My Life

Nursing from the Southern Cross to the North Star

Reviewed by Beverley Tallon

Posted June 12, 2018

Registered nurses were in demand when Australian- born adventure seeker Heather Duncan Clayton and her two nursing friends immigrated to Canada in 1957. They first worked at a veterans hospital in Vancouver and then in Montreal, from which they departed “by train on January 21, 1960, bound for a northern adventure.”

Their adventure was to include trips via Bombardiers, bush planes, canoes, and dogsleds as they went to work at Moose Factory General Hospital in northern Ontario, a two-hundred-bed tuberculosis sanatorium that had opened in 1952 to allow patients to convalesce in their own community.

That summer, Duncan travelled to the small settlement of Povungnituk, Quebec. In a newly built nursing station she conducted tuberculosis testing and did the work of a doctor, dentist, pharmacist, midwife, X-ray technician, and veterinarian. The only means of communication with the outside world was a two-way radio that worked well — except, she writes, “when the aurora borealis or northern lights were active.”

Other postings took Duncan elsewhere in northern Ontario and Quebec and to parts of what is now Nunavut. There she helped to fight rubella and other epidemics with both Western and Indigenous medicines.

My Life is a love story about the land and its people. The book is amply illustrated with photographs and maps, while the recording of diseases, medicines, and technologies makes for thought-provoking reading.

Buy this book from Kokum Publications.

This article originally appeared in the June-July 2018 issue of Canada’s History magazine.

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