Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail

Writer and historian

WHY SHE’S TOP 40: Her research and writing on aviation history focuses on women, First Nations and other groups that have been largely overlooked in existing narratives.

KEY TO SUCCESS: “There are so many interesting stories that haven’t been told. I’m passionate about telling.”

Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail remembers feeling a little daunted when, at just 28, she was elected the first female president of the 50-year-old Canadian Aviation Historical Society.

She was no stranger to the organization dedicated to preserving Canada’s flying heritage. Members helped the writer, researcher and historian with her first book, For the Love of Flying, chronicling a pioneering aviation company. Still, leading the organization, introducing social media to the predominantly older male membership and chairing the annual 2011 convention added up to a huge commitment. But, says Metcalfe-Chenail, “I wanted to give back and help out however I could.”

Now vice-president of the society (she scaled back her role to make room for her first child), she continues work on two books: A history of aviation in Canada’s North, set to be published next year, and a historical novel about a female bush pilot who leaves Canada for air combat during the Second World War.

Metcalfe-Chenail, who moved to Edmonton with her husband in 2010, describes her family as “a bunch of aviation nuts” (her grandfather and father were pilots). However, her interests didn’t spark until after she completed a master’s degree in history and her father-in-law connected her with the president of the aviation company, Laurentian Air Services, which was founded and run by his family. “When he showed me his basement full of boxes, photos and documents on the history of the company that had been around since 1936, my [inner] history geek took over.”

Since that time, she’s been busy sharing stories of people and planes, while combining her love of aviation with her academic background in the histories of hidden voices — be they immigrants, women or First Nations. “I try to bring in those perspectives that have been ignored for a long time.”

Piecing those stories together isn’t always easy. “People assume writing has to do with these sudden bursts of inspiration, but my experience is that it’s really showing up day after day and putting in the work.” 

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