Dr. Mary Jackson

Suitable for the Wilds

9 inches (23cm) x 6 inches (15cm) - 264 pages

Dr. Mary Percy Jackson, twenty-five years old and from a comfortable Birmingham family, left home in 1929 to take up a medical posting in the Peace River area of Northern Alberta. Her letters home, collected in her book, Suitable for the Wilds, vividly describe her adventurous life on one of Canada's last frontiers. Her district covered 900 square kilometers of wooded, boggy land, which she traveled on horseback, by dogsled and later by automobile.

Dr. Jackson faced many issues in caring for the Metis and Native people, as well as for increasing numbers of immigrant families. Her greatest medical challenges, though, were the result of poverty and isolation - and she often railed against the government for what she saw as irresponsible settlement policies and lack of attention to her community.

Despite the strenuousness of her responsibilities as a doctor, dentist, public health officer, and coroner, Dr. Percy enjoyed the personal and professional challenges presented by wilderness life, and her enthusiasm for this great adventure, which permeates her letters, is infectious. Indeed, by the end of 1930 she complained that the area was becoming too civilized! The letters conclude in January 1931, with her marriage to farmer-fur trader Frank Jackson and her subsequent move farther north, to Keg River.

Janice Dickin McGinnis' introduction provides a detailed discussion of Mary Percy Jackson's life and an assessment of the value of her letters in terms of the historiography of women, of medicine, and of the North. From a letter dated 29 August 1929: " I did over 150 miles on horseback last week! Really, one needs the strength of an Amazon for this job. If ever there is much sickness about I shall need help. There's hardly any illness about just now. I've been seeing mainly accidents and oddments. I've seen five fractures in five weeks! The one that has taken up so much time is a girl of seven who lives ten miles north of here. She broke her arm, also dislocated her elbow - a beastly mess. Her little brother aged twelve came to fetch me. I think that he is the bravest kid I've ever met. He had to ride over fifteen miles, after dark, and ford two rivers and came through a wood which he had seen bear tracks, to get me. He arrives here at 1 a.m.! We started back at 2 a.m. and didn't get there till 5:45 a.m., as his horse went lame. She'd done over 40 miles that day. And the fatherly way he looked after me was delightful. But it was bitterly cold [we had our first frost that night] and he wasn't very warmly clad and he must have been nearly done in when we got there. He insisted that he wasn't tired though."

This book was most recently published by the University of Calgary and is not available through this website.

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