Polar Winds

A Century of Flying the North

Reviewed by Joanna Dawson

March 29, 2015

There’s something in our DNA as humans that makes us want to explore the unknown, to test physical boundaries and push social norms. Two recent books take readers on a ride through one of the most exciting frontiers of the twentieth century — the skies above Canada.

In Polar Winds: A Century of Flying the North, Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail, currently Edmonton’s historian laureate, focuses on flight paths north of the 60th parallel. From eccentric inventors looking to land their flying balloons close to the Yukon gold mines (“balloonatics”) to the construction of the Distant Early Warning Line system during the Cold War era, Canada’s northern skies and lands have always been of interest to “outsiders.”

While Polar Winds recounts extraordinary tales of adventure, tragedy, and intrigue, it’s also a history of everyday life in the North. Readers will find themselves interested to learn about the complex impact aviation had on communication, health care, education, and the economy for Canada’s northern residents.

In Canadian Women in the Sky: 100 Years of Flight, Elizabeth Gillan Muir provides another perspective on aviation history by focusing on the experiences of women. Muir begins with the earliest experiments with air travel, when it was considered somewhat shocking for a woman to fly, even as a passenger.

From there, we learn about the many women who charted new territory as pilots, instructors, engineers, and astronauts. The book reads as a collection of short biographies of these trailblazers, who, taken together, provide a well- rounded history of Canadian women’s experience in the aviation industry.

Whether read together or separately, these books offer fascinating insights into an industry that has revolutionized many aspects of life in Canada.

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