Canadian Aviatrix #8 – Gladys Graves (1895-1982)

Gladys was born on 16 March 1895 in Elgin, New Brunswick, to Wallace Graves (a farmer) and Minnie Webster. She had a younger brother, Ralph, born on 1 March 1897. Wallace died on 11 September 1897 and Minnie got remarried to Thomas Peppers on 8 February 1911. They had a daughter, Bessie, in 1912.

I haven’t been able to find Gladys’ 1901 and 1911 census entries yet, but by 1921, she was lodging by herself in Edmonton – she was 26 and a stenographer.

By 1923, she was an executive secretary with the provincial government – working for Hon. R G Reid, Minister of Municipal Affairs. As part of her job, she spent three months in Europe, inspecting the restoration of battlefields in France and Belgium, as well as visiting England and Ireland. She flew between Paris and London “which she states was a most enjoyable experience”. In later interviews, Gladys said it was this flight that sparked her interest in aviation, despite fog over the channel, a forced landed, and 12 out of the 14 passengers suffering from air sickness.

In 1926, she was 31 and still living alone in Edmonton – now in her own apartment. She was “one of the finest equestriennes in the city” and often appeared in hunts and local horse shows. She also drove cars, played golf and held a life-saving certificate.

In November 1927, Gladys was the first woman to join the Edmonton and Northern Alberta Aero Club. She passed her ground school test in June 1928 and was hoping to be the second woman in Canada to get her license (only Eileen Vollick held a license at that point).

However, her flying plans took a backseat to her personal life. On 5 September 1928, Gladys married George A Walker, lawyer for the Canadian Pacific Railway in Calgary. They honeymooned in Jasper, Victoria and Vancouver and had three airplanes circle their car as they drove off. Gladys was back to flying by July 1929 – soloing in August and waiting for the next time the government examiner visited the city.

On 27 September 1929, Gladys passed her flying test and received PPL #372, making her the eighth female pilot in Canada. She was 34 years old.

Canadian Aviatrix #8 - Gladys Graves (1895-1982)

Photo: Edmonton Journal (March 31, 1928)

In 1930, Gladys and George had a daughter, June. In the 1931 census, the family are living in Calgary - George (51), Gladys (36), June (9 months), plus a maid and a nurse.

Gladys continued to stay busy – winning prizes at the dog show at the Calgary Stampede. George’s career with CPR went from strength to strength – promoted to Assistant General Solicitor in 1934 (leaving Edmonton for Montreal), General Solicitor in 1936, General Counsel in 1945, Vice-President in 1947, and Chairman in 1948.

George retired in 1955 and died in 1959. Gladys died in 1982, aged 87.

The First 100 Canadian Women Pilots





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