Ruth McIlraith
(nee Littlejohn) 1913-2001

Biographical History

Ruth McIlraith was born June 2, 1913 on a farm in Arcola, Saskatchewan. She loved horses; ribbons she won for her Shetland ponies were still in her possession seventy years later. After the family lost their farm in the Depression, the Littlejohns moved to Winnipeg, where Ruth attended the nursing program at Winnipeg General Hospital, graduating in 1936.

Her attempts to enlist after the outbreak of WW II were initially unsuccessful, as her position at the hospital had been frozen. She moved to take a job at Vancouver General Hospital, where she successfully enlisted with the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps on June 1, 1942. After a posting to Vernon she was recruited to serve aboard hospital ship no. 46, the Lady Nelson, Canada’s first hospital ship, which survived a major explosion at Algiers. She was appointed lieutenant November 5, 1943 and transferred from the ship in December 1943 to be assigned to Nanaimo Military Hospital until June 1944. After D-Day she served with No. 1 Canadian General Hospital at Nijmegen, Holland. She married Tom McIlraith in 1951.

Her experiences in the war shaped much of the remainder of Ruth McIlraith’s life. From 1947 to 1976, she worked at Shaughnessy Hospital, becoming Director in 1961. She became president of the Nursing Sisters’ Association and on the board of the Veterans Memorial Housing Society. In her work with veterans she modeled her life on that of Florence Nightingale. While retiring in 1976, she remained active with a number of organizations, including as a nurse consultant on the DVA pilot project for the Veterans Independence Program, the Veterans Memorial Manor Society and the George Derby Long Term Society. Ruth received the Canada 125 Anniversary Commemorative Medal in 1992. She was diagnosed with cancer in 1988 and died in 2001.

Scope and Content

Fonds includes 10 cm. of records and 39 photographs related to Ruth McIlraith’s personal life and career. A scrapbook, field surgery pocket book and other records document her experiences as a nursing sister in World War II. Photographs, mostly obtained from official sources, provide a visual record of life as a hospital nurse aboard the Lady Nelson. Reference material is also included.

Much of her later life as a nurse and later Director of Shaughnessy Hospital was also dedicated to work with veterans. Correspondence, reports, photographs and articles relate to her work at Shaughnessy Hospital.

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Ruth with National NS Executive in 1980 L-R Sec.Treas Eileen Shaw, Councillors Ruth McIlraith,Peggy Keen, Isabel Gell PH-1311
Ruth with National NS Executive in 1980 L-R Sec.Treas Eileen Shaw, Councillors Ruth McIlraith,Peggy Keen, Isabel Gell PH-1311