Remembering Killarney's Angel
Nancy Solomon Pitfield, Nurse
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Introduction to Minjmendaan
Minjmendaan
is Ojibwe for
"to keep in mind;
to remember"
Native Heritage
Minjmendaan, Summer 2003
In this issue:

100th Anniversary of Killarney's oldest hotel


Julia Peladeau of the Wapoose family


Michif: Unique language of the Metis people


News from the past:
Golden wedding at
       Killarney, 1899

Pilot rescues  
       fishermen from
       drifting ice, 1940


Remembering Killarney's Angel: Nancy Pitfield


The sad death of Andre Proulx


The Lourdes Grotto of St. Bonaventure parish


The Metis sash


Descendants of Ezekiel Solomon reunite


From the cookbook of Josephine Low


The sacred tree

There is a quiet little spot on Channel Street, marked by a wooden sign that says Nancy Pitfield Memorial Park. Beside a small fountain in the park, on a large boulder of white quartz, is a plaque. It reads as follows:
For nearly half a century, "Aunt" Nancy Pitfield was Killarney's angel of mercy. Born in this  community, she studied nursing in Winnipeg and Montreal, where she graduated from Hotel Dieu Hospital. She returned to this then isolated village and married George Pitfield in 1919.
She dealt with grave illnesses and accidents without the aid of a doctor, sometimes reaching outlying patients by dosled or snowshoes. She expertly set dislocated hips and knees, delivered 512 babies, and once performed an emergency appendectomy, always with an encouraging word and a smile. Remembered always for her dedication and love for people.
Killarney's angel was born in 1887. For over fifty years, she was our nurse, doctor, midwife,
surgeon, dentist and undertaker, until her death in August of 1965. She is pictured here with her husband, George Pitfield.
"Aunt Nancy", as she was known to all of the younger folks, was born here on October 21st, 1887, one of ten children of William and Catherine Solomon.

After training as a nurse, Aunt Nancy returned to Killarney shortly after the death of her father in 1913. With no road access to the village, she became our lifeline, serving as nurse, dentist, doctor, surgeon, midwife, and undertaker. She travelled on foot, by boat, horse and sleigh, dog team, and on snowshoes to provide medical care to anyone needing help.

In March 1915, she attended at the birth of three infants in one day --delivering Basil Roque in the morning and the Jackman twins, Catherine and Mary, that afternoon.

One winter a logger from the nearby mills at Collins Inlet had his hand blown off by an accidental dynamite blast. He was brought to Aunt Nancy, who trimmed away the shredded flesh, cleaned the wound, and sewed up the stump of his arm.

In an interview with Bruce West, of the Hamilton Spectator, Aunt Nancy remembered the time she was called to attend a Native woman in labor at Beaverstone Bay. She and Father Paquin, the Jesuit missionary serving Killarney, traveled there by dog team. They broke through the ice near the woman's cabin, and were pulled from the water by a man who had been watching for their arrival.

After entering the cabin, she made Father Paquin strip off his clothes and get into bed. She explained to the family, who didn't speak English, that Father Paquin needed dry clothes. A girl named Big Agnes finally gave him a set of her bloomers. "We put these on poor Father Paquin," said Aunt Nancy, "they were as big as a tent, but Father Paquin didn't get pneumonia and the baby arrived just fine".

After years of dealing with a wide range of human experiences, she was well prepared to deal effectively with situations even she could not have anticipated.

In the late 1930s, Aunt Nancy had prepared for burial the body of an elderly man living on George Island, across the Killarney channel. A wake was always held in the home of a family member (as it often is today), for three days and nights of ritual prayer. Several people remained with the deceased throughout each night.

This time, on the last night of the wake, the family went to bed and Aunt Nancy went home, leaving a small group of teenagers to stay the night. The young folks, craving that era's version of junk food, decided to make pull taffy.

Warm taffy is elastic and very sticky -- pulling it apart as it cools makes it firmer; easier to eat. One teenager was too close to the casket during the process, and a large glob of taffy dropped down onto the old man, becoming entangled in the great thick beard he had worn most of his life. The teenagers tried to pullit off, scrape it off, and wash it off, but it wouldn't budge. Finally, in panic and desperation, they shaved it off. But they didn't remove just the taffy-filled section of the beard. They shaved the deceased clean.

Hoping no one would notice anything wrong, the teenagers said nothing when Aunt Nancy returned early in the morning. Following tradition, she immediately knelt at the casket to pray, and of course saw that the beard was gone.

Fortunately, the family was still in bed. After listening to the group's explanation, Aunt Nancy sent them home, with strict instructions to say nothing about the incident.

It is not known exactly what Aunt Nancy told the family -- one of the teenagers thought she closed the casket, and told the family that the body had deteriorated too much to leave it open. In any case, the feelings of the family were spared and the old gentleman was buried with dignity.

For decades, Aunt Nancy faced dangerous waters, storms, and perilous ice conditions to give us the gift of good health. Until 1951, when electricity came to the village, she travelled to night calls with only the soft glow of coal-oil lamps to light her way and illuminate her work.

In 1965, three years after Killarney became accessible by road, Aunt Nancy died at the age of 80. She had served her people for over fifty years, sharing with us her expertise, her good humour, and her compassion. We have nothing to give her in return but our gratitude and the promise that she will never be forgotten.

Chi-miigwetch, Aunt Nancy.