Herstorian Ashleigh Mattern reflects on writing this week’s profile about Annie Maude McKay, and the help she received from historian Duff Spafford, who died in May 2014.
I first learned about Annie Maude (Nan) McKay from University of Saskatchewan historian Duff Spafford. He and I were both Sheaf alumni, although separated by decades. He’d worked at the U of S student newspaper in the 1950s, and I’d only finished my run at the paper in 2011. Along with several other outstanding alumni, we were tasked with organizing the Sheaf’s centennial celebration in 2012.
Duff worked tirelessly to dig up stories about interesting alumni from the early years, and he quickly brought Nan to my attention.
When Nan graduated in 1915, she became the first Métis and the first Aboriginal woman to graduate from the U of S, and in 1916, the SRC chose Nan, an alumnus, to fill in at the Sheaf while so many students were stationed overseas during the First World War, making her the first female editor at the U of S paper.
Nan was large in my mind when I met with the Saskatoon Women’s Calendar Collective in the fall of 2012 to help plan the 2014 issue. She would be the first woman I would research and write about for Herstory: The Canadian Women’s Calendar, sparking in me a new interest in history and feminism.
I fell in love with Annie, this woman I would never meet. She died the year after I was born. A librarian, an alpine hiker, a hockey player, and a Roughriders fan. Would we have been friends had our paths crossed? I like to think so.
In many ways, I owe my fledgling career as an amateur historian to Duff Spafford. He had a passion for history that was infectious, and if he hadn’t already shown me how exciting history could be, I may never have joined the Herstory collective.
Duff Spafford died on May 14, 2014. He was one of the many people who touch the pages of Herstory indirectly. While I haven’t been a part of the collective long enough to know for sure, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out if he’d had an influence on the publication in previous years as well.
This week in Herstory, we feature a profile of Annie McKay, an amazing woman who set the stage for future generations of women during her time at University of Saskatchewan. A woman who might not have been featured in the pages of Herstory without the help of one Duff Spafford.