Canadian Aviatrix #36 – Isobel Whitaker (1910-1976)

Isobel was born on 30 September 1910 in Vancouver, BC, to Herbert Whitaker and Mae Johnstone Cassady.

Mae was from New Brunswick and had previously been married to Frederick Fowle Burns, a Glaswegian who moved to Vancouver and was a partner in Boyd Burns & Co (a wholesale hardware company). Frederick suffered from tuberculosis and travelled across America, looking for a better climate. In 1903, he fell seriously ill in Idaho and died – leaving his wife and young daughter.

In 1908, Mae got remarried to Herbert Whitaker, an English merchant who owned the Sechelt Hotel. The couple had two more children.

1901 census

1911 census

1921 census

Vancouver BC

Sechelt BC

Sechelt BC

Fred

32

-

-

Mae

22

30

42

Herbert

-

36

46

Muriel

-

8

18

Kenneth

-

1

11

Isobel

-

9m

10

 

In 1922, Herbert was sued by the executors of John Burns’ (Frederick’s father) estate to recover $30,000 that he had loaned to Herbert in 1912. By June 1925, Herbert was bankrupt and he died in November.

On 7 December 1933, Isobel passed her flying test and received her PPL, making her the 36th female pilot in Canada. She was 23 years old.

Canadian Aviatrix #36 – Isobel Whitaker (1910-1976) 

Photo: The Province (June 4, 1938)

In 1938, she wrote a brilliant piece for The Province’s series of ‘I Learn To Fly’ articles, talking about her introduction to flying, including troubles with her skirt in the plane and two near-misses.

On 6 July 1940, Isobel married William Delmar Gilbert, principal of Sechelt School. In 1942, the couple had a son.

During the war, William was appointed RCAF instructor. In 1944, he died in Cairo due to natural causes (complications from jaundice).

Isobel died in 1976, aged 65.

The First 100 Canadian Women Pilots