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She Was That Good

She Was That Good

How Dawn Bartsch proved 'em all wrong
By Katie Weaver
Aug 09
2016
From the August/September 2016 Issue

Future-spouses Gordon and Dawn changed Yukon forever when they began landing their DC-3 on Old Crow sandbars in the early ‘60s. Diets would change from dry meat to vegetables that could be flown in any time; the community’s isolation no longer seemed as extreme. 

But Dawn Bartsch’s legacy goes much further. One of Canada’s earliest female pilots, she got her licence in 1950, despite her inspector looking for any excuse to fail her on her instrument test. After making her do the test three times over, he had to admit she was just that good. “Since Grade One, when they ask you what you wanna be when you get big, I always said a pilot,” she says, from her and Gordon's home in Oregon. “They wouldn’t pay much attention to it though, because I was a girl.”

The barriers were constant. She and her class in flight school were hired to what would become Air Canada, but once the company realized her sex, she was only offered a flight attendant job. She was later able to find work as a flight instructor at half the pay of her male colleagues. When more progressive companies finally let her fly, the Canadian Air Line Pilots’ Association didn’t accept women yet. That meant she couldn't advance in her career, resulting in a life of undesirable flight times and holidays spent working. How did she persevere? “I ignored it,” she says. “If you wanna do something bad enough, you just go ahead and do it.”

Co-owner of both Connelly-Dawson Airways and Great Northern Airways, it’s clear Bartsch’s adversities were not faced in vain. Not only did she push past sexism, but she did it while flying uncharted territories. Later, she and Gordon packed their bags and moved to Hawaii, while managing to fly in races around the world, too. “I had a great life in aviation,” she says. “A great life.”