Elizabeth Smellie

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

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
  • Major accomplishments: The first woman to 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.

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

Newspaper clipping plaque notice

Newspaper clipping 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 Millennium Collection: Humanitarians and Peacekeepers.

Elizabeth Smellie at desk

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


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