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Wednesday’s Wonder Woman:The Original, Canadian “Bones”

Week after week I pillage Google for inspiring women to write about. And, I always wonder, where are all the Canadians?

Despite the stereotype that Canadians are ‘nice’ and ‘polite,’ Canadian women are more fire and ice than most. Back a few months, when our hockey team was playing San Jose, a number of San Jose fans trolled Canucks forums, saying things like, ‘our chicks are hotter than yours.’

Typical smack talk, and all part of the fun of sports fandom, I know. But, I was pretty impressed that MORE than a few male Canuck fans jumped on that comment. ‘We grow ’em pretty, gritty, and smart up here.’

We do.

So, where are all the Canadian heroines?

I don’t mean famous people. I don’t mean rock stars or actresses. I don’t mean songwriters or athletes.

Though, we do have a few of those that make my Canadian heart swell with pride.

I mean women who otherwise would not be known except that they dared to do what others said was impossible.

And then, this week, I found these two great books by Merna Forster: 100 Canadian Heroines, and 100 More Canadian Heroines: Famous and Forgotten Faces.

The first is promoted by our only female Prime Minister, Kim Campbell: “The term ‘weaker sex’ should make one’s blood boil after reading this book,” she says.

The second, released just this month, writes about a woman whose name is so boring, but life so interesting, I had to direct attention her way.

Bones fans? You might want to pay attention here.

Frances Gertrude McGill (1877-1959) grew up on a Manitoban farm. She graduated top of her class with a degree in medicine from the University of Manitoba in 1915. She became the Provincial Bacteriologist in Saskatchewan in 1918. In 1922, she was chosen as the Provincial Pathologist, elected to assist the RCMP in solving suspicious deaths.

In a male-dominated field, it was a rare honour for a woman to be chosen to such an important field.

She did not take it lightly.

Frances set out to gain the respect of her colleagues and the police. Frequently called out of town at short notice, she sacrificed much of her personal time in her quest for accurate forensics producing just conclusion to criminal cases. In 1934 alone she made 43 such trips, each thousands of kilometers via dogsled, snowmobile, and float plane, only to pour over a grimy death scene when she arrived at her destination.

Highly effective in the field, Ms. McGill taught her scientific crime-solving methods at the Police College in Regina. She became head of the RCMP Crime Lab in 1943, and Honorary Surgeon to the RCMP in 1946.

Frances was just the second person ever to be named RCMP Honorary Surgeon, and the only woman, other than the Queen, to be given honorary membership in the Force.

Sound familiar, Bones fans?

Yup. Ms. McGill just may have been Canada’s own Temperance Brennan, albeit nearly seventy years before CSI, Crossing Jordan, and Bones showed us the power of forensics.

Frances was a quiet pioneer, dreaming big, daring big, but letting her work speak for itself. She let others promote her, rather than promote herself.

I have great respect for this woman. Not only for what she did, but the time in which she did it. She, like many others, pushed the limits of her gender and the limits of her field.

She demurely took on the impossible.

Some of you may wonder why I write about famous, gutsy women. You may also wonder why I’m obsessed with finding inspiration to tackle the impossible. Though the About page of this blog may give you an indication, let me tell you again right now: I need to believe the impossible is possible.

Now is no exception. Those of you who’ve followed my health updates know that this spring we heard my cancer levels were closer to remission than ever. My oncologist felt I was ‘out of danger’ in that the leukemia, at this level, ‘tends not to do bad things,’ (his words, not mine).

But the thing about chronic illnesses, or chronic treatment (I still take oral chemo everyday), is that sooner or later, the side effects start wearing on your body. I’ve told you about the bone pain, the fatigue, the insomnia. I’d kind of hoped that since that’s all I’d experienced so far – nearly three years into treatment – none of the other side effects would show up.

Except now we have a new challenge, and we’re not sure why, how, or where its from. I have microcytic anemia (low hemoglobin due to small red blood cells) making the fatigue, insomnia, bone pain, and a host of other ugly symptoms even worse. Though likely correctable by iron supplementation (and/or other vitamins or minerals), this may be a sign that I’m actually sicker than we thought.  There’s a possibility my thyroid is also involved – something I’m going to have checked in the next week – but either way, I’m starting to feel like a ninety-year-old whose body parts are just falling apart.

Or, maybe that’s the little old lady in my personality talking.

None of these concerns are outwardly alarming. If they’re just situations I can treat symptomatically, I’m not concerned. But the thing that happens to people with cancer, or people who’ve once had cancer, or people who’ve ever had anything really disturbing ever happen to them, is that we no longer rely on best-case scenario.

