Ann Thomas Callahan, trailblazing Indigenous nurse, made 'lasting impact' on health care

Ann Thomas Callahan, one of the first Indigenous nurses in Manitoba and a much-loved Cree elder, died Monday at the age of 87.

Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre named building in her honour in 2007

Ann Thomas Callahan was a trailblazer for First Nations nurses in Manitoba. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Ann Thomas Callahan, one of the first Indigenous nurses in Manitoba and a much-loved Cree elder, died Monday at the age of 87.

Callahan, from Peepeekisis Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, was a residential school survivor who went on to a career in nursing, graduating from Winnipeg General Hospital's nursing school in 1958.

She worked at the hospital until 1973, becoming a head nurse, then took a position with a health organization serving mostly Indigenous people in downtown Winnipeg. Callahan became a nursing instructor in 1983 at Red River College, and retired in 1996.

Grandson Michael Callahan said he has received hundreds of messages, calls and texts since Monday.

"I'm so extremely proud of her. I'm so proud to be her grandson," he said.

"She just wanted to share everything, share the knowledge she gathered through her life."

In 2007, the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre named a building after her to honour her commitment to the health-care sector in Manitoba. She also received an honorary doctorate from the University of Regina in 2015.

Ann Thomas Callahan during the early years of her nursing career. 'I remember my dad's words, 'get an education, farming is gone now,'' she says. (submitted by Ann Thomas Callahan)

Nephew Leonard Creeley remembers his aunt being gentle and understanding.

"She helped me with my sobriety; she explained things I couldn't answer," he said.

"When I was born, my mother wasn't there. I had foster parents. She explained to me why my mother wasn't there. I understood it, and all that weight was lifted off of me."

In a statement, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cathy Merrick sent condolences to Callahan's family. 

Ann Thomas Callahan at the 2007 dedication ceremony for a building at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg that was named in her honour. (submitted by Ann Thomas Callahan)

"Ann was an incredibly kind soul whose work in the health field has made a lasting impact on First Nation health in Manitoba," the statement read.

"Her story of resiliency, strength, and passion is an inspiration. She has motivated many who continue her work, and today we are proud to see many First Nation citizens going into the health-care field, ensuring that care is given in a culturally appropriate and safe way."


Stefan Richard is a reporter for CBC Indigenous based in Winnipeg. Stefan is a proud member of Sagkeeng First Nation.