Legacy of Nunavut's lone 9/11 victim lives on in nursing scholarship

Christine Egan, a nurse in Nunavut, was visiting her brother in his office in the South Tower of the World Trade Centre when an aircraft hit the building at about 9 a.m. Her legacy lives on in a scholarship that supports Nunavut nurses.

'She was really passionate about education and nursing,' nurse's partner recalls

Christine Egan during her time in Pond Inlet, Nunavut. Egan, a nurse who worked for many years in Nunavut, died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. She was 55. (Ellen Judd)

Dr. Christine Egan, a nurse who worked for many years in Nunavut and died at 55 in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is gone but not forgotten.

Her legacy lives on through a scholarship program for aspiring Inuit nurses in the territory.

Egan, better known in the North as Dr. Christine, was visiting her brother at his office in the South Tower of the World Trade Centre when an aircraft hit the building at about 9 a.m. Less than an hour later, the tower crumbled into toxic dust and debris.

Egan was one of 26 Canadians who died during the 9/11 attacks.

But Egan's memory and love of nursing in the North endures. That's thanks to the many aspiring Inuit nurses she continues to help through a scholarship established in 2004 in her name.

"It seemed like such a wonderful idea because she was really passionate about education and nursing," said Egan's partner Ellen Judd, a retired professor at the University of Manitoba.

A loving aunt

Egan had gone to New York City to take care of her nephew, who was born with Down syndrome, so his parents, Anna and Michael, an executive with the insurance company Aon Corp., could go to Bermuda for a 20th wedding anniversary trip. 

As Judd tells it, Egan had planned to meet a friend at the World Trade Centre on Sept. 11, 2001, but the friend was running late so Egan went up to her brother's office.

Egan was one of 26 Canadians who died in 9/11. (Submitted by Ellen Judd)

"She went up to her brother's office, which is high up in the South Tower, in the morning where she was waiting for her friend," Judd said this week to CBC Nunavut's Qulliq morning show. "And that's when the attack happened… being high up in the towers wasn't good."

The rogue United Airlines flight 175 hit the 81st floor of the South Tower.

"Her brother was a fire marshal for the floor, so he sent her down and he stayed and was trapped. He was killed, too," Judd said. "She reached the lobby, and I think that she probably wasn't attempting to leave. There were stations there that were dealing with the injured."

Egan died along with roughly 3,000 others that day, but the scholarship is a way to keep what Egan believed in alive, Judd said.

Supporting future nurses

Egan's family, friends, and estate established the scholarship endowment fund at the University of Manitoba with the hope that it would reduce the financial burden of nursing studies for future Inuit nurses.

"So we saw this as being able to do a little bit that we could do from a distance to improve access to education in the North," Judd said. 

Judd said the scholarship has also brought her great happiness because she's been able to work with Egan's friends in Nunavut and Winnipeg.

In 2019, Judd came to Iqaluit where she was able to meet some of the nurses who have received help from the scholarship.

Egan with partner Ellen Judd in Rankin Inlet in 1999. (Submitted by Ellen Judd)

A life in the North

Egan, who first visited the North in 1969, two years after graduating from the Hull School of Nursing in the U.K., worked as a nurse in Iqaluit, Cape Dorset, Pond Inlet and communities in northern Manitoba.

Egan later qualified as a nurse practitioner and studied anthropology and health sciences. In 1999, Egan earned a Ph.D. in community health sciences at the University of Manitoba, carrying out research on Inuit women and the environment.

After that, Egan worked as program director of research and education for the Kivalliq Regional Health Board in Rankin Inlet.

A plaque dedicated to Egan's memory. (Ellen Judd)

But even when she was based in Winnipeg, Egan always came north — to work in the summer, to visit friends and to take an intensive Inuktitut course one summer, Judd said.

"She kept going back again and again and had wonderful friends in the North. And it's one of the gifts that I have in life that some of them are still my good friends," Judd said.

A living legacy

Potogok Adamie, a long time health centre interpreter in Kinngait, met Egan in 1981 when she worked in Coral Harbour.

She recalled traveling to Winnipeg to do an interview about Egan shortly after she died. 

"She was a very friendly and personable person so she had lots of friends," Adamie said in Inuktitut. "We all tried to console each other by talking about her and her life so that way I was able to deal with her unexpected death under horrible circumstances."

Adamie later adopted a baby girl, now aged 17, who she named in her late friend's memory, creating a special link between the two.

The Dr. Christine Egan Memorial Scholarship is accepting new applications until Sept. 30.

More information is available here on how to apply.

With files from Meagan Deuling, Joanne Awa and Sarah Leonardis