Canadian Aviatrix #52 – Mary Skrypnyk (1915-2012)
Mary was born on 11 December 1915 in Timmins, Ontario, to Teodor Skrypnyk and Olena Sawdan. Her parents had moved to Canada from Ukraine when they were in their teens and got married in 1913. Theodore, known as Fred, was originally a miner, but the family moved to a farm for a better life.
The family was very proud of their Ukrainian culture – Fred and Olena appeared in drama productions together and they taught the children the language and folktales. They were also involved in politics – members of the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party, the International Workers of the World, then the Communist Party of Canada.
(Tim Buck, leader of the Canadian Communist Party, used to bring Mary candy and bounce her on his knee while she recited poetry. A world away from Julia MacBrien (Canadian Aviatrix #6) who organized a protest against Mr Buck speaking at a theatre in Ottawa.)
Sadly, Olena died when she was only 33 years old and Mary, as the oldest, had to leave school to take care of the house and her siblings. She continued to read voraciously though. A couple of years later, an aunt and uncle moved in to help with the farm and Mary began working at the Tucket Tobacco Factory in Hamilton – “a notorious sweatshop”.
Mary was part of the Young Communist League and met a fellow member who was studying to be an airplane mechanic. Through this connection, she arranged to take flying lessons and on 18 December 1936, Mary passed her flying test and received her PPL, making her the 52nd female pilot in Canada.
Photo: The Vancouver News Herald (March 26, 1956)
She also learned how to parachute jump and volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War, although she was turned down due to her age.
Mary became a journalist, editor and “an internationally recognized and celebrated translator of Ukrainian folk and classic literature into English”. She continued political activism throughout her life and even met Che Guevera and Fidel Castro when she attended an international socialist women’s conference in Cuba.
Mary died in 2012, aged 96.
Note: Mary was listed with an asterisk in No Place for a Lady – meaning the author hadn’t been able to find her. I just had “M. Skrypnyk” and the date of her PPL.