Happy Birthday to Dr. Nancy Ironside!
In honour of her birthday on July 24, we pay tribute to Nancy
Retired physician and anesthesiologist, environmentalist, naturalist and…
To many, Dr. Nancy Ironside needs no introduction.
Without fanfare, Nancy has made a huge difference in our community. She has been an unwavering supporter of our museum since its inception and she has also generously supported many other organizations in Orillia. Nancy has been the catalyst for organizations who support those who need a helping hand, for our arts, for our culture and for our environment.
We celebrate her numerous accomplishments and contributions to the Orillia Museum of Art & History (OMAH) and many other organizations over those years. There are many.
A proud Orillian
Nancy arrived in Orillia at the age of three and grew up on Bay Street. She attended Central School and Orillia Collegiate Institute, before going to the University of Toronto to study medicine and then Montreal to study anaesthesia. She returned to Orillia in 1962.
Nancy has had remarkable life, committed to the betterment of our community.
Her support for OMAH
We want to thank Nancy for being a stalwart supporter of OMAH since its inception. Her support has made a huge difference and has bolstered our success. Her belief in OMAH’s mission to inspire creativity and celebrate history and her generosity has never waned. A loyal supporter of our History Speaker Series, she has carried on the legacy of her father, the late Allan Ironside, a tireless promoter of our local heritage.
Nancy donated three paintings by the late Arthur Shilling to the OMAH Collection. Painting his people was one of Shilling’s specialties. OMAH is grateful to Nancy for sharing these cherished paintings. One of the paintings, an oil on board, of a young boy in a blue shirt standing in a field (untitled), portrays this eloquently.
When there is an initiative that supports art and history in our community, Nancy is there.
Ninette Gyorody, Executive Director commented: “Nancy has not only been a stalwart supporter of OMAH’s operational sustainability, but she has also sponsored children to attend summer camps. The impact of this support is so significant to the health and wellbeing of our community’s children. Big Brothers Big Sisters, one of the organizations OMAH partners with to provide sponsored spots for campers, shared this with us”:
“I just wanted to thank you for allowing M to attend the art camp. They attended this whole week. Where normally M would feel too much anxiety to continue a whole week! M absolutely enjoyed themselves. Also commented on the inclusiveness from the art teachers! They were all so welcoming and accepting. M participated in all the activities.
“M also made two friends and left with their information! Thank you for getting M social again! M cried a little on the ride home because the week was over. It’s been a very long two years of isolation because of COVID and M’s mental health, so this was GREATLY needed and appreciated.”
The experience that this camper had will be an everlasting memory. Thank you, Nancy, you have made such a difference in what our museum can offer to all ages in our community.
Career as a doctor and anesthesiologist
Nancy graduated from The University of Toronto Medical School at a time when women in the field were in the minority. She was granted a Fellowship in Anaesthesia in the summer of 1962 while in Montreal.Upon graduation, she stood in as a locum doctor (filling in for doctors who were away) in Toronto that fall, before officially opening her anaesthesia and general practice at Orillia Soldiers Memorial Hospital in January, 1963.Nancy’s friend Dr. Richard Johnston commented: “Nancy did operating room anaesthesia every morning, then had a regular general practice every afternoon. No small feat to balance the two that is for sure! Really amazing.”In recognition of her contributions, the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) awarded Nancy with the Dr. Glenn Sawyer Service Award. This prestigious award is bestowed on a physician who has made a major contribution to the medical profession and the community.
Nancy retired from medicine in her 60s, then dedicated herself to her other passions.
Nancy is passionate about the environment. She has supported the Couchiching Conservancy and its work to safeguard and conserve our “natural places” for future generations.
Mark Bisset, President, Couchiching Conservancy commented on Nancy’s immeasurable contributions to the organization:
“A capable naturalist why is this in bold? with a keen, analytical mind, she has not only supported our work with great generosity, but she has also helped shape our thinking around stewardship matters with sharp, well-considered arguments.
