Doris Marie McFarlane: Nurse. Mother. Activist. Collector. Born Nov. 27, 1922, in Danvers, N.S.; died Oct. 13, 2021, in Beaverlodge, Alta., of heart failure; aged 98.
In 1948, Doris McFarlane arrived as a young nurse in the village of Beaverlodge, 500 kilometres northwest of Edmonton. There she met Doug McFarlane, who had an insurance agency and a dance band. Eighteen months after that meeting, at the end of her shift at the hospital, Doris changed her clothes and walked three blocks to the church, where she and Doug were married. Two sons, Jim and Lewis, arrived in quick succession. Doris continued to nurse part-time, working for the local ambulance service and once her sons had finished school, the Victorian Order of Nurses.
Doris liked to be in charge; she always said she’d rather be the nurse than the patient. Perhaps being one of 10 children had honed her skills in leadership. She could also polish off a lobster faster than anyone in her family. She’d learned as a child that if you stopped to pick out the bones, you lost out.
Doris was unflappable. The kind of mother who would say offhandedly to her sons, “If you need to know about sex, just ask me. I can tell you about that.”
Doris and Doug’s friendship with Canadian impressionist painter Euphemia (Betty) McNaught, led them to begin collecting art. Their collection grew to several hundred paintings of Peace River-area artists, many displayed on the walls of their home. In her later years, Doris also held “pot parties,” where she displayed and sold the pottery of a local artist.
In the late 1980s, Doris and Euphemia decided Beaverlodge needed an arts centre. They had no money, land or a building but Doris spearheaded a drive to tow the old hospital to an empty lot by the highway. Her attitude, said a close friend, was “come hell or high water, we’re going to do this.” The Beaverlodge Arts and Culture Centre thrives today as an arts centre, gallery and tearoom. Doris was the chair of the board for 20 years and even in the last months of her life, she wanted to know how the current show was doing.
In 1989, Doug died abruptly of a heart attack. Doris’s grief was not something she displayed in public. But in private, she travelled to Doug’s grave whenever her sons returned home, and she treasured a portrait of her husband painted by a friend and insisted that it hang in a prominent place.
Doris was always active in her community, she spent years raising money for an indoor swimming pool. In 2010, Doris was selected as one of two winners of the United Farmers of Alberta Cooperative Small Town Heroes contest. Winning meant country singer Paul Brandt performed for a fundraiser, and at this sold-out event Doris spoke about what Beaverlodge meant to her. She noted she’d been the delivery nurse to many in the audience and apologized if she’d accidentally dropped anyone on their heads.
In 2015, Doris donated 19 acres of land to the town for a new hospital. Several ministers of health expressed support, and some met Doris in person to thank her for her donation. But the hospital is still not built. A few weeks before she died, Doris said, “If I was 80, I’d get that hospital built.”
Doris was close to all seven of her grandchildren. For David’s wedding, she made a video to share the words of poet Edwin Markham that she had lived by for all her adult life: “There is a destiny which makes us brothers, none goes his way alone: All that we send into the life of others comes back into our own.”
The day after she died, Beaverlodge announced a public-private partnership to build a new health complex. The mayor said there would be a memorial to Doris in the new building and the town lowered its flags in honour of her passing.
Judy McFarlane is Doris’s daughter-in-law.
To submit a Lives Lived: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lives Lived celebrates the everyday, extraordinary, unheralded lives of Canadians who have recently passed. To learn how to share the story of a family member or friend, go to tgam.ca/livesguide