Eight women in aviation honored at Northern Lights Award Gala

Avatar for Natasha McKentyBy Natasha McKenty | October 17, 2021

Estimated reading time 5 minutes, 9 seconds.

The 12th annual Elsie Macgill Northern Lights Gala (Elsie Gala) was held on Oct. 16, 2021, at the Sheraton Parkway Toronto North hotel in Richmond Hill, Ontario. The event, which was cancelled in 2020 (due to the pandemic), handed out eight awards to outstanding women in the aviation and aerospace sector. Award categories included Flight Operations, Government, Business, Education, Pioneer, Engineering, and two Rising Star recipients. 

The event, which was cancelled in 2020, due to the pandemic, handed out eight awards to outstanding women in the aviation and aerospace sector. Andy Cline Photo

Each year, through a nomination and judging process, honorees are recognized in October at a gala dinner. Through a combination of photos and videos, the honorees’ inspiring life stories are told through speakers who have known them throughout their life.

The event is named after Elsie MacGill, the world’s first female aircraft designer. The women’s rights activist was appointed chief aeronautical engineer for the Canadian Car and Foundry Plant and became known as “Queen of the Hurricanes” after she became “pivotal in the production of the Hawker Hurricane.”

The evening opened with the Jazz Northern Lights Aero Foundation (NLAF) Award, followed by the Air Canada Indigenous Student Award, and the second annual Captain Judy Cameron Air Canada Scholarship.

Urooj Ali of Toronto, Ontario; Kahina Gagnon of Bromont, Quebec; Winnie Ho of Scarborough, Ontario; and Caitlyn Lam of Richmond, British Columbia each received $5,000. Andy Cline Photo

“After such a difficult year, it is especially uplifting and encouraging to see these four young women determinedly pursuing their dreams in aviation. Air Canada made it possible for me to experience the most amazing career in the world, and I am grateful for their encouragement of other women in their passion for aviation,” said Judy Cameron, Boeing 777 captain at Air Canada (retired), and director, Northern Lights Aero Foundation.

Urooj Ali of Toronto, Ontario; Kahina Gagnon of Bromont, Quebec; Winnie Ho of Scarborough, Ontario; and Caitlyn Lam of Richmond, British Columbia each received $5,000.

A keynote speech was given by astronaut, aquanaut, pilot, and former Director of Space & Life Sciences at NASA, Dr. Dave Williams. Williams has flown to space twice and holds the Canadian spacewalking record for most spacewalks. His memoir, “Defying Limits, Lessons From the Edge of the Universe,” reflects on the highs and lows of his career. Williams is a member of the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame.

A keynote speech was given by astronaut, aquanaut, pilot, and former Director of Space & Life Sciences at NASA, Dr. Dave Williams. Andy Cline Photo

The 2021 Elsie Awards were given out in the following order: Nancy Barber – Business Award; Jo-Anne Tabobandung – Education Award; Kathryn Atamanchuk – Engineering Award; Stacey Jackson – Flight Operations Award; LCol Diane Baldasaro – Government Award; Honorary Colonel Kendra Kincade – Trailblazer Award; and Maegan Extross and Kathleen Legge – Rising Star Award.

Nomination Criteria:

  • determination and perseverance
  • enthusiasm
  • leadership
  • personal accomplishments in aviation or aerospace
  • the ability to inspire others
  • a contribution over an extended period of time (exception: Rising Star Award)

Nominations for the 2022 awards open Jan. 1 to March 31, 2022. 

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