Canadian Aviatrix #21 – Elianne Roberge (1909-1981)

Elianne Marguerite Alice Roberge was born on 11 August 1909 in Prince Rupert, BC, to Amadee Roberge and Marie Josephine Gamache, known as Rosina.

Amadee and Rosina were married on 11 February 1901 in Quebec. By June, they had moved to Gold Rush Creek in the Yukon, where he worked as a miner. The Klondike gold rush was pretty much over by the time they arrived and by 1908, the couple were living in New Hampshire (Rosina’s birthplace) and Amadee was working as a mill operative. By 1909, the family had moved to Prince Rupert, BC, and Amadee was working again as a miner. Amadee died in 1916 – even though he was called “an old timer” in the newspaper article about his funeral, he was only 46.

Rosina got remarried to Olier Besner in 1920. He was another Quebec man who had followed the Klondike gold rush. He bought the Knox Hotel in Prince Rupert with his first wife (who died in 1919) and was known for being flamboyant and bootlegging! After moving to Vancouver, Olier had business interests in mining.

 

1901 census

1911 census

1921 census

 

Gold Rush Creek YT

Kamloops BC

Prince Rupert BC

Amadee

31

41

Died 1916

Olier (2nd husband)

-

-

40

Rosina

19

29

39

George Albert

-

1908-1909

-

Elianne

-

1

11

Agnes

-

-

8

 

Elianne and her sister are actually recorded twice in the 1921 census – once with their mother, but also as boarders at St Joseph’s Academy.

While she was a schoolgirl, L Morton Bach’s plane came through Prince Rupert during his abortive attempt to fly from Mexico to Siberia. The plane was damaged by strong winds and many children took pieces of fabric from the wings. Elianne lied about needing the bathroom, snuck out of class and grabbed a large piece of fabric – she kept some for herself and cut the rest into small pieces which she sold for one cent each.

Her mother insisted that she get an education, so she moved to Montreal to stay with her grandparents and attend École des Beaux-Arts. She learned to drive and joined the Montreal Light Aeroplane Club.

On 18 October 1930, Elianne passed her flying test and received PPL #678, making her the 21st female pilot in Canada. She was 21 years old.

Canadian Aviatrix #21 – Elianne Roberge (1909-1981)

Elianne worked as a commercial artist and stayed in Montreal for about five years. On 27 October 1932, she became the fourth woman to get a commercial license in Canada. The first time Rosina saw Elianne flying, she crashed!

She moved to Vancouver and joined the Aero Club – helping out with social events. She wanted to get a job in aviation, so she became secretary and dispatcher for Yukon Southern Air Transport. Once she was working there, she got “checked out” on all the company’s planes, meaning she would be able to fly them if required. She served as co-pilot for many search-and-rescue and fire-fighting missions, usually with Grant McConachie himself.

In 1936, the Flying Seven were formed. Elianne’s involvement in the group will be part of a separate article. (In the photo below, she's third from the right.)

The Flying Seven - Elianne Roberge

Photo: Canada Aviation and Space Museum – CAVM-22374

When war was declared, Elianne applied to join the RCAF, but was rejected. She even moved to Ottawa, partly to work at the Department of Munitions and Supply and partly to be able to badger them in person, but it didn’t help. She wanted to get her instructor’s rating and teach at one of the flying schools opened under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, or to use her flying skills to be employed by the Department of National Defence in a flying capacity, but she was told “no arrangements have been made to employ women pilots for the duration of the war”. In 1941, she moved to Washington DC for a position with the British Air Commission, hoping that she’d be able to fly with RAF, but still nothing.

The military brush-offs, followed by the bush airlines being combined into Canadian Pacific Airlines after the war, ended Elianne’s flying ambitions. In 1945, she planned to go to China with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, but it doesn’t look like this happened.

On 6 November 1946, Elianne married Frederick Carl Schlageter in San Francisco and they honeymooned in Reno, Nevada (Fred was divorced and had a nine-year-old daughter living there).

She remained close with her mother and sister, and the three women often went on extended motoring holidays together.

Elianne died in Vancouver in 1981, aged 71.

P.S. In 1932, a newspaper article stated that Elianne’s stepfather was Amy Johnson’s uncle, but I’ve yet to confirm that connection.

The First 100 Canadian Women Pilots