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Posted: July 8, 2018

Dorothy Chapman Garen plotted maps in wartime

By Elinor Florence

When I discovered her coloured portrait online, I was struck with the lovely elegance of Dorothy Chapman Garen in her Royal Canadian Air Force uniform. I was even more thrilled to find that Dorothy, now aged 95, is still living not far away in Canmore, Alberta.

Dorothy Garen (née Chapman), colour portrait, Toronto, 1942 (right).

The Early Years

Dorothy Chapman was born on October 29, 1922. She was one of four children who grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where her father maintained locomotives for the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Dorothy was not only beautiful, but also clever. She finished high school at 16 years old and took a diploma in stenography before starting work at the head office of the Canadian Wheat Board.

One of her duties was helping to map all the grain elevators in the four Western provinces, and for many years afterward she could remember the names and locations of every tiny community that had a grain elevator.

Encouraged by her boss, a former pilot in the First World War, Dorothy decided to join the air force. She did her basic training at the Havergal College in Toronto, designated as Manning Depot No. 6 during the war, and then worked as an air force clerk in Toronto.

She was there for about one year before being requested specifically for a position in Ottawa. With her background, it is not surprising that she was assigned to the map room at RCAF Headquarters, attached to the Directorate of Intelligence, where intelligence maps were created.

Dorothy’s role was to supervise the creation of a publication for pilots. Every airfield or landing place in Canada and the northern United States was mapped, so that pilots flying in this airspace could be guided down to the nearest safe place if they had to make an emergency landing.

Dorothy excelled in her position and was promoted first to corporal, and then to sergeant. But in an interview with the Memory Project, she did recall one incident where she almost got into trouble.

She and a group of WDs, as members of the Women’s Division were called, went on an organized bicycle ride from Ottawa across the river to Hull, Quebec, where Dorothy was arrested for cycling in Quebec on a Sunday, and for wearing service shorts! These were regulation short pants issued by the air force, made from the typical blue wool.

“And girls were going by us, young girls with short skirts flying up into the air so you could see their underwear! They didn’t bother them, because they were properly dressed in a skirt! I said: ‘Are you kidding?’

“About a week later, I got a summons to go to Hull. So I thought to heck, I’m in the air force headquarters; I’ll go down to the legal department. I went down there and they said: ‘Was it an organized sport?’ I said: ‘Yes, I can name the officer if you want.’ Happily, the air force looked after it for me and I never heard anything more.”

Dorothy Chapman, nicknamed “Chappie,” spent most of the war in Ottawa. In spite of the sadness of those years, and the constant strain of serving in a country at war, she and her friends also had plenty of good times. Dorothy’s fun-loving nature can be seen in the photographs taken from her photo album.

Dorothy Chapman in her uniform, wearing the old RCAF hat that the girls called “the piecrust.”

Dorothy Chapman on parade in Ottawa, her triple sergeant’s stripes, or chevrons, clearly visible on her right sleeve.

Lifelong friendships were made by women serving in the armed forces. Here Dorothy Chapman on the right enjoys a joke with one of her many friends.

Dorothy Chapman poses with fellow airwoman during their service in Ottawa.

Two members of the RCAF Women’s Division are pictured here with a bicycle, one of their main modes of transport around Ottawa.

Dorothy clowning around on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. This is the monument to Thomas D’Arcy McGee, one of the Fathers of Confederation, and the classical figure of the woman behind Dorothy is wearing her hat!

Dorothy Chapman poses with an RCMP officer, the Parliament buildings visible in the background.

Dorothy Chapman pretends to pull the tail of the lion on the monument to Queen Victoria, located at Parliament Hill.

After the War

After her discharge, Dorothy moved to Chatham, Ontario, where she found work as a secretary. On November 10, 1946, she was selling poppies in Chatham for the Royal Canadian Legion when she encountered Don Garen, also an air force veteran.

Born on June 29, 1924, Don enlisted at 18 years old, the youngest of four brothers who all served in the RCAF. Don qualified as a pilot in October 1944 but fortunately was never required to serve overseas since the war ended seven months later.

“It was love at first sight,” Don recalled. They started dating, and married in Windsor, Ontario, on October 25, 1948. Dorothy wore a grey suit, with a pink hat and corsage.

Don was working at Chrysler Canada in the parts department. The couple moved to Red Deer, Alberta, in 1956, where a Chrysler parts depot was located; then back to Windsor in 1964. Don finally retired as the national parts manager in 1979 after 38 years of employment.

Don and Dorothy had fallen in love with Canmore on their camping trips around Western Canada, and they built a house there in 1979. Don still lives in their original house, and Dorothy now resides in a long-term care facility.

Both Don and Dorothy were hard-working volunteers in Canmore, and Dorothy served as the secretary of the Royal Canadian Legion for many years. They have two daughters: Donna of Mearns, Alberta, now retired from social work and teaching; and Sally, who owns a graphic and web design company called GoGo Graphics Design Services in Canmore.

They also have three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. In October, Don and Dorothy will celebrate their seventieth wedding anniversary!

Don and Dorothy Garen, thank you both so much for your service to our country and for your role in the Allied victory. Your sacrifice will never be forgotten.

Lead image: Dorothy Chapman tests the sharpness of a guard’s bayonet on Parliament Hill.

Elinor Florence

– Bestselling author Elinor Florence of Invermere has written a wartime novel titled Bird’s Eye View, telling the story of an idealistic Saskatchewan farm girl who joins the Royal Canadian Air Force.

My Favourite Veterans is a non-fiction collection of interviews whose stories appeared previously on e-KNOW, including Bud Abbott of Cranbrook and Jim Ashworth of Invermere.

Elinor’s new novel Wildwood, about pioneer life in the Peace River, Alberta region, was published in February 2018. All three books are available at Lotus Books in Cranbrook and at Lambert-Kipp Pharmacy in Invermere.

For more information about Elinor and her books, visit or call her at 250-342-1621.

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