The Canadian Expeditionary Force Novels

Forging the Weapon cover 1914
Hammering the Blade cover 1915
Sharpening the Blade cover 1916
Tempering the Blade cover 1917


Frank Rockland

Characters > Historical

Major Margaret Clotilde Macdonald
Matron-in-Chief - Canadian Army Nursing Service

Photo of Matron Margaret Macdonald

In 1913, Matron Margaret Macdonald had anticipated the problems in recruiting qualified nurses for the army in the time of war. Fresh from a fact finding tour of military hospitals in Great Britain, she was advocating that training programs be conducted across the country and that nurses be allowed attend the summer military training camps to prepare for what they would face if war came.

When WW1 started there were only five nurses permanent militia and fifty nurses in the non-permanent militia. When the call went out for volunteers over 2,000 filed applications. Only 100 nurses, including Samantha Lonsdale, were selected to join the first contingent’s Canadian Army Nursing Service unit.

The nurses first gathered at the Immigration Hospital at Parc Savard in Québec City and shortly after they boarded the SS Franconia for England. During the sea voyage, she kept them busy with lectures on military drill, military nursing, and army regulations.

When they landed in England, they spent the first few weeks in London at the home of Florence Nightingale’s first nursing school, St. Thomas Hospital, before they joined the 1st Contingent at Salisbury Plain. There they endured the same weather conditions in the tents as the men did.

In November 1914, fifty of the nursing sisters joined the No 1 Stationary Hospital that had been sent to La Touquet, France to care for the wounded.

By the end of WW1, over 3,000 Canadian nurses had served under Major Margaret Macdonald.


She was born February 26, 1873 in Bailey’s Brook, Pictou County, Nova Scotia, Canada. She was the third daughter of Donald St. Daniel and Mary Chisholm Macdonald. Her father ran the local general store.

She was education at the Stella Maris Convent school in Pictou in 1884. She then attended in 1890 Mount St Vincent Academy in Halifax. In 1893, she applied and was granted admission to the nursing program at the New York City Hospital.

She died in September 1948 in Bailey’s Brook.

Military Service

Matron Margaret Macdonald's attestation papers

Sources and further reading


Life on the Home Front -- Margaret MacDonald

Caregiving on the Front: The Experience of Canadian Military Nurses During World War I - Library and Archives Canada

The Nursing Sisters of Canada - Women and War - Remembering those who served - Remembrance - Veterans Affairs Canada

Books on the Canadian Army Medical Services and Nursing Sister | A tribute to some women and men who served in armed conflicts

“Angels of Mercy”: Canada’s Nursing Sisters in World War I and II | Peace and War in the 20th Century


Mann, Susan. Margaret Macdonald: imperial daughter, McGill-Queen University Press, 2005.