The first Aboriginal woman to graduate from the U of S
By Professor Emeritus Dufferin (Duff) Spafford
Annie Maude (Nan) McKay (BA’15) was the first Métis and first Aboriginal woman to graduate from the University of Saskatchewan. She worked at the University Library for 44 years (1915–59), and in 2007, she was chosen one of the University of Saskatchewan’s 100 Alumni of Influence.
The third of five children, Nan was born October 10, 1892, at Fort à la Corne, Northwest Territories to an English Métis family. Her father, Angus McKay, worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Her mother, Annie Maud Mary (nee Fortescue), died in 1907 following an operation for appendicitis. Angus remarried in 1910.
Nan began her education at home, tutored by a cousin. Nan’s uncle, James McKay, was responsible for Nan’s education and later enrolled Nan and her sister, Marian, at St. Alban’s Ladies College in Prince Albert. James was a lawyer practicing in Prince Albert and would later be appointed to the Board of Governors of the new University of Saskatchewan.
Christina, the eldest daughter of U of S President Walter Murray, was a student at St. Alban’s and became a friend of the McKay sisters. In 1912, a $200 entrance scholarship and money left by Nan’s mother for education enabled Nan to attend the U of S.
Nan took an extraordinarily active part in student life at the university. Among other things, she was staff artist of The Sheaf student newspaper, served as a member of the Students Representative Council’s (SRC) executive committee, was secretary of the campus YWCA and secretary of the Literary Society. In the winter, she was a figure skater, and she played ice hockey for university teams well into the 1920s, which in those days accepted alumni players.
After graduating, she filled a “temporary” position of assistant librarian at the University Library, where she was employed until 1959.
In May, 1917, the University of Saskatchewan Graduates’ Association (now the U of S Alumni Association) was founded. Nan was elected its first secretary-treasurer.
During the flu epidemic of 1918, Nan worked as a volunteer nurse, and her name is recorded on the wall of the north stairwell of the Peter MacKinnon Building.
In the summer of 1944, Nan’s back was severely injured in a rock slide in Banff National Park. She was away from work for 18 months. Upon her return, she was put in charge of book ordering, and the library went without an assistant librarian for a decade.
A notice of her retirement which appeared in the Saskatchewan Library Association Bulletin in 1959 said, “... for many years she was almost the whole Library … At one time or another, every job in the Library was hers, and she did them all well.”
In retirement, Nan and her sister, Marian, played bridge, sketched and painted in water- colours, and went on bird-watching outings. Members of the family recall that Nan had a lively sense of humour and was a fan of the Saskatchewan Roughriders—always a good combination.
Nan McKay died on July 27, 1986, at the age of 93.
Edited for length. For the complete, original biography, visit alumni.usask.ca/mckayBack to Top