A Commitment to Our Life’s Vocation
There was a memorial service in Manning on Saturday June 3, 2000, for a great pioneer of the Peace River country. Dr. Mary Percy Jackson passed away May 6, 2000.
In the year of 1929 upon completion of her internship, while leafing though a British medical journal, she read over an advertisement:
Feb 23, 1929
Strong energetic medical woman with post graduate experience in midwifery wanted, for country work in Western Canada under the Provincial Government of Health. Apply in first instance to Dr. E. M. Johnstone c/o Fellowship of Maple Leaf 13, Victoria Street, London SW1.
Dr. Mary applied for and got a response stating the districts were in Alberta. The areas were very isolated, without proper roads, without telephones, many miles from hospitals, and the doctor would have to be able to care for all types of emergencies without help. Dr. Johnstone added the ability to ride a saddle horse would be of great advantage. Dr. Jackson chose to take up the challenge and after a stint of Public Health work, she headed for the Battle River Prairie, now known as the Manning and Keg River area. She traveled by train to Peace River which took about 24 hours. The following day, she sailed on the D.A. Thomas river boat to Battle River Landing, which took another 10 hours. Upon arrival, they were met by a native man with a team of horses and a wagon. Her trip to her cabin took another 11 hours. We can drive that distance today in about an hour.
Even though she was a pioneer, she was always amazed and astounded at the courage, commitment and stamina of land seekers going north. She was tremendously interested in the mix of people. One day she said, ‘I had breakfast with Norwegians, dinner with Russians and supper with Germans.’
About two weeks after arriving, she got her horse and became ‘the doctor on horseback’. One week she traveled over one hundred and fifty miles on horseback to visit the sick. She treated people with T.B., broken bones and tooth aches. She delivered babies and nursed the dying. In the winter it was even more challenging. On one occasion, a workman with a fractured skull was brought to her. She traveled with the patient 19 hours in a heated caboose, pulled by a team of horses to the hospital in Peace River. When she wasn’t traveling by horse and sleigh, she traveled by dog team.
In 1967, she received the Centennial Medal of Canada and the Alberta Centennial Award. In 1969, she was given a Senior Life Membership in the Alberta Medical Association. In 1975, she was named ‘The Woman of the Year for the Voice of Native Women’. In 1976, she received the Alberta Achievement Award in recognition of outstanding service in the community. Later in 1976, she was conferred an Honourary Doctor of Law Degree and gave the convocation address at the U of A. In December of 1983, she was awarded membership in the Alberta Order of Excellence and finally, the Offices of the Order of Canada, presented by the Governor General, Ray Hnatyshyn, at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.
People like Dr. Mary Percy Jackson are not too common, but they aren’t extinct either. The pioneers and leaders that we see today have the same courage, stamina and commitment to their own causes. Each of us can emulate the late Dr. Jackson by practicing what she practiced. A commitment to our life’s vocation, a commitment to our family and a commitment to the place we choose to live. This can’t be done with a negative attitude, nor a defeated state of mind but a mind and attitude that says, ‘I can do it,’ because it can be done and as Franklin D. Roosevelt said during his time as president of the USA, ‘The only fear we have is fear itself.’
In closing, a poem by an unknown author about determination.
The Man Who Quits
The man who quits has a brain and hand
As good as the next, but he lacks the sand
That would make him stick with a courage stout
To whatever he tackles and fights it out.
He starts with a rush and a solemn vow
That he’ll soon be showing the others how;
Then something strikes his roving eye
And his task is left for the bye and bye.
It’s up to each man what becomes of him;
He must find in himself the grit and vim
That brings success; he can get the skill,
If he brings to the task a steadfast will.
No man is beaten till he gives in;
Hard luck can’t stand for a cheerful grin;
The man who fails needs a better excuse
Than the quitter’s whining ‘What’s the use?’
For the man who quits lets his chances slip
Just because he’s too lazy to keep his grip.