Canadian Aviatrix #4 – Dorothy Bell (1900-1987)

Born on 27 August 1900 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, to Gordon Bell (professor at the University of Manitoba, Provincial Bacteriologist, and honoured with a high school named after him) and Grace McEwen

 

 

1901 census

1906 census

1911 census

1916 census

1921 census

 

Winnipeg, MB

Winnipeg, MB

Winnipeg, MB

Winnipeg, MB

Winnipeg, MB

Gordon

36

40

48

53

56

Grace

28

33

37

40

48

Dorothy

7m

6

10

15

20

Lennox

-

3

7

13

17

 

On 16 February 1929, Dorothy passed her flying test and received PPL #220, making her the fourth female pilot in Canada. She was 28 years old. She sat her test in -15° weather and in a ski-equipped plane.

Photo: Calgary Herald (February 16, 1929)

On 6 May 1929, Dorothy came close to disaster. She was a passenger in a plane escorting Einar Lundborg to Winnipeg, when Captain Lundborg noticed that the undercarriage of Dorothy’s plane was damaged and about to collapse. He sped up, managed to signal the pilot to notify him of the damage and they were able to land safely on one wheel.

On 17 May 1929, Dorothy got engaged to Graham Spry – at the time, national secretary of the Association of Canadian Clubs and later a Canadian broadcasting pioneer. The wedding was scheduled for May 25, but was postponed – the newspapers reported Dorothy had a “serious illness”.

On 27 June 1929, Dorothy actually got married to John Burdette Richardson – a member of “one of Canada’s foremost business families”. The centre of the family’s wealth was James Richardson & Sons Ltd and John was vice-president of the company from 1939 to 1954. One of his cousins was James A. Richardson, founder of Western Canada Airways and pioneer of Canadian commercial aviation.

The couple had four children – Gordon, Henry, John and Dorothy. John died in Winnipeg in 1954.

Dorothy was active in the Kingston New Symphony Association. In 1959, she was President of the Women’s Auxiliary. In 1964, she was auction convener, helping to raise $1,250 in one night (equivalent to over $11,000 today)

Dorothy died in Victoria on 13 December 1987, aged 87.

The First 100 Canadian Women Pilots