After each instalment of our Share Their Stories events, we will be doing a profile of one of the women we learned about through scanning documents about her. For our inaugural profile, we will be discussing Katherine “Kay” MacDonald (née MacLeod), the mother of our current Chair, Sharon MacDonald. Here are a few words from Sharon about the pictures she brought of her mother to be scanned:

“This nursing graduation photo was taken in 1941. A graduate of the Toronto General Hospital, Mom would have been 26 at the time. When she was in her 90s, she ended up in hospital and then a nursing home and because she was almost completely blind and hard of hearing, she was constantly taken by surprise by staff suddenly raising or lowering her bed without any warning. It was heart wrenching to see how startled she was so much of the time. I decided that the staff had to have a way of seeing my mother in a different light and so we hung this photo above her bed so that people would realize that this frail old woman had once been young and a nurse as well. The photo worked in two ways; it made staff take pause, often engaging in conversation with Mom about her career and often staff would say how much they wished that nursing caps had still been a tradition when they had graduated. The photo also served to remind Mom that she had lived a life worthy of some attention at a time when so little dignity and care seemed present in her situation.”

“I have interviewed and researched various women over many years and somehow my mother was never a subject of interest. I realize that I took her for granted and that because she was a full time mother and homemaker for the duration of my childhood and youth, I was more interested in other women – such as my aunts – who were out in the world in professional careers. I also realize that because Mom was born and lived in the Far East for her early life that she was never fully like us – “Canadian”– she was unable to understand our humour and we did not appreciate that she had a sense of humour. I came to think of her as having a Chinese sense of humour because all the Chinese students who came to the parties Mom hosted always laughed easily with Mom when we could not see what was funny. In spite of the many things she did in her life, I believe that she could be easily hurt. In her early days in Halifax, she was invited to play bridge and ended up receiving the “booby prize”. No doubt others might have taken this as a joke but Mom never tried to play bridge again. Looking back now, I realize how fortunate we were to have her as our mother and this project has given me the outlet for acknowledging that.”

As the person who worked with Sharon to scan the documents and photos she brought, I very much enjoyed hearing the stories that Sharon and her sister Carol shared about their mother. The two stories above, about how important that nursing photo became and about Kay’s involvement with the Chinese community in Halifax, were particularly special. Part of our goal with this project is to stimulate precisely these sorts of conversations and to help people appreciate the women in their lives and their heritage, even if they don’t have a chance to tell them in person how much they are valued. In Sharon’s words, even though it would be possible to dismiss Kay as “a full time mother and homemaker”, her experiences were unique and important, and worthy of documentation and remembrance. These stories, pictures and documents are now the first additions to the Halifax Women’s History Society Digital Archive, and we hope that she will be joined by many other equally important and special women from across Canada.

If you are interested in coming to a future Share Their Stories event, we will be hosting them at the following locations:

  • Saturday, May 4, 2019, 1-3pm, North End Memorial Library (Large half of Terry Symonds Room)
  • Sunday, May 19, 2019, 1-3pm, Halifax Central Library (BMO Community Room)

Additionally, if you are a member of a community or group who would be interested in partnering with HWHS for scanning or other projects, we can be reached at [email protected]