Canadian Aviatrix #7 – Daphne Paterson (1905-1982)

Daphne Helen Paterson was born on 31 December 1905 in Saint John, New Brunswick to Alexander Pierce Paterson (accountant, advocate of the Maritime Rights Movement, then politician) and Elvira Helen Pullen.


1911 census

1921 census

1931 census


Saint John, NB

Saint John, NB

Saint John, NB









Alexander Pierce









It appears that the family are in the 1921 census twice – once in Saint John and another entry in Rothesay (with slightly wrong ages for the parents). Rothesay was a summer home community for the well-to-do from Saint John, so it looks like the family were recorded in both their main residence and their vacation home.

Daphne graduated from McGill University with a science degree.

On 15 August 1929, Daphne passed her flying test and received PPL #327, making her the seventh female pilot in Canada and the first in New Brunswick. She was 23 years old.

Canadian Aviatrix #7 - Daphne Paterson (1905-1982)

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

On 24 March 1930, she obtained her commercial license – becoming the second woman in Canada to do so, but the first actual Canadian! (Mrs Miller was the first, but she was American.)

Daphne was a frequent competitor and winner of many flying events, including the Webster Trophy competition. In 1931, she was judged “the best general proficiency flier in the Maritimes” and presented with the silver DeHaviland Cup after completing tests in course-plotting, general flying, spinning, landing to a mark, and forced landing.

On 11 February 1933, Daphne married Allan Joseph Shelfoon (known as Tony). The marriage certificate gives his occupation as radio engineer, but he was also a pilot and instructor at Hamilton Airport, which is how he met Daphne.

In August 1938, Daphne became the first woman in Canada to get her public transport license. She wanted to be as qualified as possible in order to be of service in the event of war. However, once the second world war started, she was told she wasn’t required. She wanted to apply for the Air Transport Auxiliary, but was told to delay as “something big” was going to be put in place for women pilots in the RCAF. By the time she realized the Women’s Division was actually ground assignments only, she was too old for the ATA.

In 1942, she gained her instructors rating – the sixth woman in Canada. Until the late 1950s, only four women in Canada had accomplished getting all four types of licences – private, commercial, instructor and transport.

After the war, Daphne and Tony left Saint John and moved to Trenton, Ontario. She gave up flying as there was no civilian airport nearby. By 1955, the couple were divorced.

In 1975, Daphne was awarded the Amelia Earhart Medal by the Ninety-Nines for being one of Canada’s pioneering women pilots.

Daphne died in 1982, aged 76.

The First 100 Canadian Women Pilots





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