By Scott Nixon, Times-Advocate Staff
HENSALL — A new parkette in Hensall will pay tribute to a trailblazer in Canadian medical history.
Dr. Jennie Smillie Park at 120 King St. in Hensall honours Smillie, born on a farm outside Hensall in 1878, later to become Canada’s first female surgeon. A ribbon cutting ceremony and dedication was held July 10 at the site, which will be developed in phases starting this fall and will include landscaping and pathways, a gazebo, a monument paying tribute to Smillie, and an archway entrance.
Last week’s gathering included descendants of Smillie’s, members of the park committee, Bluewater Blooms members, politicians and Communities in Bloom judges, who were in the municipality last week as part of Bluewater’s participation in the Communities in Bloom competition.
Smillie, originally a teacher in Huron County, saved enough money out of her $300 annual salary to enroll in Toronto’s Ontario Medical College for Women, according to information provided at last week’s event. She graduated in 1909 and, since she couldn’t find any Canadian hospitals who would accept a female doctor, she did an internship in Philadelphia, later to return to Toronto.
In 1911, she helped start Toronto’s Women’s College Hospital.
Smillie didn’t marry until the age of 70, when she married Alex Robertson. She died at the age of 103 in 1981 and is buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto.
Local resident Liz Sangster, who read Smillie’s biography to the crowd assembled last week, said she hopes the Dr. Jennie Smillie Park will serve as an inspiration and encourage people to never give up on their dreams.
Sharon Robinson of London, who is Smillie’s great niece, remembers visits from Smillie.
“I can still see her big beautiful hat sitting on the dresser,” Robinson said, adding during Smillie’s 40-year career she did mostly abdominal surgeries and performed the first gynecological surgery in Canada by a female doctor.
Huron-Bruce MP Ben Lobb, speaking of the parkette’s development, said he feels there is momentum building in Hensall, adding the parkette will help revitalize the downtown. He said the project fits in well with the efforts to renovate the upper room at town hall.
Huron County Warden George Robertson paid tribute to volunteers, saying projects such as the Smillie parkette wouldn’t happen without volunteers.
Lisa Thompson, Huron Bruce MPP, said she looks forward to seeing the project move ahead, while Bluewater Mayor Bill Dowson commended the park committee for its work.
Bluewater Blooms co-chairperson Jim Fergusson said with the new parkette Smillie’s name will live on. He gave thanks to Bluewater and Hensall residents for their financial contributions to the project.