Annette & Géralde Brunelle
2006

Air stewardess

After a few orientation flights in 1938, TCA (today Air Canada) started in 1939 the first regular air stewardess service in Canada. More than 1,000 women applied on the competition, for about 15 open positions. Living in Montreal, Annette was selected… even being an inch too short! Unfortunately, during the first week of training in Winnipeg, her mother died suddenly and Annette came back to attend the funeral. Before returning to Winnipeg, Annette asked her sister Géralde (missing an inch also!) if she would like to become an air stewardess like her. TCA agreed. This is how the two diminutive sisters became part of the first air stewardess class, in February 1939. TCA gave the highest importance to its air stewardess service. As explained by its Vice-President: «The stewardess is the window through which the passenger sees the airline». Among hiring conditions, candidates had to be certified nurses, single, with a mandatory resignation clause upon mariage (leading inevitably to short careers).

TCA gave the highest importance to its air stewardess service. «The stewardess is the window through which the passenger sees the airline».

Starting on 10-passenger Lockheed 10A Electras and 14H (unpressurized and unable to fly high enough to avoid bad weather and turbulence), the presence of a nurse as a crewmember helped passengers feel secure and provided expertise to handle discomforting situations, a reality of early commercial flying. The stewardess helped passengers adjust their oxygen masks on high altitude flights. When TCA’s transcontinental service was inaugurated, April 1, 1939, Annette was on duty on the first westbound scheduled flight departing Montreal/St.Hubert. (To celebrate Air Canada’s fiftieth anniversary, a sentimental transcontinental flight was re-enacted in 1986 with an original Lockheed 10A. At age 77, Annette was again a member of the crew!). The airline identified the Brunelle sisters (and their classmate Marcelle Levac) as TCA’s first bilingual air stewardesses. First based in Montreal, the sisters were then posted to Toronto in the fall of 1939. Annette remained there most of her career while Géralde (less fluent in English) worked mainly on francophone routes. Pioneers in their own right, Annette Brunelle-Donovan and Géralde Brunelle-Laurier contributed to build the foundations of a new profession, essential to later development of commercial aviation.

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