When Days Are Long
Nurse in the North
When Amy Wilson accepted the job of field nurse for the Indigenous Peoples in the Yukon and Northern British Columbia in 1949, she was told that the north was a fine country for men and dogs but that it killed women and horses. Undaunted, Wilson travelled the Alaska Highway from Whitehorse (Mile 916) to Mile Zero. She served Indigenous Peoples in tents, shacks and on the trapline, travelling by dog team, car, plane, snowshoe, horseback and boat. She was the first to respond when a half-frozen man came stumbling into a ham radio operator’s shack with a story of epidemic and starvation at Halfway River. With five doses of antitoxin pinned inside her sweater to keep them warm, she made her way through forty-below temperatures to the camp where Indigenous Peoples were still living in summer tents. Four people had died of the “choking sickness” before Wilson’s arrival, but she brought immediate help, and shortly thereafter supplies began to arrive by sleigh and by air. The details of the diphtheria epidemic are both tragic and dramatic and just one of many such incidents in the busy life of the “Indian Nurse,” as she was called.
Wilson’s territory spanned 518,000 square kilometres. She was responsible for the health of 3,000 Indigenous Peoples, but Wilson was more than just a health care provider: over time, she became an advocate, partner and friend for the community with whom she shared mutual respect, music, medicine, tea from tobacco tins and, most of all, with whom she shared her heart.
Originally published as No Man Stands Alone in 1965 by Gray’s Publishing LTD., this new edition, When Days Are Long: Nurse in the North, includes an introduction by Wilson’s grandniece, Laurel Deedrick-Mayne, which brings crucial insights to this important figure in BC’s history.
A percentage of proceeds from When Days Are Long will be donated to the Canadian Indigenous Nurses Association’s Jean Goodwill Scholarship.
"Amy Wilson's story is set sixty years ago when she provided health care for Indigenous communities across thousands of square miles of northern BC and the Yukon. With resilience, courage, and commitment, but only basic supplies, Nurse Amy responded to remote emergencies, with help from the RCMP, bush pilots, local traders, and First Nations and Metis leaders. Her deep concern for improving health care for Indigenous People remains relevant--poignant evidence that we have yet to provide desperately needed policies and resources for northern Indigenous People, despite decades of false promises."
--Nancy Gibson, PhD, medical anthropologist
"The book gives a vivid description of one nurse's response to remote emergencies, deeply concerned and committed to bring people nursing care within the constraints and larger social circumstances over which she had only limited control. It is a timely historical account that shines light on public health nursing work in BC in the context of epidemics and the health and lives of Indigenous communities that is both historically and currently relevant."
--BC Studies, review by Geertje Boschma (Summer 2020)
"When Days are Long is a charmer, its nuanced descriptions by a visiting nurse of the health care and everyday lives of Indigenous peoples across the far reaches of British Columbia and the Yukon now half a century ago forcefully reminding us of our common humanity."
--Jean Barman, Governor General Award-winning author and historian
“A compelling read about the fierce experience of life as a nurse in 1950s Yukon. But more than that, this story is an example of what it means to be an ally to Indigenous people: Amy Wilson listened, learned, and served the people of the North with heart, humility, and respect. At every turn she valued traditional ways without question and for that alone, Wilson’s vividly told story serves as a guide for us all.”
—Jennifer Manuel, award-winning author of The Heaviness of Things That Float
“[Amy Wilson] lived with a people who are as Canadian as the soil on which they live, but who are forgotten and ignored by the affluent society so close to them and yet so far away.
The essence of this tale of northern life is probably the sharp reminder that hunger and want are not merely terrible conditions in a foreign land sufficiently far away to bear social discussion. They are the daily diet of thousands of sons of Canadian soil.
There is a message to this book … Every Canadian should hear that message and shed just a little of his smugness.”
—F.G. Richards, Saanich Peninsula and Gulf Islands Review (September 15, 1965)