Dr. Margaret MacKellar (1882-1931)
Dr. Margaret MacKellar was born on the Isle of Mull, Scotland in 1862. Margaret ‘s mother, Mary McLeod married Lake Captain Peter MacKellar and they settled in Port Elgin. As a very young child, Margaret started her schooling at S.S. No. 13 in Bruce Township. She would have had to have walked two and a half miles from her family home to get to school. Sadly, Margaret’s mother passed away when she was young and her father left his children in the care of a housekeeper. Once Margaret’s schooling was finished, she would occasionally sail with him.
Margaret decided to start a career as a dressmaker and milliner in Paris, Ontario and at Ingersoll. She then decided to qualify as a missionary however, she found the work of Grade 9 so difficult that she returned to elementary school. This was at the age of twenty-two. With such a sense of determination, Margaret completed high school and then she enrolled at Queen’s University in 1886. She studied medicine and graduated as the valedictorian of her class. In 1890, Margaret was designated for the foreign mission field under the auspices of the Canadian Presbyterian Mission.
Margaret was sent to Neemuch, Central India where she was responsible for the building of a fifty-two bed hospital. Along with her associates, a number of clinics and dispensaries were established. This was a welcome innovation to the natives. However, there was some opposition from those who felt that the missionaries’ coming would interfere with their material gains.
Over a period of four decades, Margaret experienced a number of obstacles in providing both health care and the establishment of missions in India. Margaret managed to deliver both in palatial homes, in mud huts, in tents and in the open. In order to accomplish this, she had to travel by elephant, camel, and donkey. Margaret took long journeys on shaky trains, tonga, oxcart and carriage. At times, she would travel by “palanquin” which was a kind of raft that was propelled with the assistance of the sturdy legs of the Bhilmen. It was quite often that Margaret would travel by foot for many miles in conditions when she would have to endure extremes of heat, cold, and dampness. Margaret had to demonstrate a great deal of courage as there was always the fear of beatings and death by sword. There was also the problem of encountering pestilence and famine.
Margaret was a true pioneer in her field during World War 1 as she took part in training twelve women doctors from India. She was also a member of a committee of medical women who assisted in the selection of suitable medical women for war work. At the Freeman Thomas Hospital in Bombay, Margaret was attached to the R.A.M.C. She received thanks from her commander-in-chief for all of her efforts.
During the next twenty-two years, Margaret was associated with the Women’s Christian Medical College at Ludhiana. Over a period of seventeen years, she was the Honourary Secretary of the General Committee. Five years prior to her retirement, Margaret was president of the Governing Body. Due to her professionalism and tireless persuasive abilities; she was able to secure the services of several Canadian women doctors for the teaching staff and workers in other departments of the W.C.M.C.
After 1925, Margaret served under the auspices of the United Church of Canada. Aside from being a missionary doctor, she was also a prolific writer. Over a span of fifty years, Margaret wrote articles pertaining to missionary interests and travel topics. During her term of missionary service, she was a member of the editorial staff of the United Church Review, North India, and also the Journal for Medical Women in India.
Margaret retired in 1930 and she then lectured extensively throughout Canada. She received a number of awards and recognition for her contributions. Queen’s University conferred upon her an honourary Doctor of Laws degree. Margaret, by invitation, was presented at the Coronation of Dunbar of the late King George and Queen Mary at Delphi. In recognition of her services, she was presented with the Kaiser-i-Hind service medal. Margaret resided at the United Church House on Jarvis Street in Toronto until her death in the Toronto General Hospital at the age of seventy-nine. Margaret was buried in Port Elgin and a memorial cairn was erected in 1958 on the site of the North Bruce Presbyterian Church honouring the founders and members. Margaret MacKellar’s name appears on this cairn which has the following inscription: “Perhaps this church’s greatest memorial is in the work of its sons and daughters in ministery and mission work.”
Margaret MacKellar is truly an “Explorer” as she pioneered as a doctor and missionary at a time when women were not considered for either service.
Bruce County Historical Society Yearbook. 2002
Bruce Township-Tales and Trails
They Went Forth in the Church’s Mission. Bruce County Geneological Society 1967