The young English doctor, Mary Percy Jackson (M.D. Birmingham 1928), went to practice in northern Alberta for a year. She had been recruited by a philanthropic movement that targeted women doctors: they could be paid lower wages and would also cook and keep house. But she fell in love with the subarctic community, its native peoples, and a certain widowed farmer with two young sons, and stayed for the next seven decades.

Dr. Jackson became the only physician responsible for the well being of aboriginals and settlers in a wide radius of remote territory where winters last more than six months and the only effective mode of transportation was the horse. Married and in relative prosperity, she did not seek payment for her medical work, although she appreciated gifts in kind.

Despite the isolation, Jackson was vigilant about nutrition, vaccination, and tuberculosis control and she kept up with the latest advances in health promotion. She and her husband were active in improving opportunities for education. The film closes with a simple party for Jackson, at the local school named in her honour.


Although she was well on in years at the filming, Jackson’s bright practical wit is still sharp and engaging. The film proceeds in chronological order with contemporary photographs in black and white and excerpts from letters that she wrote to her parents in England between 1929 and 1931. Interspersed are interviews with the aged Jackson, her children and grandchildren who recollect the events of her career with clarity and philosophic good humour.

Some of Jackson’s medical beliefs were laughed at by the experienced locals long before they would be abandoned by medicine itself. For example, she tried to make her patients stay in bed for a week after a delivery--advice which they ignored and she now laughingly condemns as preposterous. Her solitary practice at a time when few women became physicians and her dedication to a remote community provide an interesting challenge to the expectations of today. Originally published in the 1930s, her letters have been re-edited by Janice Dickin McGinnis (Suitable for the Wilds: Letters from Northern Alberta, 1929-1931, by Mary Percy Jackson. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995).


Mary Percy Jackson plays herself.

Primary Source

National Film Board of Canada