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Frances Gertrude McGill

Frances Gertrude McGill was a pioneer in the field of forensic pathology and was often known under the moniker of the “Sherlock Holmes of Saskatchewan.”

Born in 1877 in Minnedosa, Manitoba and raised on the family farm, McGill attended teachers college and briefly worked as a teacher to finance her studies. She soon followed others of her family into the medical field. One of her brothers was a doctor and her sister was a nurse. She graduated in medicine from the University of Manitoba in 1915, and was the recipient of the Hutchison Gold medal, awarded to the person with the highest academic average.

In the following year, McGill interned at the Winnipeg General Hospital and was offered the opportunity to do post-graduate studies at the Manitoba Provincial Laboratory. She became an authority in the science of bacteria, and, in 1918, accepted the position of the Provincial Bacteriologist at the Saskatchewan Department of Health.

In 1920, she was appointed Provincial Pathologist and two years later, she advanced to the post of Director of Saskatchewan Laboratories where she focused on the investigation of suspicious deaths. She worked closely with many police forces, both local and national, like the RCMP, and was recognised as an exceptional criminologist. McGill was well known for her court testimony, and her meticulous work proved the guilt of many individuals and the innocence of others. At one point, her work proved that a man convicted of murder was in fact innocent and that the deceased had stolen the gun of the convict and used it to kill himself. The blood found on the accused man was that of an animal and he had nothing to do with the death.

During her many investigations McGill travelled throughout Saskatchewan by many different means, including a dogsled, a snowmobile and a float plane. Though she lost quite a bit of her work load when the RCMP opened their own forensic laboratory in 1937, she continued to work with the local police force until she retired as the provincial pathologist in 1942. This, however, did not mean she was inactive. Dr. McGill pursued a variety of hobbies such as hunting, fishing, riding and playing bridge. She was also one of the many who contributed to the war effort by knitting socks for the soldiers and supporting various associations.

She returned to her work as a forensic scientist, replacing the director of the RCMPs forensic laboratory when he suddenly died in an airplane crash in 1943. She was soon back to traveling the province and conducting investigations. She also had a role in the training and education of the country’s future police officers and detectives in the fields of medical jurisprudence, pathology and toxicology. McGill is actually considered to be the first woman to serve as an RCMP officer. When a replacement was found, she stepped down from her duties at the RCMP but was appointed its Honorary Surgeon in 1946 and continued to serve as a consultant to the force, despite her retirement. Her cooperation with them only ended when she died on January 21, 1959. Her accomplishments show that she lived by her personal motto of “Think like a man, act like a lady and work like a dog.” Frances is now a member of the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame.


Image source: CBC, 2014. Taken from:!/fileImage/httpImage/image.gif_gen/derivatives/original_220/frances-mcgill-science-and-tech-museum.gif

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