Northern Sabbatical Productions. 

Tribute to Ethel Wood.

Ethel Wood (Inspiration).

Ethel was born in Claresholm in 1926 and grew up on a miserable, rocky farm in Stavely, AB. Her parents were Swedish immigrants and she was the youngest of three, by far. As a child she was fascinated with airplanes, and when the weekly mail plane did its Edmonton-Calgary-Lethbridge run, she’d drop everything to watch and imagine she was flying it.

She was often in trouble for shirking her chores. Ethel’s first close encounter with a plane was when an Anson pilot from No. 7 SFTS Fort Macleod crashed in their field. In exchange for buttermilk, the pilot let Ethel hang around until the crash truck came. BCATP flying schools were popping up everywhere so with a promise that some older Stavely girls would keep an eye on her (and a little white lie about her age), Ethel went to work at No. 31 EFTS De Winton.

She arrived in 1943, in time for Course 86 and stayed until course 102, when the school closed. She was a quick study with the tools and had the compassion, good humour, and listening skills that made her very popular with student pilots from all over the world.

One young pilot from England got her attention and in his five weeks at De Winton, they were engaged, him even finding time to meet her family. The plan was to marry after the war and then settle in Alberta (not Stavely) or London (not Ontario). Tragically, Ray was killed flying bombers in Summerside, PEI.

When De Winton closed Ethel intended to go to Ajax, ON to work in the munitions factory. On her quick stop at home she found that her father was deathly ill and her mother needed help working the farm. Months later when her father regained his health, the war was over.

Ethel and her friend Vi Hedin moved to Calgary to attend Garbutts Business College while working for their room and board. Later Ethel was hired as a comptometer operator, but on day-one she was told they had to give the job to a man returning from the war. Ethel then took on various jobs, trying to earn enough to move her parents and take flying lessons. Her parents moved to Calgary in the late 1940s while Ethel was working for the Employment Office.

A promotion landed her in No. 11 Supply Depot where she met I.H. “Woody” Wood, an Air Force Flight Lieutenant and former football player. Although Ethel was going steady at the time, F/L Wood asked if he could call her later “in case she got stood up.” Well, she did and he did (foul play was never ruled out) and they married in 1951.

They were transferred to Montreal where Peter was born, and then to Edmonton (Namao) where Robert was born. Woody’s parents also came to live with them (1955-61), which Ethel never got over. When Woody retired in 1960 they bought a house in Edmonton. Linda arrived in 1961, spoiling the retirement plans.

In winters Woody managed curling clubs and in summers he was the odds-maker for the Western Canada Racing Association. Woody died suddenly in 1973 when Ethel was 48. She got a job with a real estate company and later with AGT, where she retired from the Fleet Maintenance Department at age 65. After retirement Ethel did a little travelling, and volunteered at the Alberta Aviation Museum where she could be around planes and tell her stories.

In 2001, in recognition of 60 years of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan Lieutenant Governor Lois Hole presented Ethel and a couple of war aces with the BCATP Pennant, now hanging at the Museum. Ethel was immensely proud to accept the pennant on behalf of the many civilian women who worked in support of Canada’s contribution to the War Effort. She commented that her time at De Winton was the best job she ever had. Ethel died suddenly on May 14, 2014 just shy of her 88th birthday. We all miss her like crazy.