Edith Monture's 'tenacity, determination' brings honour to Brantford school named after WW I nurse

The school was renamed after Monture earlier this year, making Tuesday the first Indigenous Veteran's Day the school marked since the change. 

Tuesday was 1st Indigenous Veteran's Day since the school was renamed

Edith Monture was the first First Nations woman to become a registered nurse in Canada and a Mohawk First World War veteran. (Submitted by the Moses family)

For staff and students of Edith Monture Elementary in Brantford, Ont., every single day it's "an honour" to walk into a school that bears the name of such "an inspiring leader."

Monture was the first First Nations woman to become a registered nurse in Canada. She was also a Mohawk veteran — after completing her nursing education in the U.S., she volunteered with the American Expeditionary Force during the First World War.

She then served her community of Six Nations of the Grand River for more than 40 years as a community nurse and midwife. Monture died in 1996.

The school was renamed after Monture earlier this year, making Tuesday the first Indigenous Veteran's Day the school marked since the change. 

"Edith Monture Elementary School … is honoured every single day that every single one of the Grand Erie students who go to that school walk in and feel that symbol of Edith and Edith's strength," JoAnna Roberto, director of education for the Grand Erie District School Board, told CBC Hamilton Tuesday.

"I think at the school level, in particular, the principal and staff and students have been champions and will continue to unpack her work and everything that, you know, Edith stood for... She was an inspiring leader."

Roberto said Monture was recognized in school announcements Tuesday and most classes had some kind of activity connected to Indigenous Veteran's Day. The school also has several activities planned to mark Remembrance Day on Friday.

Edith Monture Elementary School students and Grand Erie School Board trustees stand to the left of the portrait. On the right of the portrait, from left are: MPP Will Bouma; artist Raymond Skye; Six Nations Chief Mark Hill; and JoAnna Roberto. (Submitted by Dave Smouter)

The former Ryerson Heights Elementary School officially changed its name in September after, Roberto says, there were around 250 names submitted for consideration. Roberto says the school is now a symbol of Monture's work for generations to come. 

Given the amount of work raising awareness around Monture's legacy already this year, Roberto said classes focused on a few other things. These included:

  • Studying the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument in Ottawa.
  • Researching Indigenous contributions to the first and second world wars, with several students focusing on Anishinaabe sniper Francis Pegahmagabow.
  • Primary grades had a minute of silence.
  • Grade 6 students worked on preparing the school's ceremony for Remembrance Day with specific references to Indigenous contributions to Canada's war efforts.

'Education was extremely important to her'

Roberto says renaming the school also brought the community together.

"The name is not only a symbol of the commitment to Indigenous learning," she said. "It's also really closely connected to our work in the district around belonging and really supporting learning and engagement and mental health and well-being."

In June, when the plan to rename the school was first announced, Monture's grandson, John Moses, told CBC Indigenous that he was grateful to know his grandmother's legacy would live on.

"My grandmother was inspirational to a number of other Six Nations band members in the health-care system," said Moses.

Meanwhile, Terri Monture, granddaughter of Edith, spoke on behalf of the family at the renaming ceremony in late September.

"My grandmother would have been absolutely tickled to be here today," she said in a news release from the Grand Erie District School Board.

"Education was extremely important to her — she saw it as a gateway to getting where you wanted to go in life, and always said that it's the one thing that can never be taken from you."

A lasting legacy

Edith Monture was born in 1890 in Six Nations of the Grand River. She struggled to be accepted to a Canadian nursing school, prompting a move to New York state. At the time, First Nations people in Canada faced involuntary enfranchisement (loss of Indian status) for pursuing higher education.

After volunteering in the war, Monture made her way back to her home community where she worked until the 1960s. 

Roberto says in spite of the colonial structures of her time, it was Monture's "tenacity and her determination, and … her strong character" that brought her to new heights and is now a model for students. 

Edith Monture Elementary School opened its doors with its new name in September. (Submitted by the Grand Erie District School Board)

Roberto says Edith Monture's legacy was about the importance of education and the pursuit of living her life in a way that she desired, despite any challenges or barriers she faced.

"She made that happen," Roberto said. 

"So, when as a student and you follow her legacy and you follow her life and her experiences, not only did she know what she wanted, who she wanted to be in terms of her professional career, she was also somebody who never wavered from the support she gave."

The school currently serves 800 students.

Roberto says that in a few years, Monture's baby great-great granddaughter — who is also named Edith — could be coming to kindergarten class there.


Desmond Brown

Web Writer / Editor

Desmond joined CBC News in October 2017. He previously worked with The Associated Press, Caribbean Media Corporation and Inter Press Service. You can reach him at: desmond.brown@cbc.ca.

With files from Oscar Baker III