“For me, Nancy has been an anchor during the years I’ve been at the Conservancy. She is one of the most dedicated and generous people in this community when it comes to work, she believes in, but she prefers to stay out of the limelight. She’s one of the people I go to when I need to test out ideas and approaches. She doesn’t hold back if she thinks we’re on the wrong track, particularly in matters of conservation science. We’ve had some pretty robust debates over the years and when I think of the people who have shaped my own views, she is right near the top. She constantly questions conservation dogma. I think that’s healthy. She’s also spectacularly well-read, and one of the pleasures of knowing Nancy is our book-swapping. She runs on ideas.
“As a donor, she has contributed to the creation of numerous nature reserves in this region, but she also really understands the importance of operations and the cost of running an organization like ours. She was an early adopter of web technology and has constantly supported our website development over the years. She is very strategic in her giving, and treats it as a personal responsibility to get it right.”
In July, 2020, Nancy was one of a number of generous supporters of the Taylor Nature Reserve, the land donated by Dr. Ron Taylor and Charlene Taylor. The Taylor Nature Reserve is a 175-acre parcel located near Washago that is now protected from development.
Orillia Naturalists’ Club
Nancy is one of seven founding members of the Orillia Naturalists’ Club, and has been a member since its inception, forty-one years ago. She created the web page for the club and is currently a member of the club executive, managing the publicity.
The mission of the club is “…to develop in the community an understanding of and interest in nature and to encourage wise stewardship of our natural heritage.”
Denis Paccagnella, Orillia Naturalists’ Club President, commented on the difference that Nancy has made to the organization:
“Nancy was and still is a driving force within the club. Ever humble, she will tell you that she doesn’t want to be in the forefront. She certainly is a catalyst and strategist for the successful running of our club. Nancy has the ability to find the resources required to resolve many issues, and to work toward solutions. She keeps us on our toes, and we are grateful for her contributions.”
Orillia Naturalists’ Uhthoff Trail Committee
Members of the Naturalists’ Club highlight Nancy’s involvement in the Uhtoff Trail. Many of us have enjoyed hiking the trail. When the railroad tracks were removed and people were looking at what to do with the railbed, the Orillia Naturalists formed the Uhthoff Trail Committee. Nancy was not only a member of that committee, she also recruited others to join to push for and convince stakeholders that the best solution was to convert the railbed to trails for the benefit of everyone.
The first stretch of the trail was 11km long, stretching from Division Road to West Street at the Uhthoff Quarry. Once the trail came to fruition, Nancy was involved in the fundraising to pay for the maintenance of the trail until Severn (Orillia Township) agreed to take it over.
The club commented that Nancy has been involved with promoting the conservation of nature. Her generous donations help nature groups on a local, provincial and federal level.
Her hobby, nature
Nancy has travelled all over the world to pursue her drive for learning. Her interest includes birds, butterflies, mushrooms and mosses to name, a few. Dr. Richard Johnston commented, “Nancy recently found a huge mushroom (approximately 10 inches across) in Orillia. She is a mushroom expert who sends specimens all over to help identify the species through DNA etc.”
For the environment and for the people
Nancy is someone who is deeply concerned for the welfare of others and improving their quality of life.
In the 1970s, Nancy sponsored a Vietnamese refugee family to come to Canada after the Vietnam War. Now in the third generation, members of this family continue to be very close to Nancy. She also lent her support to a Syrian refugee family a few years ago. She was dedicated to helping these new Canadians adapt to their new homeland. These are just two examples of her caring.
Homelessness and finding solutions to it is a deep concern and a major priority for Nancy. She is a loyal supporter of Lighthouse and the Building Hope campaign. In addition, she gives ongoing support to a number of charities.
Nancy gives her time and energy to causes that are near and dear to her heart. She roles up her sleeves and gets the job done; she makes things happen. She is also a catalyst for these many groups, and her passion and energy influences others. She is willing to use and share her knowledge and expertise for the benefit of others. Nancy Ironside has made a difference in our community and beyond.
Thank you to the following for their invaluable help with this tribute:
The Couchiching Conservancy
Orillia Naturalists’ Club
Dr. Richard Johnston
The Orillia Museum of Art & History