Rimbey’s Edna Pratt and others trail-blazed path for thousands of Canadian women

In October of 1941, Rimbey’s Edna Pratt – who was Edna Bryanton at the time, made Canadian history when she, along with 149 other women answered the call from Defense Headquarters in Ottawa and were sworn into service with the Royal Canadian Air Force at a ceremony in Calgary, making them the first to do so.

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In October of 1941, Rimbey’s Edna Pratt – who was Edna Bryanton at the time, made Canadian history when she, along with 149 other women answered the call from Defense Headquarters in Ottawa and were sworn into service with the Royal Canadian Air Force at a ceremony in Calgary, making them the first to do so.

Little did she know at the time that the ceremony was the beginning of a career that would see her travel much of the world including working with the United Nations in post-war Germany.

Now 93 years of age, Pratt has been a member of the Royal Canadian Legion for the past 36 years in a row and 50 in total when considering her time as a member of the Port Credit, Ontario Legion.

And while she has been a member for all those years, she admits she hasn’t been all that active. Mind you, she has a few pretty good excuses.

“I’ve never been very active in the Legion because of the fact that I was a career girl,” she said. “When I came back from overseas which was several years after I left the forces – I didn’t get back to Canada until 1952, from then until 1976 I was employed with the federal government in various places and the job took most of my time. I held an officer’s position where if I had to work until 8:00 at night, I worked. I also had my husband and my son to look after so I didn’t have any time to work for the Legion.”

She did however, spend time with another organization that has very strong ties to the war years and her arm of the forces.

“I’m a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force Association and I’ve always been a member of the different wings wherever I was,” Pratt said. “I worked more with the Air Force Association than I did with the Legion.”

Shortly after her induction ceremony in 1941, Pratt boarded a train headed towards Toronto and along the way, the new recruits were treated like movie starlets as the public lined the railway tracks of every city and town along the way to get a glimpse of the girls who immediately won over their hearts.

“It was fascinating. It was like a magical train and great excitement. Alberta women had made history and all across the country of course, people met us at the train stations and the flashbulbs were popping. It was rather interesting, the fact that they had the people that they recruited to start the women’s division of the Royal Canadian Air Force,” she recalled. “Of the three arms of the forces, we were the first to have women in. They threw the idea out publicly, that women could do a lot of work in the forces to relieve men for active duty, but we weren’t allowed to be on the front lines like they are now.”

She said the idea had come to light about a year prior to her and the other 149 women signing up for service, but the press gobbled it up and turned to the salacious side of things and questioned the motives of the forces firing off accusations of the women only being there to service the men and the upholding of the women’s reputations.

That all changed very quickly however thanks to an ingenious plan by the air force which saw them recruit daughters of the upper crust of Canadian society at that time including many names that are still famous today for their wealth and power.

Among the new recruits were Margaret Irving, sister of the New Brunswick-based oil barons who are still one of the largest suppliers of gasoline in Canada east of Ontario; Margaret Molson of the brewery giants and Rhoda Kier, daughter of the head of the University of Calgary, to name a few.

“The air force was very smart, I thought,” Mrs. Pratt said. “Because they managed to get all these big names from the big families, and of course, that shut that right off. All of a sudden, it was the thing to do.”

Indeed it was as shortly after, women in the tens of thousands decided to follow their lead and the ranks of the Canadian Armed Forces grew considerably thus allowing our country the opportunity of showing the world that Canada had emerged as a power on the global stage, in part, because of Edna Pratt and the other 149 women who answered the call to arms.