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Nurse Attrill — an icon of Bannerman Avenue

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The house at 90 Bannerman Ave., longtime home of nurse Alfreda Attrill.

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The house at 90 Bannerman Ave., longtime home of nurse Alfreda Attrill. Photo Store

Many people have likely never heard of Alfreda Jean Attrill, who used to live on Bannerman Avenue, but she was a lady who was quite well known and cherished in her day.

She was the first Winnipeg nurse to enlist in the First World War, just one day after the declaration of war on Aug. 5, 1914. And she received many medals and awards for her many years of service, both during and after the war.

"She was a well-loved neighbour," says Arlene Jones, who lives across the street from 90 Bannerman Ave., where Attrill lived for many years.

Joyce Harris, who also lives on the street and knew Attrill well, agrees.

"She was really a wonderful soul," Harris says, recalling how Attrill helped her several times when her son was a baby. "She would help anybody she could. She was like a grandmother figure... She was a good person."

Born in Ontario, Attrill came to Manitoba with her family and grew up near Dauphin. She told Winnipeg Tribune reporter Lillian Gibbons in 1936 that the family "got burnt out," and "flooded out" and at age 21, when her parents died, she became the head of the family.

She taught school in northern Manitoba for a few years and then enrolled in the Winnipeg General Hospital Training School for Nurses. Graduating in 1909, she worked at the hospital until the day she enlisted.

Attrill served with distinction in Macedonia, France, England and at sea and often saw violence. But Gibbons wrote that "this quiet little woman with the memory of many things... didn’t talk of horrors of war."

Though she was often under shell fire, she said she never lost her faith or "the feeling that she would come home alright."

After being presented with the Royal Red Cross Medal by King George V, she returned to Winnipeg and continued working as a nurse. She also devoted much of her time to St. John’s Ambulance.

Attrill was a familiar figure on Bannerman for over 40 years. In 1966, Gov. Gen.Georges Vanier awarded her the Dame of Grace of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. Interestingly, Vanier had been a patient of Attrill’s during his service in the First World Ward.

In 1968 Attrill was given the Dame of Justice medal by St. John Ambulance of Winnipeg, the first to be given in Canada. She received many other honours and awards over the years.
Queen Elizabeth visited her in 1970 at Deer Lodge Hospital where Attrill was then a patient. She died at the age of 93 and is buried in the cemetery of St. John’s Cathedral ,where she often attended.

"That was heartbreaking," Harris says of Attrill’s passing. "She was always spry... everybody really liked her. She was a real icon on Bannerman."

Cheryl Girard is a community correspondent for West Kildonan. You can contact her at girard.cheryl@gmail.com

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