The extraordinary life of Dr. Stephen Blizzard


Dr. Blizzard was a trailblazer and a man dedicated to his dreams and a life of service for the greater good. His extraordinary story of grit and determination led him to a career combining his loves of medicine and aviation, standing unique amongst his peers

In his pursuit of post-secondary education, first as a veterinarian and then as a medical doctor, Dr. Stephen Blizzard’s life was characterized by his pursuit of excellence and his passion for the medical profession.

Blizzard, MD’63, who passed away in 2020, was a trailblazer, with grit and determination, who combined his love of aviation with medicine to create an exceptional career.

As a teenager, in 1947, Blizzard obtained a scholarship from the government of Trinidad, to study veterinary medicine at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.

Upon receipt of his degree, he returned to Trinidad to work as a vet as part of this scholarship commitment. During that time on the island, he met Merle, a nurse and midwife. They would soon marry.

In 1958, the young couple immigrated to Canada, as the country had a need for nurses.

dr_blizzard_2A year later, Blizzard began his medical studies at Western University and joined the Reserve Officer Training Program of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).

Summer days were spent on military bases at College Militaire in St. Jean, Quebec, Trenton and Ottawa, where he was one of the first three students to work at the National Defence Medical Centre.

“I really loved it. I enjoyed everything that was thrown at me. I liked the drill, the discipline and meeting other students from across Canada,” Blizzard said in a 2011 interview with Veterans Affairs Canada.

In the late 1960s, the couple returned to their home country with their three children, where they fulfilled a personal commitment to provide medical care on the island. They ran a medical practice in Trinidad for nearly a decade.

Cadets to Jets

Dr. Blizzard’s interest in the military and aviation had begun as a teenager. He’d joined the scouts and cadets and was tutored by members of the British Air Force who were stationed in Trinidad.

Later, while studying in Scotland, he’d joined the Tiger Moth Club and learned to fly the small British plane for which the club was named. He was prevented from receiving his license because of racist practices, however, he eventually obtained his small plane license in Trinidad during the early 1960s.

In 1968, on Canadian Forces Base Moose Jaw, Blizzard earned his wings. This was no easy feat. While working full-time as the Base and Flight Surgeon, he completed his jet and ground training part-time and often studied in his office until the wee hours of the morning.

At no point was it lost on him that he was treading in uncharted territory, both as a Black medical professional and as a member of the Canadian military. He encountered racist attitudes amongst those who sought to hinder his progress, however, he forged ahead. He went on to become a doctor who flew jets – a first in Canadian history.

“Getting my wings was one of the most difficult things I had ever done in my life,” he shared.

These multiple feats could not have been accomplished without the unfailing support of his wife. She championed his professional journey, as his career extended beyond a medical practice into the international sphere. While managing her own career as a nurse, she ‘held down the fort’ at home, providing her steady strength for their three children, Roberto, Gloria and Carlos.

In total, Blizzard spent 16 years as a flight surgeon and military jet pilot, as well as an advisor to the Surgeon General in Aviation Medicine and a member of the exclusive International Academy of Aviation and Space Medicine.

He served as Squadron Leader, Major and Deputy Commanding Officer with the RCAF National Defence Medical Detachment and was posted to a number of communities in northern and eastern Canada. In 1978, he was the first doctor on-site as part of the Operation Magnet mission, which airlifted Vietnamese refugees from Kuala Lampur to Canada. Later, he would serve as a member of the forces on a United Nations Peacekeeping mission in Egypt and spend three months in Zimbabwe as a medical advisor to the Air Force.

Blizzard retired from the RCAF in 1983, but continued working with the Department of Civil Aviation, where he served as a senior consultant in safety focused on a number of areas, including the effects of pilot fatigue, jet lag and proper inflight care. A special assignment to visit Russian aviation and space facilities, as well as a Russian space shuttle, was a highlight for Blizzard, who at the time was the only Canadian to tour these once very secret facilities.

Throughout his life, Blizzard was honoured with awards and recognition, including the prestigious Harry Jerome Award, the Trinidad Icon Award and a United Nations Peacekeeping Medal. He passed away on June 9, 2020, and is remembered by the Medicine Class of 1963 as an extraordinary man, who throughout his life remained the same warm, modest fellow they had always known and loved.

Dr. Stephen Blizzard Trailblazer Award

Dr. Blizzard was a pioneer and serves as a strong role model to today’s learners. To honour his memory and inspire other trailblazers in medicine, Schulich Medicine & Dentistry has established The Dr. Stephen Blizzard Trailblazer Award.

Nominees must be graduates of the Doctor of Medicine (MD) Program who exemplify excellence through their work as trailblazers, by having made significant contributions to advocacy work, humanitarian work, education and/or advancing uncharted fields both within and beyond medicine. Preference will be given to those from equity-deserving groups who are inspiring the next generation of leaders in medicine.

To learn more visit: about awards