How McKay Avenue School Got Its Name
The oldest standing brick school in Alberta was named in honour of Dr. William Morrison MacKay, who for 34 years served as the only medical practitioner for Hudson's Bay Company outposts in Canada's northland. His service with the company commenced in 1864. Ten years later he married Jane Flett, daughter of a Hudson's Bay factor, and on many occasions his wife served as a nurse assisting him in sewing up wounds suffered by his northern patients.
"For thirty-four years he was the only medical man in most of a half-continent of wide open prairie, vast ice fields, mountains, rivers, lakes, and forests in proportions far beyond human imagination. The sole means of transportation was by York boat, river boat, dog train, or sleigh. For many years most of his patients were [Inuit] and [First Nations] and they lived in snow huts or teepees. The ordinary ailments of mankind were always demanding attention, but in addition, epidemics of scarlet fever, smallpox, or typhus fever were frequently breaking out here or there over his vast medical domain. This required thousands of miles of exacting travel, usually in frigid weather. In fact, his thirty-four years of pioneer medicine make a tale of hardship, endurance, self-sacrifice, and brotherly love never surpassed by any physician in any age of medical history.” 1
"his medical missions are tales of hardship and sacrifice"
Much of the good doctor's service was in the Peace and Athabasca districts. He once skated 200 miles from Grouard to Edmonton to provide medical care in the absence of the settlement's doctor. Prior to his arrival in Edmonton, Dr. MacKay spent ten years in Fort Chipewyan, the oldest settlement in all of Alberta.
After more than a third of a century of service as a surgeon, Dr. MacKay retired to Edmonton and set up a residence on the north west corner of what is today 99 Avenue and 105 Street. For a short time he practiced medicine in the rapidly growing town and in 1902 was elected first president of the Northern Alberta Medical Association. One of the lots presently comprising the McKay Avenue School grounds was purchased by the Edmonton Public Protestant Public School Board (Edmonton School Division) from Dr. MacKay.
"MacKay was the only medical practitioner in Canada's northland for thirty-four years"
In recognition of Dr. MacKay's devotion and service to residents of Northern Canada, Fort MacKay and MacKay Lake in the Northwest Territories were named in his honour. The Town of Edmonton paid its respects to the pioneer doctor by naming the avenue fronting his residence "McKay Avenue." Unfortunately, in the formal naming of the avenue, an error was committed in the spelling of the good doctor's name. The error was perpetuated in the naming of McKay Avenue School.
Dr. MacKay died in Edmonton in 1917, but the benevolence of this great medical pioneer and his family will never be forgotten.
1 Calgary Associate Clinic Historical Bulletin, November 1939