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Elizabeth Smellie

Elizabeth Smellie photo portrait

Portrait of Elizabeth Smellie, Courtesy of the Thunder Bay Military Museum

Name: Elizabeth Smellie

Date of birth: March 22, 1884

Date of death: March 5, 1968

Accomplishments related to : Military; Health Care

Major affiliations: Canadian Armed Forces; Victorian Order of Nurses.

The first woman achieve the rank of Colonel in the Canadian Army.

 Chief Superintendent of the Victorian Order of Nurses for Canada.

Elizabeth Smellie Plaque

Ontario Heritage Plaque for Elizabeth Smellie.


 Elizabeth Smellie was the second of four daughters of pioneer doctor and Member of Parliament Thomas S.T.  Smellie and his wife Janet Lawrie.   With an austere and strictly disciplined upbringing, Elizabeth had her father’s missionary zeal, real bearing and strong will.  Despite her father’s opposition to her ambition to become a nurse she applied to John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore graduating in 1909.  After serving briefly as a night nurse at McKellar General Hospital, Beth, as she was known went to Detroit to pursue a career as a private nurse.  Enlisting in 1914, she went to England as a lieutenant with the Royal Canadian Medical Corps. Acknowledged for her work, she received the Royal Red Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace.   She continued with work in Ottawa, teaching at McGill and serving as Chief Superintendent with the Victorian Order of Nurses, expanding the order across Canada.  In 1940 she returned to the military as matron in chief helping to organize the Canadian Women’s Army Corps.  Promoted to Colonel in 1944, she was the first woman achieve that rank in the Canadian Army.

 Recognized for her contributions in both the military and civilian medical establishments the City of Thunder Bay and the Ontario Heritage Trust an Ontario Historical Plaque was originally placed near the McKellar Hospital in her honour was unveiled on June 20th of 1975.

newspaperclipping Smellie Plaque noticeNewspaper Clipping Smellie Plaque Unveiling
Clippings from the Chronicle Journal highlighting the unveiling of the Elizabeth Smellie plaque.  Courtesy of the Thunder Bay Public Library.

 She is also commemorated in the January 2000 Stamp Series Millenium Collection: Humanitarians and Peacekeepers.

Photo of Elizabeth Smellie at desk

Photograph of Elizabeth Smellie, seated. Courtesy of the Thunder Bay Military Museum