'She was an incredible woman': Yellowknife matriarch Jan Stirling dies at 89

Jan Stirling, a former nurse, longtime volunteer and Yellowknife matriarch, has died at the age of 89.

Stirling was a public health nurse in Yellowknife for decades, well-known for helping newcomers to the city

Jan Stirling receives the Order of the N.W.T. in 2016. Stirling was well-known for being a friend to everyone in the community of Yellowknife, especially people without other supports, says her son, Greg. (Curtis Mandeville/CBC)

Jan Stirling, a former nurse, longtime volunteer and Yellowknife matriarch, has died at the age of 89.

Stirling's passing on June 28 — one day shy of her 90th birthday — was confirmed by her family Wednesday afternoon.

"She was a great sort of beacon of how to live a fulfilling life, or a life that had meaning," said Greg Stirling, one of her four children. "She made a difference in people's lives, particularly people that didn't have any other support. She made them feel like they mattered, and she did it easily."

After moving to Yellowknife in 1971, Stirling had a long, distinguished career over three decades as a nurse in Yellowknife, often travelling on medevac flights to communities across the territory. After retirement, she continued to live in Yellowknife, and in 1997, the city's public health building was named after her. 

In 2002, she received the Golden Jubilee Medal from the Governor General of Canada. She was named to the Order of the N.W.T. in 2016.

A Korean War veteran who was well-known for helping newcomers to Canada settle in Yellowknife — often opening up her home until they could find a permanent place to stay — Stirling was "an extremely generous person," according to her grandson, Carter Stirling. 

"She loved Yellowknife. She loved the people here," he said. "All people, everyone. After the Vietnam War, she helped settle a lot of Vietnamese veterans that were coming over [to Canada] and for a while there were a lot of Vietnamese families that would name their child Jan. 

"I've never really met anyone as selfless as her. Always thinking of others, and thinking of how she could have a positive impact on people. She was an incredible woman."

Bob Bromley, a long-timer Yellowknife resident and the son of Stirling's good friend and fellow nurse Barb Bromley, said that Stirling was a "huge pillar in the community."

"She could hardly walk on the street without people lining up to give her a hug and say hi, and they got kisses in return, of course," he said, with a laugh. "She will long be remembered for her work in the area of public health, but she was involved in all aspects of the community here.

"It's a sad day, but bittersweet, as I think back over all the ways that she's contributed to our society."

with files from Jamie Malbeuf