the 1950s and was a member / director / president of many organizations and charities. The couple travelled extensively and attended numerous social events.

Ailsie died in 1980, aged 74.

Note: Aislie was listed with an asterisk in No Place for a Lady – meaning the author hadn’t been able to find her – possibly because she was just listed as “J.C. Webster (Mrs)”.

The First 100 Canadian Women Pilots





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