Canadian Nursing Week 2023
The Health Centre is delighted to celebrate National Nursing Week. This year the theme of National Nursing Week is “Our Nurses, Our Future.”. This theme represents the many roles nurses play in a patient’s healthcare journey. Nurses are vital to the health and well-being of all Canadians. They contribute in countless ways to positively impact the healthcare system and beyond. In honour of this week, we look to our past and to a few iconic nurses who paved the way for nursing’s future.
Marie Rollet Hébert, First Canadian Nurse
Marie Rollet was a French woman and early settler in Quebec. Her second husband, Louis Hébert, was apothecary to Samuel Champlain’s expeditions to Acadia and Quebec on 1606 and 1610–13. When she and her three surviving children traveled with her husband to Quebec in 1617, she became the first European woman to settle in Quebec. Her eldest daughter Anne’s marriage to Étienne Jonquet in 1618 was the first recorded in Quebec. While Anne died in childbirth in 1619, she left many descendants through her other two children.
According to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Hébert routinely provided medical treatment to First Nations peoples, and the entire family had friendly ties with First Nations people. Her husband Louis Hebert died in 1627, and she remarried in 1629. Quebec was captured and occupied by British privateers in 1627, during the Anglo-French War of (1627–1629). Although the English returned many of the settlers to France, Rollet and her family, remained. David Kirke, the leader of the English occupiers, had brought a seven year old enslaved boy from Madagascar. Kirke sold the boy to Olivier Letardif. This was the first recorded sale of an African slave in Quebec. Letardif, in turn, gave the boy to Rollet’s daughter Guillemette Couillard. Rollet and Couillard arranged for the child to have some religious and practical education, and he was baptized Olivier Le Jeune, in 1633.
Edith Andreson Monture, Canada’s First Indigenous Nurse
Edith Andreson Monture is credited as being the first First Nations woman to become a registered nurse in Canada. Monture was born on April 10, 1890 in Six Nations reserve in Ontario. Unfortunately, she struggled to be accepted into a Canadian nursing school as at the time, First Nations people faced involuntary enfranchisement, which is loss of their Indian status for pursuing higher education.
Due to this, Monture moved to New York and enrolled in the New Rochelle nursing school and graduated first in her class in 1914. Following graduation, she worked in the US as a public health nurse until 1917, when the First World War began. During the war, she volunteered as a nursing sister with the American Expeditionary treating injured soldiers in France.
Following the war, she returned to the US then back to Six Nations in Ontario shortly after, where she worked as nurse and midwife until the 1960s. Monture was also one of the first Indigenous women to gain the right to vote in a Canadian federal election. Sadly, Monture passed away at the age of 105 on April 3, 1996. Monture broke many barriers for nurses, especially BIPOC nurses that came after her.
anadian Nursing Sisters, WWI VolunteersC
The Canadian Nursing Sisters are a group of 3141 women who volunteered to serve as nurses in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps during World War One (WWI). Majority of the nursing sisters worked overseas in France, England, Salonika, Gallipoli and Alexandria.
The nursing sisters worked near the frontlines of the war to tend to wounded soldiers who arrived to them by truck or train. The nursing sisters’ jobs were to bandage and rebandage, clean wounds, monitor the patients, assist during and after surgery and ensure that the soldiers did not die from subsequent infections due to their wounds.
The term “ Nursing Sisters” was used as opposed to “Nurses” because prior to the 19th century it was viewed as unacceptable for women to become nurses or be on the battlefield. Although, over the course of the 19th century women were able to become nurses because it became associated with religion and women’s “natural” role as caregivers.
The nursing sisters were the only nurses during WW1 to hold the rank of officers. The work of Nursing Sisters sparked the creation of a Canadian Women’s Army Corps. Overall, the bravery and the hard work of the nursing sisters saved countless lives.
Mary Agnes Snively, Canada’s First Nurse Educator
Mary Agnes Snively was a leader in professionalizing the nursing career in Canada and internationally. She was the first person to establish a nursing student resident and a proper curriculum in Canada.
Snively was born on November 12, 1847 in St. Catherines, Upper Canada (Southern Ontario). After working as a public school teacher for nearly 20 years, she enrolled in New York’s Bellevue Hospital Training School for Nurses in October 1882. After graduation, she was hired as the lady superintendent at Toronto General Hospital in 1884, where the Training School for Nurses was established a few years prior.
