Canadian Aviatrix #74 – Marion Powell (1918-1995)

Marion Alice Powell was born on 25 June 1918 in Toronto, Ontario, to John Thomas Powell (a carpet cleaner) and Lillian Taylor. Marion was the youngest of five girls. Her three eldest sisters all got married very young – 16, 17 and 18 respectively.

John died in 1920 (influenza and pneumonia) and Lily got remarried to Herbert Fuller. Some sources say that Marion was orphaned by the time she was 15, but actually her mother died in 1940, when Marion was 22.

1901 census

1911 census

1921 census

Toronto ON

Toronto ON

Toronto ON

John

29

38

-

Lily

23

32

42

Herbert [2nd husband]

-

-

46

Agnes

1

11

-

Lillian

-

7

-

Pearl

-

4

14

Marjorie

-

-

7

Marion

-

-

3

 

Marion worked in a wrapping paper factory and had to scrimp and save to get enough money for flying lessons, including going without food.

On 5 January 1940, Marion passed her flying test and received PPL #3338, making her the 73rd female pilot in Canada. She was 21 years old.

Canadian Aviatrix #74 – Marion Powell (1918-1995) 

Photo: Edmonton Journal (December 13, 1939)

Around this time, Marion married Darwin Kitchener Orr, known as Deke. He was also a pilot. It’s unclear how long the couple were married, but by 1947, Deke was engaged to someone else (and he went on to marry another woman too).

On 12 December 1941, Marion became the seventeenth women to hold a commercial pilot’s licence in Canada. Along with Violet Milstead, she worked as one of Canada’s first ferry pilots – transporting planes from Windsor to Toronto.

In 1942, she gained her instructors rating (the fifth woman in Canada) and was hired as manager and Chief Flying Instructor of the St Catharines Flying Club, becoming the first woman in Canada to operate a flying club. She was then hired by the No. 12 Elementary Flying School of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and became the second woman licensed as a control tower operator in Canada. In 1943, Marion joined the Air Transport Auxiliary and moved to England.

After the war, Marion returned to Canada and worked as a flying instructor. In 1950, she became the first woman in Canada to own a flying school. The school was initially based at Toronto’s Barker Field and when it was sold, she bought some land in the town of Maple and made it into an airfield – becoming the first woman licensed to operate an airport in Canada.

After 13,000 hours of flying planes, Marion was ready to try something new, so in 1961, she became the first female helicopter pilot in Canada. She added on an instructor’s rating and became the first female helicopter instructor in Canada too! It wasn’t all plain sailing though – three months later, the helicopter she was teaching in suffered an engine failure and crashed into the ground. Her pupil was okay, but Marion cracked her spine and spent several months in hospital. After recovering, she was back to flying and instructing.

Marion was awarded the Ninety-Nines’ Amelia Earhart Medal for her contributions to aviation (1976), and was inducted as a member of Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame (1981) and the Order of Canada (1993). She finally retired from flying in 1994.

Marion was killed in a traffic accident in 1995, aged 76. The day before she died, she had been interviewed by The Liberal for a feature on her life as “Canada’s most celebrated female pilot”. She had 55 years as a pilot and 24,000 hours of flying time.

The First 100 Canadian Women Pilots

 

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