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September 15,2006

WWI Veterans Remembered

In July 2005 I wrote about Edith Parkin of Chisholm Township, a nurse in World War One who finally was recognized with a new head stone and a moving ceremony.  Bert Simpson, Board member at the Nipissing Museum felt that two members of his extended family Jean and Harvey Cameron-Smith had not received proper recognition and contacted Linda Thompson who was behind the Chisholm event.  Bradley Normand, a summer student at the Museum was also concerned and started a campaign of recognition.  Two head stones will be unveiled Saturday September 30th at 11 a.m. the Union Cemetery, Hwy 534 west of Powassan with a strong military and family presence – everyone is welcome.  Funding has been provided by the Last Post which supplies headstones for fully documented cases of neglected histories of military personnel. 

Jean and Harvey Cameron-Smith 

Jean and Harvey Cameron-Smith grew up in Christian Valley near Nipissing Village when their mother moved here from Perth to be with family after her husband’s death.  Jean, born in 1866, was a teacher for several years when she decided to become a nurse and got her R.N. at Kingston Hospital.  Harvey became a medical doctor and served overseas with the rank of Major.  He practiced in Northern Ontario and died in 1947.  Little is known of his life but his Military career is well documented allowing for the memorial headstone.  

Teacher Jean Cameron-Smith with Hartley Trussler, Nipissing Museum Photo

Jean took on the courageous and challenging task of becoming a medical missionary to Japan for the Anglican Church and spent 7 years from 1895 to 1902 in Japan.  Her teaching and leadership skills helped develop a successful training school for nurses.  A book has recently been published in Japanese on the program and it is being transcribed into English.  Jean is well represented in the book for her role in the program.  People involved in the book have visited the museum to find out more about her from Joe Steele, Museum Curator, Gladys Piper, Researcher and Bert Simpson.  Bert’s mother Marguerite is a sister to Jean. 

Jean’s history from between 1902 and her military career, which began in 1915, is vague.  A photo of Jean and well-known Nugget columnist Hartley Trussler (1897-1990) has a note that she was his favorite teacher.  Hartley wrote a lengthy obituary at the time of her death. 

The First World War 

Jean was one of the first Canadian nurses to go overseas in WWI.  She immediately took on a leadership role in 2 hospitals behind the front lines and in England at Canadian Headquarters.  She received the King’s Red Cross Medal in 1921 from George V for her outstanding service.  Joe Steele was surprised recently when a Cameron-Smith relative from British Columbia showed up at the Museum with the beautiful dress Jean wore on the occasion.  It is proudly displayed in the Jean Cameron-Smith display at the Museum.  

When Jean came back after the war she became well known in the community for her poetry and her lectures.  One former student, Hartley Trussler called her the “Bard Of Christian Valley”.  She lectured for the Red Cross and the Women’s Institute.  She organized the I.O.D.E. in Powassan (the Independent Order of the Daughters of the Empire) and founded the first Powassan Library. 

Original Burnbrae Cottage on Highway 534 in Christian Valley, Wilf Nubel photo. 

She died in a tragic fire at her home (Burnbrae Cottage) in Christian Valley 1942 at age 76 and her papers were destroyed.  Family lore tells one of the most interesting parts of her life – her friendship with John McCrae who wrote “In Flanders Fields” and established the poppy as the Rememberance Day symbol.  Jean apparently worked with him and was with him when he died.  She is said to have sent his famous poem to a publisher and from there it became a piece of WWI history.  It is fitting that Jean and Harvey’s lives have been remembered. 

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