Snively disliked the way the Toronto General Hospital’s nursing program was conducted and implemented major changes such as restructuring the curriculum to include regular lectures and an exam at the end of the training program and creating a nurses’ residence to change the image of nursing and make it more appealing. Her work was successful, as more women became interested in the nurse training program at Toronto General Hospital. By 1894, the Toronto General Hospital Training School for Nurses was the largest in Canada and its graduates were employed before nationally and internationally.
Snively was named president of the Society of Superintendents of Training Schools for the United States and Canada in 1897, which determined which program to study. She was also the first president of the Canadian National Association of Trained Nurses (now known as Canadian Nurses’ Association). Throughout her life, Snively achieved many great things and contributed greatly to the nursing profession. She sadly passed away at the age of 85.
Dr. Evelyn Voyageur, Indigenous Health Advocate
At the age of 10, Dr. Evelyn Voyageur was sent to the St. Micheal’s Residential School. Despite this, she is an active matriarch in the Kwakwaka’wakw culture and traditions and a fluent speaker of Kwakwala. In 1979, she obtained her RN degree from University of Victoria and in 2002, she received her PhD in Psychology from Stanford University.
For more than 50 years, Dr. Voyageur has dedicated her life to improving the health of Indigenous peoples through her work as a nurse. She has worked across Alberta and British Columbia in both community and hospital- based care centres. She has also worked with the Indian Residential School Society, where she focused on supporting former students on healing from the trauma of these schools.
Through her career, Dr. Voyageur has received multiple awards and recognitions for contributions to Aboriginal Nursing. A few of the awards she received are the 2018 Indspire Award for Health, Life Time Achievement Award and being one of 150 nurses across Canada to be chosen for excellence in nursing.
Additionally, she is a part of a couple of nursing societies in Canada. She has been an active member of Canadian Indigenous Nurses Association (formerly Aboriginal Nurses Association of Canada) since 1980, where she has served as the BC representative, vice-president, and president (2010 to 2012). She also founded the Native and Inuit Nurses Association of BC (NINA) in the early 1980s to help educate those who work with First Nations communities.
Bernice Redmon, Canada’s First Practicing Black Nurse
Bernice Redmon was born in Toronto, Ontario, but was not allowed to become a nurse there, or anywhere in Canada. Black students were not allowed to enroll in Canadian nursing programs until the late 1940s, so Redmon had to leave the country to get her education. She graduated with a nursing diploma from St. Phillip Hospital Medical College in Virginia, U.S.A. in 1945, and returned home to Canada that same year.
Upon returning, she became the first Black nurse to practice in public health when she secured a position in the Nova Scotia Department of Health. On top of that, she was appointed to the Victorian Order of Nurses in Canada—the first Black woman to do so. Thanks to her barrier breaking career and the work of organizations and advocates for the rights of Black Canadians, Black women began to be trained and employed in Ontario hospitals in the late 1940s and 1950s. In 1948, just a few years after Redmon came back to Canada with her diploma, Ruth Bailey and Gwennyth Barton earned their nursing diplomas from a Canadian school, becoming the first Black women to do so.
Karen Scott, First Nurse Practitioner
In 1975 Karen Scott became the first nurse practitioner in Canada. The idea for hiring a NP was that if nurses could take on tasks like routine checkups, it would free-up doctors to handle more difficult patients. Scott’s role did not go without controversy and scrutiny. People said nurses couldn’t provide care on their own. When patients were admitted to the Sault General Hospital after seeing Scott, the nurses there would laugh at the mention of her name. “They used to make fun of me and call me ‘Dr. Scott’, which I had to correct, and basically their attitude was, ‘well I do what she does, why is she special?’ I wasn’t objecting to that, but don’t call me doctor,” said Scott.
The pressure was put on Scott; if she failed, it would look bad on NPs as a whole, which could have jeopardized their future. In the end the NP role was proved a success and Scott was able to cut wait times down from two weeks to see a regular doctor to often being able to see people that day. Not only was she considered capable of providing care, many patients, particularly pregnant mothers, preferred her care and expressed disappointment when they were transferred over to a doctor when they were in labour.