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TAISSUMANI: Around the Arctic June 20, 2014 - 7:53 am

Taissumani, June 20

The Tragic Fate of Maggie Clay

KENN HARPER
Maggie Clay's grave in Chesterfield Inlet. (HARPER COLLECTION)
Maggie Clay's grave in Chesterfield Inlet. (HARPER COLLECTION)

Maggie Clay loved the north.

She arrived in Chesterfield Inlet with her husband, RCMP Staff Sergeant Sidney Clay, in the summer of 1924. They had already lived in the north for many years, at Fort Norman, Fort McPherson, and Herschel Island, before coming to Hudson Bay to take charge of the post at Chesterfield, opened only two years earlier.

This was a four-man post; other than the Clays the police that year were Corporal Petty, Constable Robinson, and Constable Harry Stallworthy.

In the fall of the year Staff Sergeant Clay left on a patrol by boat to Baker Lake. Maggie — her real name was Agnes, but everyone called her Maggie — was used to his lengthy absences and unbothered by them. At home, she busied herself getting to know the few Inuit who lived in the community, and going for walks on the beach.

On October 19, one of those walks turned tragic.

“A short time later,” wrote Harry Stallworthy, “Nouvia’s wife came running towards the house, screaming incoherently. I gathered it was something about the ‘white woman and the dogs,’ as she pointed to the beach. I could see a tangle of dogs seeming to be engaged in a massive dog fight.”

Harry ran to the beach to break up what he thought was a simple dog fight.

But before he reached the shore, he realized that Maggie Clay was in the midst of the snarling melee, and that the dogs were biting her legs.

“She was on the ground in a sitting position and they were ripping at the flesh below her knee and biting at her arms and shoulders,” continued Clay. “By this time Petty was right on my heels and we quickly dispersed the dogs. We could then see the extent of the damage and were horrified and dismayed at the dreadful wounds and the amount of blood spurting from the severed arteries.”

Stallworthy picked up Mrs. Clay and carried her to the house. He tied off the arteries and cut away pieces of flesh. He bandaged her up as best he could and sedated her with ether, of which the post had a limited supply for emergencies.

Maggie calmly assessed her own injuries and told him, “You will have to amputate my leg and it will have to be done as soon as possible.”

With their patient’s husband away, Harry Stallworthy, Corporal Petty, Norman Snow of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and Father DuPlain drew up a document stating their belief that amputation was necessary and that they believed such an operation would be successful. All four men, plus Maggie Clay herself, signed it.

Stallworthy acted an anaesthetist and was also in charge of cleaning the necessary instruments. That night Norman Snow and Father DuPlain studied the section on amputation in “Pye’s Surgery,” a medical manual. The next morning they conducted the operation on the dining room table in Maggie’s home.

After the arteries were tied, they sawed through the femur well above the knee. Part way through the ordeal, Father DuPlain became woozy, and Harry Stallworthy had to take over his role.

Maria, an Inuk woman who was interpreter for the police, gave the priest a stiff shot of brandy, then took over Stallworthy’s role in administering ether to the patient.

Maggie Clay’s first words when she came out from the anaesthetic and heard that the operation was a success, were: “But I’ll never be able to dance again, will I? Not with one leg.”

No, Maggie Clay never danced again. Two days after the operation, she was resting comfortably, in no pain. Still, Stallworthy could see that she was “suffering from shock and loss of blood, and… losing ground.”
She was alert, able to eat and slept comfortably. The four men made sure that she was attended round the clock. M

aggie may have been the first to realize that she was about to die. She gave Stallworthy messages for her husband and her family.

Then she fell asleep holding his hand. Stallworthy wrote, “We had no further conversation, and she died quietly and without pain at midnight, just over two days after the accident.”

Norman Snow made a coffin for Maggie and she was buried the next day. Snow, Father DuPlain, Corporal Petty and three Inuit women acted as pallbearers.

Father DuPlain could not conduct the service as Maggie was Anglican. Stallworthy read the required form of service from the prayer book.

Ten days later Sidney Clay returned from his patrol to Baker Lake. On hearing of his wife’s death, he collapsed completely.

But he pressed Stallworthy for details — he wanted to know everything that had happened. As Stallworthy noted, “This was probably the worst part of the whole affair as far as I was concerned. How to tell the bare facts without any hope of comfort.”

An impressive headstone was eventually placed on Maggie Clay’s grave in Chesterfield Inlet. The RCMP maintain it and the white picket fence that surrounds it.

In 1961, Clay Island on the west coast of Hudson Bay was named in her memory.

(Bill Barr wrote about Maggie Clay in his 2004 biography of Henry Stallworthy: “Red Serge and Polar Bear Pants.”)

Next Week – The Legacy of Maggie Clay

Taissumani recounts a specific event of historic interest. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

 

 

 

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