Share this with friends
Midwife delivers nearly 500 babies
By Dianne Meili
A northern Alberta midwife who delivered 487 babies in her lifetime–contending with challenges like a lack of roads, indoor plumbing and electricity while never losing a single mother or child –passed away on March 2 at the age of 101.
Fort Chipeywan’s Jenny Flett often told her daughter Trudi Ann Plamondon that laboring mothers didn’t even experience vaginal tears under her care because she massaged them and made them relax.
“She always said what she did was a ‘labor of love,’ with an emphasis on the `love’,” said Plamondon. “She took time with mothers because she wanted them to be relaxed. She said it’s because most doctors today are in such a rush with their patients that mothers feel stressed out and then they have a hard time.”
Even when Flett delivered a 16-pound boy, who she said, “looked like a little bear,” the delivery went smoothly.
“If you asked her about actual challenges in all the births she went to, she’d pretty much tell you it was bad weather and traveling in the winter time that gave her the most problems,” Plamondon said.
Generations of parents relied on Flett to bring their children into the world and she never let them down.
“She didn’t get paid for delivering babies, but that never bothered her. Instead, toward the end, she only wanted people to know how hard the conditions were back in the early days when she started delivering babies,” Plamondon noted.
Whether in a trapper’s cabin or a tipi, Flett delivered them all. Her only tools were a weigh scale, clean sheets, clamps and two pie tins, which she warmed on a wood stove to help with delivery of the placenta.
Flett’s mother was a midwife but she made her daughter wait outside the birthing room to fetch the things she needed.
“Husbands weren’t even allowed in the room in those days,” Plamondon said.
When Flett finally took over her mother’s profession, she was largely self-taught and had learned about the human body, and healing it, through a mail order book called the Doctor’s Medical Manual.
“I remember that doctor’s book,” recalled Plamondon. “I remember playing with it. I liked it because it had all kinds of pictures. Mom always told me to be careful with it and I thought it was just an old book. I didn’t know it was her medical bible.”
Flett was born Ellen Elizabeth Fraser in 1908, the daughter of a Scots merchant from the Orkney Islands and a Métis mother. She said her father always seemed grumpy but later came to understand he was always too busy making a living to show his children much affection. When she lost her mother at 14, as the oldest child she began looking after her 10 siblings, including a 10-month-old brother who knew her as his mother; her lifetime of looking after others began then.
Jenny married Edward Flett in 1927 and together they had 10 children. But they also adopted six more children in the community, and Jenny was known as “mom” to almost everyone in northeastern Alberta.
Finally retiring from her career of helping others at the age of 75, Flett eventually moved from Fort Chipewyan to a seniors’ home in Fort McMurray, but the family helped keep her ties to the land and traditional food intact by roasting a large Canada Goose every year on her birthday, and completing the meal with low-bush cranberry sauce and stuffing. Flett never failed to save some of the wild meat to take to her next door neighbour at the lodge.
“She was always thinking of others,” said Plamondon. “And she was a typical elder who was always telling you things with a gentle reminder.”
And sometimes the reminder was a little more vociferous.
“She hated people wearing hats in the house. My son had a nice clean white cap on his head at one of her birthday parties and she told him to `get that dirty thing off your head.’ In her time people wore hats and sweated in them ... she thought it was disrespectful to wear one inside.”
Last year, at an awards ceremony in Fort McMurray, Flett was a special guest speaker who addressed a theatre full of people. Lucid and articulate, she answered question after question from the captivated audience about her long life.
What did she recommend for labor pains? Strong, black coffee served cup after cup.
And had she ever delivered twins? Twice. And they were very easy.
Flett received a lifetime achievement award during the 2003 Regional Recognition Awards, and when she was 100 years old, was awarded a nursing diploma from Keyano College’s Fort Chipewyan campus.
Flett turned 101 last December and was credited as being the oldest Métis woman in northeastern Alberta.
- Community Access
- Contact Us
- Our History
- Archives Search
- In Depth
- Subscribers Only
- Aboriginal Community Events
- Aboriginal Links
- Aboriginal Scholarship Guide
- Book Reviews
- Classroom Edition
- Albert Diamond - Footprints
- Alex Decoteau - Footprints
- Alfred Scow - Footprints
- Angela Sidney - Footprints
- Annie Pootoogook - Footprints
- Ben Michel - Footprints
- Bernice Sayese - Footprints
- Bill Reid - Footprints
- Billy Diamond - Footprints
- Black Elk - Footprints
- Bob Boyer - Footprints
- Charlie Hill - Footprints
- Chief Archie Jack - Footprints
- Chief Crowfoot - Footprints
- Chief Dan George - Footprints
- Christine Quintasket - Footprints
- Clarence Campeau - Footprints
- Crazy Horse - Footprints
- Daphne Odjig - Footprints
- Dekanawidah - Footprints
- Don Cardinal - Footprints
- Dorothy Betz - Footprints
- Dr. Clare Clifton Brant - Footprints
- Dr. Dale Auger - Footprints
- Edith Josie - Footprints
- Elijah Harper - Footprints
- Elsie Knott - Footprints
- Everett Soop - Footprints
- Floyd Red Crow Westerman - Footprints
- Frances Pegahmagabow - Footprints
- Francis Flett - Footprints
- Frank Calder - Footprints
- Frank Williams - Footprints
- François Vincent Kiowarini - Footprints
- Freda Ahenakew - Footprints
- Gabriel Dumont - Footprints
- George Blondin - Footprints
- George Manuel - Footprints
- Jackson Beardy - Footprints
- James Miles Venne - Footprints
- Jay Silverheels - Footprints
- Jean Goodwill - Footprints
- Jenny Flett - Footprints
- Joe Augustine - Footprints
- Joe P Cardinal - Footprints
- Joe Talirunili - Footprints
- Joseph Brant - Footprints
- Lillian Pitawanakwat - Footprints
- Louis Riel - Footprints
- Mary Cousins - Footprints
- Mary Thomas - Footprints
- Mary Two-Axe Earley - Footprints
- Monik Sioui - Footprints
- Nora Bernard - Footprints
- Norval Morrisseau - Footprints
- Olive Dickason - Footprints
- Rita Joe - Footprints
- Ross Powless - Footprints
- Russell Means - Footprints
- Saint Kateri Tekakwitha - Footprints
- Shanawdithit - Footprints
- Shannen Koostachin - Footprints
- Sophie Thomas - Footprints
- Tom Eagle - Footprints
- Tom Longboat - Footprints
- Victoria Belcourt Callihoo - Footprints
- Walter Perry Deiter - Footprints
- Wilma Mankiller - Footprints
- Xavier Michon - Footprints
- Health Information
Share this with friends
- Truth and Reconcilliation Commission Final Event and Recommendations
- Relationship between Canada's Justice System and Aboriginal People
- Play Radio Bingo to win!
- Buffalo Spirit Foundation
- Western Association of Aboriginal Broadcasters (WAAB)
- November 2 - 2016
- November 16 - 2016
- November 30 - 2016
- December 14 - 2016
- January 11 - 2017
- January 25 - 2017
- Free Digital Edition of Windspeaker!
- Download AMMSA media kits for:
* Windspeaker - Alberta Sweetgrass
* SK Sage - BC Raven's Eye - ON Birchbark
* CFWE-FM - Alberta Radio Network
- Advertising online: www.ammsa.com
Subscribe & Donate
- Order a Windspeaker or Sweetgrass digital subscription
- Make a donation to assist Windspeaker via gofundme