PILOT AND PIONEER: GISÈLE GARCEAU
As children, we all have dreams about what we envision ourselves doing when we grow up. But how many of us truly see those dreams take flight? For young women whose career aspirations are in typically male-dominated fields, the challenge feels even more daunting. What matters is having ambition greater than the obstacles, and determination that’s bigger than fear. Just ask Gisèle Garceau.
Growing up, Gisèle Garceau had a fascination with outer space. Her curious research ignited the desire to become an astronaut—a profession that many young children aspire to, but few actually pursue. A girl on a mission, she discovered that the best path to get her there would be a career in aviation. Already intrigued by instruments and switches, this ambition made perfect sense to her, but was met with doubtful reactions from family and teachers. However, this resistance didn’t deter her from beginning what would become a truly inspiring journey.
THIS IS A MAN’S WORLD?
It’s no secret that aviation is, and has always been, a male-dominated industry. When Garceau began her post-secondary studies in 1975 at the École Nationale d’Aérotechnique in Quebec, she enrolled in an aircraft maintenance program alongside 600 men and only 11 women. Unfazed, she simultaneously took to the sky to earn her private pilot’s license.
Upon graduation in 1978, she joined Canadair as the very first female avionics technician to work in the pre-flight hangar. This impressive achievement kept her busy, and while she spent most of her time working on aircraft like the CL-215, she spent her free time obtaining her commercial pilot license and working as a skydiving pilot, flying Cessna 182 aircraft every weekend.
From here, her career continued to soar. Garceau transitioned to the engineering department to work on the Challenger CL-600 electrical systems before joining Transport Canada as the first female airworthiness inspector. She then became the first Canadian woman to hold a Category “E” license and continued to break down barriers and forge new paths for the women who would follow in her professional footsteps. “We have to show the man’s world that it’s okay to be a woman in the field,” she said.
GROWING ACROSS THE GLOBE
After 15 years with Transport Canada, Garceau went back to school to take on a 4-year electrical engineering program before moving to Hong Kong so that her husband could pursue a career opportunity. Even though she arrived with impressive degrees, licenses, and years of aviation experience under her belt, she soon discovered that, unlike Canada, Asia was not yet receptive to women in the industry.
Rather than feel defeated by this setback, she shifted her focus to new ventures, while also helping her daughters follow their dreams and achieve their goals. Her keen drive to learn and grow led to her taking Mandarin and Feng Shui courses, running half marathons, and even enrolling in the University of Hong Kong to obtain certificates in sports and family nutrition. Life then took her family to Vietnam where they adopted a little girl.
Rich in new skills and an even bigger family, it was time to return to Canada so that she could continue taking her true passion for aviation to new heights. She joined the team at Bombardier, earned her engineer title with the Ordre des Ingénieurs du Québec, then went on to work with MHIRJ as an engineer in the certification of cabin interiors.
FROM ONE DAY, TO DAY ONE
Whether on the ground or in the air, Garceau has always been a true force who never once let anything or anyone stand between her and her goals. “When you love what you’re doing, you don’t see barriers,” she says. “Follow your dreams. Get all the information you need, and take the steps.” In taking that first step, even Amelia Earhart once said, “the most effective way to do it, is to do it.”
Not surprisingly, achieving these goals garnered Garceau plenty of well-deserved recognition. She was inducted to the Wall of Fame at the Northern Lights Aero Foundation, and received the Government Award in honour of her contributions and work at Transport Canada. This is where she ranked as the first female airworthiness inspector in Canada, and was instrumental in writing the new regulations and rules associated with avionics work and licensing.
For women who wish to follow in her footsteps, there are currently several initiatives that support them in entering the industry, like the Northern Lights Aviation Foundation, which encourages young women by showing them that they have a place in aviation and aerospace. Air Canada and CIBC also provide scholarships and grants for young women working on getting their pilot license.
Garceau’s pragmatic approach paired with her unwavering determination have made her an incredible role model for women in aviation. She hopes to see many more women follow in her footsteps and make their mark on the industry. “If I inspired at least one person, then I can say I’ve accomplished my goals,” she said proudly.