amelia earhart history

Amelia Earheart worked as a nurses' aid in Toronto before becoming a famous pilot

Most of us know Amelia Earhart historically as the first female aviator to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, who died tragically and mysteriously after a presumed plane crash in 1939.

But before she was world-famous, Earhart actually lived in Toronto for a few brief years, serving as a nurses' aid in the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) during WWI. 

According to the Forney Museum, Earhart came to Toronto to visit her sister Muriel during Christmas in 1917. She was struck by the shocking casualities of the war during her visit, so she returned not long after to train to become a nurses' aide.

According to Defining Moments Canada, Earhart worked at the Spadina Military Hospital, located on the University of Toronto campus — a historic site which is now known as The Daniels Building.

She lived at the St. Regis Hotel on Sherbourne St., and she even likely took the Carlton streetcar to travel to and from work each day.

"The work entailed a variety of tasks, from scrubbing the floors to playing tennis with the ambulatory patients," wrote Ellen Scheinberg, of Defining Moments Canada. "Earhart also spent considerable time assisting in the kitchen and the medical dispensary."

When the influenza pandemic hit Toronto in 1918, Earhart continued to work with patients until she herself was infected. She eventually came down with pneumonia and a severe sinus infection, requiring surgery and a year-long recovery period.

Although Earhart contracted a serious virus during her time in Toronto, it's also said to be the place where she first took an interest in flying. 

Toronto was one of the major training hubs for the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) during the war, and Earhart and her sister became friends with some of the RFC officers headquarted at Wycliffe College at U of T.

They would frequently go watch the pilots practice at the aerodrome, according to Defining Moments Canada, and Earhart eventually conceded that this is what prompted her to catch "the aviation bug" that led to her many accomplishments.

"While some may dismiss her experience in Toronto working at the Spadina Military Hospital as short and insignificant, Earhart had been part of a mighty army of volunteers who filled an important void in caring for wounded and infirm patients during the war and the influenza epidemic," wrote Scheinberg. 

A Toronto Legacy Plaque, produced by Heritage Toronto, now stands where the St. Regis once was as a way of identifying where Earhart lived, paying tribute to the iconic trailblazer.

Lead photo by

Wikimedia Commons

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