Canadian Aviatrix #37 – Alma Gaudreau (1895-1994)

Alma was born on 28 March 1895 in St Mathieu, Quebec, to Pascal Gaudreau (a farmer) and Aglaé Boucher. She was one of 13 children.

1881 census

1891 census

1901 census

1911 census

1921 census

St Mathieu QC

St Mathieu QC

St Mathieu QC

St Mathieu QC

St Mathieu QC

Pascal

30

40

50

60

70

Aglaé

24

34

44

54

64

Philias

5

14

-

-

-

Alphonse

3

13

23

-

-

Lèdia

1

10

21

31

-

Achille

-

7

18

-

-

Elmire

-

6

16

-

-

Délima

-

5

14

-

-

Cédulie

-

3

13

-

-

Harriet

-

-

9

-

-

Arthur

-

-

7

-

-

Alma

-

-

6

-

-

Emile

-

-

4

14

-

Wilfrid Désiré

-

-

2

12

-

Marie Emma

-

-

[Born 1900]

-

-

Plus:

Pascal's parents and brother's family

-

Two grandchildren

-

-

 

In 1915, Alma married Alexandre Côté, who worked for Canadian Pacific Railways. According to La Société Historique Francophone de la Colombie-Britannique, he was assigned a post in the middle of the woods in Ontario and the isolation caused him severe mental health issues, so the couple got divorced.

(I haven’t been able to find Alma in any census after her childhood. I heard a rumour that she moved to America as a teenager, but I can’t confirm it. I also can’t find her in the 1920s – either married or divorced.)

Alma moved to Vancouver and married Francis William Gilbert, known as Frank. He was a divorced cinema projectionist, originally from England. He was also a pilot and the couple started their own flying school – Gilbert’s Flying Services. The Airport News column of the newspaper was full of Frank and Alma’s adventures, including the time they returned from their lunch at Chilliwack Airport to find some cows had chewed off a large part of their plane’s fuselage!

On 7 April 1934, Alma passed her flying test and received her PPL, making her the 37th female pilot in Canada. She was 39 years old.


Canadian Aviatrix #37 – Alma Gaudreau (1895-1994) 

Photo: The Province (September 20, 1941)

In September, Alma flew down to the Seattle Air Show and on the return trip, had to make a forced landing due to engine trouble. At the 1935 show, they ran out of gas on the way there, then on the way home, were reporting missing (they’d actually just stopped off to visit friends in Bellingham).

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

The Flying Seven 

Photo: Canada Aviation and Space Museum – CAVM-22374

Alma had wanted to get her commercial license for years, but Frank did not approve. She defied him and became the sixteenth women to hold a commercial pilot’s licence in Canada, passing her test on 26 September 1941.

The war put an end to her plans to get her instructor’s license and the couple were divorced by 1943 (when Frank got remarried). In 1945, they sold the school to the Michaud brothers, who allowed Alma to continue renting planes for personal use. She supported herself by working in real estate then at a fur store.

Alma died in 1994, aged 99.

The First 100 Canadian Women Pilots

 

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