Because we’ve had the worst case. Sometimes, more than once.

And though it should make me less afraid, and I’ve often felt that I am less afraid than I was three years ago, there’s this dark part of me that’s actually more afraid.

I have a friend who’s lost more than one baby. The last loss was exceedingly traumatic, and she’s now expecting again. When I talked with her this summer, she said, people tell me its just going to be fine, that’s not going to happen to me. Where do I have evidence for that?

Most of our world bumps along like the bad stuff will never hit them. And, when they are finally hit, that first time is a bit jarring. No matter what it is – and it could seem like a hangnail to those of us who’ve had some real deep losses – they seem to feel overwhelmed at how unfair it is.

I don’t spend much of my time there. I try not to get sucked down a really deep drain of ‘how dare this happen to me. ‘ But this week, its harder to resist.

Maybe I’m just at my quota. I don’t know.

But then it occurred to me, while I told my husband all my ‘I’m done with this,’ stuff last night, that I’m far too cranky to be dying just yet.

Have you ever noticed that dying people get nicer?

Yeah, I’m not there.

I know they say our attitude makes a huge difference in our physical health. But then I wonder why my sweet relatives are taken to Jesus in their 60s, and the most cantankerous of all dies at 99.

I’m not advising that we all go out and be the worst versions of ourselves or anything. I’m just saying, this is another sign that life is sometimes unfair, or at the very least, random.

And its another reminder to me to believe in the impossible.


Because we really have no guarantees how much time is left. I’d love to believe I’ve got another twenty years to raise my girls. I don’t even let myself imagine I might get thirty or forty more to help them raise their kids, but I also know, deep down, I – just like the rest of us – don’t even know if we have today.

There are no guarantees. Maybe that’s the fairness in all of this. Because we’re all on the same playing field when we think that anything could happen, to any of us, leukemia or not, cancer or not, illness or not, heartache or not.

So Frances Gertrude McGill inspires me because she made her life count. She did what she knew she should do, even when it required sacrifice.

And, even when it felt like constantly climbing uphill.

And though we may not remember her, we see now that what she did changed our society for the better.

She left a legacy.

And really, that’s all any of us can ask for.

Make it count, guys. Whatever you’re supposed to do, do it.

And if you’re feeling cranky like me, well, that might be a sign you’re not done doing it just yet.

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. heather Smith #

    Lana you write beautifully and have inspired me today. I am so sorry you feel crappy. The feeling of your body letting you down is not a good one. I love your faith, your hope, your balanced grounded perspective and your desire to make a difference in peoples’ lives. Know tonight that your writing has encouraged and inspired – and made an impact on me.

    Praying for only good news and asking God for relief and energy for you. Blessings

    September 21, 2011
    • Thanks so much, Heather! I so appreciate your thoughts and prayers. I am also so glad that you felt encouraged by what I wrote. SO glad. Hope you have a great rest of your week!

      September 22, 2011
  2. I love Frances!! Thank you for writing about her. And I completely echo Heather’s comment 🙂

    And nope…you are DEFINITELY not there!!

    September 21, 2011
    • Ha ha ha! So glad I have people like you to reinforce that I’m not ‘there.’ But you’re right!! That’s what best friends are for, right? I’m glad you enjoyed this one. As a fellow Bones fan, I thought you might. 😉

      September 22, 2011
  3. Liv #

    So beautifully expressed Lan and just remember your Mommy prays on!!!!

    September 22, 2011
    • Thanks, Momma. I’m glad you liked it.

      September 22, 2011
  4. Great to read you were inspired by my story of Frances Gertrude McGill, and that you enjoyed 100 More Canadian Heroines as well as the first volume!Take care.

    September 23, 2011
    • Thanks Merna! I so enjoyed your website. Excellent books and information. You have revealed our Canadian heroines! Thank you!

      September 23, 2011
  5. Great story. Merna has covered so many good Canadian women. If interested you might like to check out http:/ . over 1300 mini biographies of Canadian women of achievement
    There is also a blog on Ottawa women: milestones and mentors that might be of interest. ..hope I got the blog title correct.
    all the best
    Dawn Monroe, Cochrane, Ontario

    September 30, 2011
    • Thanks so much for the suggestion, Dawn, and for stopping in to leave a comment! I will definitely check out the blog you mentioned. Best wishes and I hope to hear from you again!

      September 30, 2011

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