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On This Day in History - June 9, 1989

Capt. Jane Foster (left) and Capt. Deanna Brasseur (right) Credit: Legion Magazine

Deanna “Dee” Brasseur recalls being 11 or 12 years old and riding her bicycle to the end of a runway at the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) base in Centralia, Ontario, where her father was posted, and endlessly watching trainer airplanes take off and land. There, she thought, if only I could be a pilot one day. At the time, in the mid 1960s, the RCAF did not permit women to become pilots.

Two decades later Deanna Brasseur along with Jane Foster would become not only Canada’s first female fighter pilots, but the first, anywhere.

“We didn’t know that we were the first women fighter pilots. I went flying because I wanted to fly, not to prove anything to anybody, for any reason. It was just an exciting opportunity.” -Deanna Brasseur

Poster recruiting for the RCAF Women's Division. Credit: Legion Magazine

In 1965 there were 95,000 members of the Royal Canadian Air Force, and the number of women was capped at 1,500, or 1.8 percent of the total force. Women were also restricted to mostly support roles. In 1971 the Royal Commission on the Status of Women released a report. The commission issued six recommendations: standardize enlistment criteria and pension benefits; allow married women to enlist; open the three military colleges to women as well as all trades and classifications. It also said that pregnancy should not automatically lead to discharge from the service.

Women joined up, like men, out of patriotism, a sense of family tradition, a desire to travel, or to make their way in the world. In all, 17,038 women joined making up 8 percent of the total force.

Capt. Jane Foster (left) and Capt. Deanna Brasseur (right) Credit: Legion Magazine

In 1979, as part of a program integrating women into traditionally men’s roles, Deanna Brasseur along with Jane Foster, were accepted into a pilot training course and on February 13, 1981 they received their wings. However, women could still not be used in combat roles, on sea duty, or in remote locations. After an announcement in 1987 that all military roles, including combat ones, should be open to women, Brasseur wrote a memo to her career officer indicating her interest in flying fighter jets, which she was granted on June 9, 1989, along with Captain Jane Foster.

“The challenge is to look at yourself in the mirror and say: ‘You did everything they’ve done. You’re as good as they are. Accepting yourself is the No. 1 priority, and over time they forget about the fact that you’re a woman. You’re just another squadron pilot who happens to be competent and capable.’” -Deanna Brasseur

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