Cape Breton Women Series: Mrs. Frances Helena Muise


May 31st, 2012

Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, on International Women's Day of this year I was contacted by Norma Jean MacPhee of CJCB Radio in Sydney. She was interested in the series I had been doing in the Senate on influential Cape Breton women.

She interviewed me for the radio and also spoke to several of the women I have profiled. In the months since the interview, I have received from the listeners many suggestions of women who have made a great difference to their communities. I have even received stories about women who may not be as famous as some I have spoken about in the Senate but who are equally strong women.

I am delighted to present one such story to you today. It is from a gentleman by the name of Glen Muise who wrote to me about his mother.

Frances Helena Muise was born at Low Point outside New Waterford, Cape Breton, in August of 1927. She was the daughter of Joe and Millie Ling. Her father was a miner, a fisherman and a rum-runner, and Fran grew up with her 12 brothers and sisters during the Depression era of the 1930s. She attended Holy Angels High School and then went on to graduate from St. Joseph's School of Nursing. Frances married Alex Muise and they had eight children. Despite a clear commitment to raising her family, much of her life still revolved around her work. Frances possessed a strong duty to her community. In the late 1950s and early 1960s she would visit the elderly and sick people in her neighbourhood — this was before medicare — and the nuns provided her with a small kit of supplies, and she would wear her nurse's uniform with a white nurse's hat, which some of us may remember. She was affectionately known as Fran 911. Sometimes a patient would slip her a rolled up $2 bill when no one was looking. This was a way to give them dignity as they loved to see her coming and they appreciated her help.

The 1960s and 1970s presented a lot of economic turmoil in industrial Cape Breton with the slowdown of the coal mines and the steel plant. Her husband, Alex, found it difficult to locate a permanent job, so it was Frances who continued to work in her nursing career and kept the family afloat, keeping oil for heat in the tank and food in the fridge.

Fran had been head nurse in every department of the New Waterford Hospital and knew her job inside out.

There was a conversation at the dinner table one evening about how underpaid nurses were compared with other jobs requiring less education that spurred her to contact her friends and form the first registered nurses association in New Waterford. She spearheaded the bargaining of their first contract. She did this with little fanfare, just because it had to be done.

Fran Muise knew almost every child that went through the hospital and rarely forgot their names. The many lives she saved were extensive, including that of her son Glen. He recalls the day when at the age of 15 his frontal lobe was struck with a sledgehammer while working a summer job. Although he was clinically dead when he was placed in front of his mother at the emergency, Frances performed emergency procedures that brought him back from death. The woman who had given him life in January of 1955 then saved it in June of 1970.

Honourable senators, Frances Muise passed away on February 22 of this year. No doubt she will be deeply missed by her family. Clearly she made a great contribution to her community of Cape Breton, and I am delighted to now know her story. I thank her son Glen for sharing it with me and for allowing me to share it with you here in the Senate. I look forward to sharing more stories with you of women from Cape Breton who have contributed significantly to their communities.