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Avalon Regional Heritage Fair
The Florence Nightingale of Newfoundland
Myra Bennett came to Newfoundland in 1921 when living conditions were quite different compared to living conditions in England. She was the only medical person responsible for 320 km of rugged coastline on the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland. She quickly discovered that she would have to face many challenges. Lack of roads meant that she would have to travel by boat, horse, dog sled or walk to reach her patients. Sometimes she even walked in Newfoundland snowstorms. Nurse Myra Bennett treated a variety of medical conditions ranging from contagious diseases like tuberculosis and scarlet fever, infections, serious injuries needing surgery, extracting approximately 5000 teeth and delivering over 700 babies. She was an avid volunteer and some of her many activities consisted of getting the church in ship shape condition, starting a choir, making their gowns, training midwives and lobbying the government for roads and better medical conditions. Improving conditions in any way was very important to her. She married Angus Bennett, raised 3 children of her own and fostered 4 other children. For her life of service Nurse Bennett has been given many awards and honours such as The Order of Canada and The Order of British Empire.
What was the most interesting thing you learned about your topic?
The most interesting thing that I learned about my topic is the determination that Nurse Myra Bennett had to serve the people of the Northern Peninsula. She never walked away from any challenge. Nurse Bennett sewed a man’s foot back together when the cut was so severe it could have been amputated and walked with him for 60 miles in the middle of a Newfoundland winter to get him to hospital. She worked for 10 years without any salary and oftentimes gave patients medical supplies and food at her own expense. Nurse Myra Bennett volunteered wherever she could and she was ready at a moment’s notice to help whoever needed it. She was truly an astonishing and inspiring woman.
What important lessons have you learned that you want to share with other Canadians?
The important lessons that I have learned from Nurse Myra Bennett is to always chase your dreams and to never give up hope. She has taught me to be determined and to keep going no matter how difficult the task. She never complained and she never let any obstacles stand in her way. Nurse Myra Bennett was a true example of service and sacrifice to her fellowman. She is a great inspiration to all Canadians.
How would you compare your life today to the lives of those studied in your project?
My life today is very different from the lives of those who I studied in my project. Unlike today’s modern technology, Nurse Myra Bennett could not video chat her patients nor could she get in her car and drive to them. She mostly had to travel by boat or by foot to reach her destination. Sometimes she even had to go by dog sled. Today we have clinics and hospitals a short drive away with all its modern technologies but it might have taken Nurse Bennett several days of travel, often in horrible weather conditions, to reach her patients.