Lilian Bland: An Amazing Aviatrix
Lilian Bland: An Amazing Aviatrix
At their new home, Lilian and Charles built a cabin, a farm, and gardens. They had a daughter, named Patricia. They called themselves homesteaders.
Being a homesteader was hard work. They had to clear huge stumps out of the way to make gardens.
They hauled endless buckets of water from the river, and spent hours chopping wood to keep their cabin warm.
It rained more in Quatsimo Sound than Lilian thought possible. Every night, as she lay in bed, wolves howled outside the cabin.
Though the multi-talented and unapologetic Lilian Bland is not well-known as a trailblazing Canadian, the story of her life is an inspiring one. Born in England in 1878, Bland moved to Ireland as a young woman and got a job as a sports journalist, writing about racing cars and hunting on horseback. Her dream was to fly a plane, but, with no one to teach her how, she took it upon herself to design and build her own plane. She built a glider plane out of spruce, bamboo and canvas with 20-foot wings and called it the Mayfly because it “may or may not fly”. After several modifications to the design, success! The Mayfly took off, and Bland became the first woman to design, build and fly her own plane. Over the years, Bland built and sold gliders and biplanes to others, and, later, she became interested in automobiles and worked at a car dealership.
Bland and her husband, Charles, moved to the wilderness of northern Vancouver Island where they homesteaded and raised their only child, Patricia. Life was difficult, but Bland still found time to take photographs of nature and her life as a homesteader. Sadly, her daughter died at age 16 of tetanus, and Bland, heartbroken, moved back to England alone. There she lived in a house on a cliff where she gardened, painted and played the stock market. Despite her living during a time when there were few opportunities for women, Bland’s determination and her desire for freedom resulted in her living her life on her own terms.
Bland’s story is told in simple, often clipped, sentences. Though the book’s subtitle reads An Amazing Aviatrix, there are very few pages devoted to Bland’s love of flying and designing planes, and the book leaves out some very interesting facts about her first engine design. For example, readers would have been amazed to learn that, when Bland’s first engine arrived without a fuel tank, she fashioned one out of an empty bottle and an ear trumpet. Other details about her life have also been omitted, such as the fact that her photographs of birds, taken on Scotland’s west coast, were exhibited at London’s prestigious Photographic Society and are thought to be the first plates of live birds. The reference to Bland’s playing the stock market will be lost on young readers and should have been explained.
At the back of the book is a timeline of Bland’s life which also contains dates of some other aviators’ accomplishments.
The illustrations, well-suited to the text, are rendered in muted tones of grey, brown and blue. They capture the historical setting and have just the right amount of detail.
Lilian Bland: An Amazing Aviatrix is an inspiring story that encourages young readers to regard challenges as opportunities and to follow their dreams!
Gail Hamilton is a former teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, Manitoba.