Story by Jade Edwards-Modry
My interests in museum work have always been fairly collection-centric. So when our curator Ryan enlisted my help to accession a collection of flight logbooks dating back to the mid-1920s, I was immensely excited to learn the process of documenting and researching that was required to create a useful and reliable record of museum objects.
For the past few weeks, I have been accessioning the logbooks of Joseph Earle Jellison, at times known as J.E. Jellison, misspelt as “E.G. Jellison” or “Earl Jellison”. The documentation of the logbooks was tedious – determining precisely what planes were flown, where they were flown, with whom they were flown and for what purpose. All while deciphering outdated, aviation-related nomenclature.
The experience has granted me an exclusive window into the life and career of Jellison, a man who lived quite a long time before me but with whom I have come to know quite well. His correspondence with others suggests he was a well-liked and respected pilot. He learned how to fly in the first world war, then instructed civilian flying, learned how to fly seaplanes in Vancouver, BC, had a successful career in aerial photography as a bush pilot, flew in the second world war and worked for several commercial airlines. He had a wife and two daughters. It was already known that he was the pilot for Canada’s first honeymoon flight. Beyond that, however, not much is publicly known or documented about him.
After weeks of research and several logbooks, I returned to his 1927 logbook. I noticed that at this time he was primarily flying out of “Elliot Airport” which was puzzling because no such airport currently exists. With further research I encountered a story about Canada’s first woman pilot, Eileen Vollick, learning to fly at the Jack V. Elliot Air Service in Ghents Crossing overlooking Hamilton Bay. The very back of the logbook had the full name “Jack V. Elliot” written which confirmed it to be the same airport. It was there that Eileen Vollick also became the first woman pilot to parachute jump in Canada.
I wondered if they ever knew each other. She was flying there in 1927, so I decided to check his logbook to see if they even possibly even flew together. About halfway through the logbook, I was feeling a bit discouraged until finally, it jumped off the page: “June 1927 Miss Vollick [flight] test”. I excitedly looked further into her career.
Eileen Vollick wrote an article prior to her death that was published in the Owen Sound Sun Times entitled “How I became Canada’s first licensed woman pilot”. Where she details her relationship with Jellison:
“I must mention my first instructor Pilot Earl Jellison, under whose guidance I stored away knowledge which later proved invaluable. Writing from Vancouver where he was stationed Pilot Jellison sent congratulations on my success: ‘I was very pleased with your ability last summer, and I think you know something of the confidence I had in you when you walked out on the wing to do your famous ‘parachute jump’ into Hamilton Bay.’ ”
It sank in then that this logbook actually contained the recorded instances of the first time that Eileen Vollick ever flew and that Jellison was her first pilot instructor. The search continued and I soon after confirmed that he was flying the plane when Vollick became the first girl to parachute jump in Canada. Upon further reading, I found out that Jellison was also flying the plane when Rose Tracey became the second woman to parachute in Canada.
I don’t believe it’s unreasonable to expect a man from the 1920s to have antiquated ideas about the societal roles of women. It has been a pleasant surprise to learn about the unsung heroes who supported progress without drawing any of the attention to themselves. The more I learn about Jellison, the more apparent his kindness becomes. He made efforts and strides to make flying accessible to everyone and I am excited to continue my research about his career.