Dr. Margaret Mahood was the deputy superintendent of the North Battleford Mental Hospital when she was recruited to work at the new Saskatoon Community Clinic. As a socialist and a psychiatrist, Dr. Mahood supported the Medicare plan and relocated to Saskatoon. She put on her general practitioner’s hat and set up her practice at the so-called “commie” clinic.
The idealistic psychiatrist joined forces with Dr. Joan Witney-Moore, and on July 3, they opened the doors to the clinic with only their medical bags, and folding tables topped with mattresses employed as examining tables.
Socialized medicine in Canada was ahead of its time, and the Medicare program wasn’t granted an easy birth. Neither was the wife of Allan Blakeney, the health minister. He scrambled to get services for his very pregnant wife, Anne. But her Medicare-supporting doctor wasn’t afforded hospital privileges, so their baby was born at home.
The mood was tense that summer and Dr. Mahood, who was petite in stature but not easily intimidated, had to be escorted on her house calls. She became the target of threats, yet continued to practise medicine during the strike, says former colleague and retired physician, Dr. John Bury.
Physicians who supported Medicare were shunned, blocked from obtaining hospital privileges and routinely threatened, Dr. Bury said from his home in Saskatoon.
This intense standoff was not to be the last challenge in Dr. Mahood’s long vocation as a community-based doctor, but it certainly set the tone for the remainder of her career, which combined her love of politics with a patient-centred approach to psychiatry.
In 1970, Dr. Mahood participated in the Abortion Caravan. It was Canada’s first national feminist protest and was spearheaded by the Vancouver Women’s Caucus. The group was protesting the 1969 amendments to the criminal code that made abortion legal only if it threatened the health of the mother. Even then, it could be performed only by a physician in an accredited hospital, and required the approval of a three-member committee of doctors called a therapeutic abortion committee.
A cross-country caravan of concerned women travelled from Vancouver to Ottawa to denounce the status quo. Their successful protest effort shut down the House of Commons for more than an hour and shifted the nation’s attention to women’s reproductive rights.
“My mother was a big pro-choice advocate,” says Dr. Sally Mahood of Regina. “She was a psychiatrist in the days when women had to prove they were ‘crazy’ in order to get an abortion. They needed a sympathetic psychiatrist who would argue their case. I remember listening to her dictating these reports and she was so outraged by the fact that three men on a panel would make a decision about a woman and whether she could have an abortion or not.”
Sally explains that her mother’s keen interest in medicine and mental health started in childhood. “In the small town of Alameda, Sask., where my mum was raised, there was a fascination with medical dramas. She had a teacher in her high school who had suffered a nervous breakdown, so my mother had an interest in mental health. Her own mother lost five family members to TB. That was around the turn of the 20th century and people lived in harsh circumstances.”
Dr. Mahood was born Margaret Charlotte Fisher on June 14, 1918 to Fred and Mayme Fisher. Margaret was born in Toronto because her father was a pilot in the First World War. Mayme was sent off to Toronto to have the baby so she could be close to family. Although born in Toronto, Margaret was raised in Alameda. Younger sisters Jean (Doodie) and Mary rounded out the family of five.
Alameda was a small village in southeastern Saskatchewan, Mayme was a teacher and Fred was the postmaster. Olive Fisher, Fred’s sister, was the family trailblazer. An English professor at the University of Alberta, Olive lived to 102. According to Sally, Olive Fisher financed the education of her three nieces from Alameda because she didn’t have any children of her own: “She lost the love of her life in the First World War and never married.”