The Call to Duty: Canada's Nursing Sisters

Nursing sisters and patients outside a ward tent, No. 2 Canadian General Hospital, Le Tréport, France.  Note the dog with a bandaged paw sitting at the centre of the group; both dog and master have pipes in their mouths.

The incredible contribution of Canadian nursing sisters in the First World War can be best appreciated by examining their experiences during their service. Women left their families and homes to answer the call to duty and serve their country. Many worked in substandard conditions, with poor sanitation and limited supplies of water. They cared for soldiers with horrendous wounds caused by new advancements in weaponry. Canadian nurses adapted to a situation that was completely unlike their lives in Canada, and for which their work in Canadian hospitals could not possibly have prepared them. By drawing on their strengths and knowledge, they comforted and mended the soldiers in their care. Their dedication to their work, their country and, most importantly, to their patients, serves to measure their contribution to the Canadian war effort.

This exhibition tells the story of six women who served as nursing sisters during the First World War. "Biographies" presents exerpts from the personal diaries, letters and photographs of these women. "Caregiving on the Front" provides a history of nursing sisters during the First World War.

We gratefully acknowledge the contribution of the Department of Canadian Heritage, whose financial assistance through Canadian Culture Online (CCO) (Archived) made this work possible.

We also thank the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the University of Ottawa Press, who gave permission, and provided the files, for inclusion of the chapter "Caregiving on the Front: The Experience of Canadian Military Nurses During World War I" from their recently co-published book On All Frontiers: Four Centuries of Canadian Nursing.

The digitization of Alice Isaacson's photo album was made possible through the generous financial support of the Canadian Nurses Association, and in collaboration with the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Canadian War Museum. We also thank Peter Robertson for his thorough work in restoring the album to its original order, his extensive research in the preparation of photo captions, and his creation of links between Alice Isaacson's photo album and her three diaries.

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