Nursing in the North:  Maureen Brass and her nursing journey.

Maureen Brass loved excitement and adventure, making her a perfect candidate for nursing in the north.  Maureen and a friend were in Calgary in 1969, checking out the Stampede – when the two district nurses decided to take an airbus to Edmonton and look up a woman they had heard about.

“(We) got another taxi to, I think its Chancellor Square in Edmonton, knocked on the door of this lady who recruited nurses for the Arctic.  She said years later, “I’ll never forget you, you’re the first two people that ever knocked on my door and asked for jobs in the Arctic.”” – Maureen Brass in interview.

Maureen Brass spent one year in the Arctic, before returning to Edmonton, and then spending three years on the Stony Indian First Nation.

But Brass will never forget her time in the far north, and her first posting at Cape Dorset.

“I got a letter from the supervisor in October, and I’d only gone there in July.  It said, would I be willing to go to Clyde River?  They’d had a nurse there for a few weeks, but she was going on vacation and they didn’t know if she was coming back, and would I consider going?”

Maureen pulled out a map to find the location of Clyde River –it would be an adventure north of 70!

“I arrived there in the dark.  I had never driven a skidoo, and the first time I attempted it, I went too fast and hit a snow bank and tipped the whole thing.”

Things got a whole lot more exciting when Maureen was asked to travel to a camp, where people were starving.  The people were not able to hunt, because the ice wouldn’t stay frozen on the bay – so they needed a rescue party to bring food.  And, the people also thought the nurse, Maureen, should come as well.

“I had no idea what to wear, what did I know?  The Hudson Bay manager said, I have a caribou outfit, I’ll give it to you,” remembers Maureen.  “He was a little fat and the crotch was below my knees with suspenders.  Then the top you had to pull over your head and it was very stiff.  This is how they got me all dressed in this outfit.”

Early the next morning, the crew and Maureen set out.   The camp was 140 miles away.  The crew continued towards it until lunch, when they stopped for a break and something to eat.  Maureen was the only female there, and after some grumbling one of the men addressed her.

“The fellow that was in charge of me said, “You need to piss, sweetheart?”  I said, what?  I’m looking around, there’s nothing but sea ice.  I said, “No, I most certainly do not!”  I managed to keep going until later on that day when I was pretty desperate and had to go.  But the big story was trying to get out of this caribou outfit.”

Maureen says traveling to the camp was her Everest.  Many of the people she met had impetigo, lice and had never been immunized.  So, Maureen’s taste for adventure, was more than just an experience, she truly filled a need.

“It was a very memorable visit, and the first time a white person had been there.”

More than twenty years later, Maureen had built a longstanding career as a public health nurse in Canmore.  And, she was the first person to live there as well.  A sense of wonder and dedication to nursing, under extremely trying and demanding circumstances, healthcare in the north was built with the help of people like Maureen.