Nesta Leduc’s 1962 journey north, punctuated the remoteness of her new home in the Yukon: “It was a six-hour flight to get up here from Vancouver,” she says, “we had to stop in Williams Lake, Prince George, Fort St. John and Watson Lake first.”
Leduc came to our territory as a newly minted doctor who was eager to practice her chosen trade, but she was also a young woman stricken with wanderlust, and her sights were set even further afield than Whitehorse.
“I came up to make money so that I could go to New Zealand,” she says frankly. But of course, The Spell of The Yukon had other plans.
“It was exciting. The people were very friendly and the staff at the hospital was like family,” she says of her first impressions. Add to that the nearly endless wilderness and the mystique of the midnight sun and Leduc was hooked.
“After two weeks, I asked if I could stay,” she says. The hospital staff was only too happy to oblige.
Leduc’s arrival coincided with a shortage of doctors in the city.
“There was only one other GP,” she says.
This gave Leduc the chance to face a unique set of challenges and experiences that were out of reach for young doctors in other parts of the country.
“We didn’t ship patients out in those days,” Leduc says. “I had to do everything. If someone came in with a broken arm, I had to fix it.
“And you never wanted to call the other doctor because it was their night off and they would have to work the next day.”
It wasn’t always easy, but one senses a twinge of nostalgia in Leduc’s voice as she talks about those early days: “I was young, single and doing what I was trained to do,” she says.
Among her favourite tasks as a community doctor was performing house calls: “It was fun to go to people’s houses and see where they lived,” she says. But making a house call in Whitehorse during the 1960s had its own unique frustrations.
“I had a Volkswagen Bug with no heat,” she says, “and there were no street signs in those days. One time, I had trouble finding a place and I got so cold that I had to turn back.”
As a female doctor in a less-enlightened time, she faced other challenges as well: “Some people didn’t want to be treated by a woman doctor, but they had to because there were no other choices.”
Leduc’s strategy for dealing with such curmudgeons was simple, but effective: she did her job well.
“After being treated, people would say, ‘Wow, there’s really no difference between you and the other doctors’.” But Leduc already knew that.
Now Leduc is retired, and has been since 1999. She spends her summers orienteering and her winters cross country skiing and snowshoeing.
When she sits down, she relaxes her shoulders and projects a certain calm, when she drinks her coffee she sips it slowly. It’s a distinct change of pace from her heyday as an overworked physician, but Leduc seems to have adjusted well.
“I like not being at the beck and call of anyone anymore,” she says.