I am deeply saddened to convey the tragic news that Myra Rutherdale (1961-2014), passed away early in the morning of May 22. Despite battling cancer for five years, she was able to live fully and actively until she died. She was ill but her passing was unexpected. She had a massive heart attack at 5 pm on May 21, never re-gained consciousness, and died peacefully surrounded by family and friends at 12:40 am on May 22. She is survived by her husband, Robert Rutherdale, a historian of Canada at Algoma University, and her son Andrew, an artist and student.
An Associate Professor at York University, Myra specialized in gender and embodiment; Native/Newcomer relations; Aboriginal health; the history of medicine; religion and mission histories; northern Canada; British Columbia; environmental history; and cultural history. She is best known for her three books: Women and the White Man's God: Gender and Race in the Canadian Mission Field (UBCP 2002); Contact Zones: Aboriginal and Settler Women In Colonial Canada, edited by Myra and Katie Pickles (UBCP 2005); and Caregiving On The Periphery: Historical Perspectives on Nursing and Midwifery in Canada (MQUP 2010). She taught courses on 20th-century Canada, the history of women in Canada, imagined bodies, and Indigenous history in Canada She inspired and sustained a vast circle of family, friends, and colleagues, stretching across Canada and the globe.
Myra lived, worked, and studied in every corner of Canada, embodying the passion she had for Canadian history and literature. From west to east, she taught at Simon Fraser University, the University of British Columbia, and the University College of the Fraser Valley. She had a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Saskatchewan. She bought a house in Sault Ste. Marie. She was a student in Hamilton and Toronto. She got tenure in North York. She was born in St. John, New Brunswick. And she studied Canada’s north. And last week she was reading Frederick Philip Grove’s 1925 novel Settlers of the Marsh for fun.
Myra did not let cancer slow her down in any way. This past year she was the Director of Undergraduate Studies at York University and she served as a Council Member for the Canadian Historical Association. This past fall she published an article on northern women negotiating fashion in colonial encounter, and last spring she presented a paper on the Idle No More movement in Jerusalem. In the last four years she travelled to Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Denmark, and Provence. And earlier in the week she finally asked me to cover some meetings for her. Her dedication to her work as a Canadian historian reflected her passion, enthusiasm, commitment, and spirit. She will be missed terribly by students, colleagues, friends, and family.
The last two lines of Women and the White Man’s God remind me of how Myra dealt with her cancer and lived her life: “Barbara Kingsolver concludes The Poisonwood Bible with the thought that ‘Africa swallowed the conqueror’s music and sang a new song of her own.’ In the same way, the Aboriginal peoples in northern Canada are once again singing their own songs.”