Canadian Aviatrix #5 – Louise Burka (1909-2001)

Louise Josephine Charlotte Marie Burka was born in Cheshire, England, on 10 March 1909 to Franz Carl Clemens Burka (Austrian, age 34, West India Merchant’s Clerk) and Ann Mary MacDonald (Scottish, 28).

Her parents were married in 1907 in Scotland and their eldest daughter, Clementine, was born there in 1908. They’d moved to England by the next year, then shortly after, moved to Georgetown, Guyana. In 1912, they had their first son, Ian, who died shortly after birth, due to complications caused by Ann having typhoid fever. In 1913, they left South America and moved to Calgary, AB, where their final child, Alexander, was born in 1919.

Louise later said that if she owned a plane, she’d name it ‘Kaieteur’ after the waterfall in Guyana. Interestingly, her birth certificate shows that the house she was born in was also named ‘Kaieteur’, so her father may have already spent time out there before marriage.

 

 

1916 census

1921 census

1926 census

 

Calgary, AB

Calgary, AB

Calgary, AB

Frank

41

49

49

Annie

36

42

46

Clementine

8

13

18

Louise

7

12

17

Ian

Born & died 1912

-

-

Alexander

Born 1919

2

7

 

By 1928, Louise was working for a large grain firm, operating a “comptometer” – a mechanical calculator. In May, she won an aviation theory competition, beating more than 70 people, mostly men, and became one of the 30 people to gain a spot for flying lessons.

On 3 April 1929, Louise passed her flying test and received PPL #243, making her the fifth female pilot in Canada. She was 20 years old.

Photo: Calgary Herald (April 20, 1929)

She immediately took a friend flying and became the first woman pilot in western Canada to carry a passenger. She planned to get her commercial license and she was working hard to save up the required $1,000. However, she seems to have given up flying shortly after.

Louise was an active member of the Girls’ Conservative Club in Calgary – taking the roles of treasurer, secretary, then president, as well as reading teacups.

In 1937, she visited Russia, England, France and Switzerland. In Moscow, she watched the May Day parade march through the Red Square from her hotel window (British Pathé have footage of the event on YouTube). She took a short course at Oxford University, on political economics and social problems, and attended an international youth conference at the Institute of International Relations in Geneva.

In 1943, she graduated with a BA in psychology from Queen’s University in Kingston, then did two years postgraduate study in social science at the University of Toronto.

In July 1945, Louise was appointed as community counsellor at Brantford Wartime Housing Ltd in Ontario. In December, she got married to Captain Grant McDonald Johnston of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps.

The couple were still married in 1947, when they moved to New Jersey, but soon divorced. Louise worked as a social worker at Trenton State Hospital. In 1952, Louise married Lieutenant Joseph L Sola, a graduate of New York University and on active duty at Fort Dix with the 60th Infantry Regiment. The wedding was in Fort Lee, with the reception at Joseph’s parents’ house – the couple phoned Louise’s parents in Canada. After marriage, Louise opened a shop selling one-of-a-kind home accessories, including items she brough back from Europe.

In 1953, the couple had a daughter, Alberta. In 2000, Joseph died. In 2001, Louise died, aged 91.

Louise is the first pilot with an asterisk by her name in the list in No Place for a Lady – meaning the author hadn’t been able to find her. I just had “Louise Burka” and the date of her PPL to go on.

The First 100 Canadian Women Pilots

 

 

 

 

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