Local recalls YLW history

Shirley Mae Jeffrey Photo contributed

YLW’s 75th anniversary celebrations recently brought back fond memories for a Peachland resident who, at just 19 years of age, completed her pilot training at the Kelowna airport. 

When Kelowna International Airport invited the Canadian Forces Snowbirds to perform an air demonstration over Okanagan Lake last weekend in celebration of the anniversary, Shirley Mae Jeffrey had to be there to see it.

The first plane took off from Ellison Field in the fall of 1947 and seven years later, in 1955, Jeffrey was gifted flying lessons from her father, a former principal in the now Historic Primary School, and soon she was zooming around the province in a Luscombe two-seater plane.

At the time, there was only one other qualified woman flyer in the Okanagan. When Jeffrey recently pulled out her license, she was reminded that the “Mr.” before her name had been crossed out and replaced with a handwritten amendment, a reflection of the times. 

Shirley Mae Jeffrey in her flying days. Photo contributed

Jeffrey was a natural pilot who, after only six and a half hours of instruction, was flying solo – an achievement that made the front page of the Vancouver Sun.

A passion for flying is a torch that has been passed down in the family: Jeffrey’s son became an Air Canada pilot who regularly flies a Dreamliner to Australia. 

Today, the Kelowna airport is unrecognizable from the small building that was there when Jeffrey was training out of in the 50s and the grass runway has transformed into an 8,900-foot asphalt runway, but the new aerospace centre and YLW expansion project have Jeffrey excited for the future of aviation in the region.

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