Jane Flett MacKay, 1857-1947

Jane Flett MacKay (center) with family. Source: G. Hungerford

Pioneer surgeon

Married to a doctor, Jane Flett MacKay acted as her husband's nurse and sometimes as a surgeon in her own right.

A Métis born in the Yukon, Jane Flett was the daughter of James Flett from Scotland and Mary a Loucheux, a member of the Gwich’in First Nations people. In 1874, she married Dr. William MacKay (a pioneer physician who practiced medicine for many years with the Hudson’s Bay Company):
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Throughout their life together, Mrs. MacKay acted as her husband’s nurse and sometimes as a surgeon in her own right. Dr. MacKay himself recognized his wife’s superior surgical skills. At one point, Dr. MacKay asked her to sew up a Hudson’s Bay Company employee who had been gored by a bull, saying, “You’re better at this work than I am. You sew him up.” She sewed up the large abdominal gash with 12 stitches, and the patient fully recovered.

In another incident, while Dr. MacKay was away visiting district forts, a young man cut an artery in his foot with an axe. Mrs. MacKay stopped the bleeding and sewed up the injury, saving his life.

Because of widespread discrimination against Métis, Mrs. MacKay’s family tried to hide her Aboriginal ancestry after they moved to Edmonton in 1898. Two of her daughters told people that she was descended from a “Siberian Princess,” and Dr. MacKay would take one of his older daughters to society balls instead of his wife.

Once when Mrs. MacKay was elderly and sick, a doctor was called in who refused to treat an Aboriginal woman. He was later disciplined, and the family found another doctor to treat her.

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