Northern Lights Awards showcase high-flying women in Canada

The 2015 Elsie MacGill Northern Lights Awards winners along with their Air Cadet escorts.  From left to right are Tracy Medve, Dawn Bartsch, Sgt. Andreena Clifford, Judy Cameron, Jill Oakes, Claire Lemiski, and Erin Grant.
The seventh annual Elsie MacGill Northern Lights Awards (EMNL) Gala Dinner was held in Toronto Oct. 3. 
More than 280 aviation and aerospace professionals gathered to honour seven exceptional women at the annual event. With attendance up over the 250 attendees in 2014, the event is rapidly gaining momentum, and amazing levels of sponsorship from many patrons include aviation giants Air Canada, Bombardier, Brampton Flight Centre, Jazz, Porter, Seneca College, Skyservice, and Waterloo Wellington Flight Centre, to name a few. 
The non-profit Northern Lights Foundation offers the pinnacle aviation and aerospace awards program that recognizes, promotes, and inspires past, present and future generations of Canadian women in the industry. 

The Northern Lights board of directors is ably staffed by seven women, each very accomplished in aviation. The awards recognize honourees in six different categories: Flight Operations/Maintenance, Government /Military, Business, Education, Pioneer, and Rising Star.  
Singer and former sergeant in the RCAF Central Band, Kathy Thompson, opened the event, singing the national anthem. The anthem was followed by a sombre moment of silence in memory of the first EMNL award recipient inducted in 2009, Heather Sifton, who passed away this year. 
The fun-filled evening included a commemorative song about Elsie MacGill by Thompson, and inspiring histories and anecdotes about each winner were presented by famous Canadian broadcaster and private pilot, Jacquie Perrin.  This year’s keynote speaker was 2013 EMNL Flight Operations and Maintenance award winner, retired lieutenant-colonel Maryse Carmichael.  
Carmichael is a former Snowbirds commanding officer as well as the first female Snowbird pilot, starting in 2000. This also made her the first female military jet demonstration team pilot in the world.  She is now a military flight instruction specialist with CAE. Her glowing portrayals of the award recipients and their influence on the industry were inspirational in themselves. 
The seven Elsie MacGill Northern Lights award winners won for their many accomplishments in aviation, but also their selfless donation of time to charitable and worthy causes, many to do with furthering the cause of women in aviation. The recipients are listed below. 
The Pioneer Award was given to Dawn Bartsch. She acquired her commercial pilot licence in the 1950s and is endorsed for night flying, instrument flying, seaplanes and instructors rating. She established herself as a flight instructor, and later a top-notch bush pilot.  She was among the first Canadian female pilots to be hired by an airline, despite overwhelming resistance in an era of male domination of the industry.  She flew trips to Russia, Vietnam, South America in 1996 and won a bronze medal for the 1997 World Air Games long distance race. Bartsch also participated in the London to Sydney event, then crossing the Pacific to Hawaii and home.  She amassed an impressive 13,000 flying hours in her long and interesting career. 
Judy Cameron won the Flight Operations/Maintenance Award, due in part to the fact she was the first female pilot Air Canada hired in 1978 at age 23.  She recently retired as the first female Boeing 777 captain in Canada and was also the first female 767 captain at the airline. Air Canada’s progressive attitude to women in the workplace made the company an industry leader.  Cameron was also the first woman to graduate from Selkirk College’s aviation technology program in 1975.  She amassed over 23,000 hours during her 40-year career.  Cameron volunteers with Dreams Take Flight and Wings of Courage. She very much misses flying and hopes to return to it doing aerobatics, something she had to refrain from while flying airliners.
Sgt. Andreena Clifford, an RCAF aerospace control operator, was recognized as the Government/Military honouree. She is a veteran of the aerial campaign over Afghanistan, flying aboard the Airborne Warning and Control Systems aircraft (AWACS); providing tactical air pictures for Operation Impact as well as many domestic AWACS operations. She is a leader in Data LINK technology, and her expertise is second to none.  She is also editor of The Shield, CFB North Bay’s 22 Wing newspaper, and director at the 22 Wing Museum of Aerospace Defence. 
Tracy Medve, current chair of the Air Transportation Association of Canada (ATAC) and current president of KF Aerospace, was recognized in the Business category.  A lawyer by trade, Medve has a long and distinguished career in airline management and was formerly president of Canadian North Airlines, also working for Norcanair, Time Air, and Canadian Partner.  She was the first member of female ATAC to be recognized as a Honourary Lifetime Member.  
Jill Oakes of the University of Manitoba was recognized with the Education award for her role in furthering women’s education and training in aviation. She is studying relationships between people and the environment and teaching aviation geography. Oakes has produced more than 100 publications and she is helping women get their pilot’s certification on a donated Cessna 150 at a Winnipeg area flight school. 
Two young women were honoured as Rising Stars. Claire Lemiski is a pilot on Bombardier’s Q400 corporate shuttle, flying several times daily between Toronto and Montreal, as well as a flight test engineer with the company. Lemiski is a commercial pilot and active member of the First Canadian Chapter of The Ninety-Nines, playing a leadership role with the Montreal Ninety-Nines, and member of Women in Aviation’s Upper Canada Chapter. She is also a check pilot for the de Havilland Employee Flying Club at Downsview. Lemiski was part of Bombardier’s first ‘Unmanned’ Q400 flight, with another female pilot and two female flight engineers in the flight crew. 

The second Rising Star award went to Lt. Erin Grant, a member of the RCAF Reserves and a Glider Standards and tow plane pilot. She has been involved in Air Cadets since she was old enough to join and achieved her glider licence through the program. Grant was a Class IV instructor at Seneca College and was valedictorian of the Faculty of Technology in 2013, also awarded the coveted Seneca Cup for her academic achievements.  As part of the Seneca Jazz Cadet program, she began working for the airline as a Dash-8 first officer at the Calgary base in 2014.  
According to Medve, “The award is a nice recognition of a long career. It’s amazing and important what the Northern Lights Awards represent, focusing to women. We have done a good job in recent years in attracting women to the aviation industry, but we still have a long way to go. The award will help more people understand that aviation is a very attainable career for women.”
Cameron added: “I am extremely honoured to be recognized for my career by my peers. I encourage other women pilots to follow your dreams and be persistent. You can do it!” 
All of the Elsie MacGill Northern Lights Award winners, besides being accomplished in their careers, are heavily involved in their communities, volunteering their time for various charities and worthy causes, many of which further aspects of women in aviation. They are role models for future generations of women in aviation, and Northern Lights Awards highlight this for the world to see. The evening closed with Thompson delivering a stunning rendition of Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings.”
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