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Alberta Order of Excellence member Mary Jackson

Dr. Mary Percy Jackson O.C., Ch.B., LL.D.

In her day, Dr. Mary Percy Jackson was often described as a “living legend” She served the people of the Peace River country as a physician for over 45 years.

Born in England in 1905, Dr. Jackson grew up in an urban setting, leading a rather sheltered life. She graduated from the University of Birmingham in 1927 with degrees in surgery and medicine. By the time she was 24 years old, she had accumulated impressive experience. She had been house physician at Birmingham General Hospital, casualty house physician in the children’s hospital, and house surgeon in the maternity hospital.

In 1929, in answer to an advertisement in a medical journal for women doctors to go to Alberta, Dr. Jackson embarked on an adventure that was originally intended to be only a one-year assignment. In an attempt to provide better medical services in outlying areas, the Alberta Government hired Dr. Jackson and three other British doctors. Following an orientation tour with a traveling medical clinic, she was assigned to the territory of Battle River, a vast area covering 250 square miles that soon grew to nearly 400 square miles. The nearest medical aid was the town of Peace River, 120 kilometers to the south. It was connected with her territory by a dirt road, which was impassable in bad weather. She travelled by saddle horse.

Despite extremes in temperature and isolation, the solitary pioneer doctor ministered to her patients, often traveling many miles on horseback on virtually unmarked trails, and fording rivers and streams.

Dr. Jackson was “Doc” to homesteaders who immigrated from Norway, Hungary, Russia, Germany and the Ukraine, in addition to the Aboriginal population. A typical week’s caseload might include several fractured limbs or a broken back; a birth; cases of dysentery, pneumonia, smallpox, scarlet fever or tuberculosis; as well as the other illnesses expected in a family practice; and perhaps some tooth extractions, as there were no dentists in the area.

In 1931 she married rancher and fur trader Frank Jackson, a widower with three children, and moved to his homestead at Keg River, 500 miles northwest of Edmonton. No longer under contract with the provincial government, she continued her dedicated service as a general practitioner in the area, much of the time without payment. She treated five generations of patients from all over the Peace region, and was universally loved and respected by all who knew her.

During her long career, Dr. Jackson treated hundreds among the Aboriginal and Metis population and developed many long-standing friendships with them. In 1975, she was named “Woman of the Year” by the Voice of Native Women.

In 1976, she was awarded an Honourary Doctor of Laws Degree from the University of Alberta. Also in that year, she and her husband received an Alberta Achievement Award for outstanding service. The couple had previously been recognized for their contributions with a Master Farm Family Award in 1953.

Dr. Jackson received the Alberta Centennial Medal and the Canadian Centennial Medal, and a school at the junction of the MacKenzie Highway and Keg River is named for her. She retired from active practice in 1975 and held senior membership in the Canadian Medical Association, senior life membership in the Alberta Medical Association, and a life membership in the College of Family Physicians.