Wendy Clay in the cockpit during her military career.

Wendy Clay in the cockpit during her military career.

Terrace resident Canada’s first female surgeon general in armed forces

Wendy Clay began her military career in the Canadian navy

By Madeleine Link

FIFTY years ago this month, the Terrace Omineca Herald reported that Wendy Clay, a young woman from Terrace, had enrolled in the Canadian Navy.

Although she was born in Fort St. John and grew up in Qualicum Beach, Wendy spent time in Terrace with her parents in between semesters at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

She was a Red Cross-certified swim instructor as well as an organist at St. Matthew’s Anglican Church and a member of Terrace’s Inter-Church Choir.

Wendy enrolled in the navy while completing a medical degree at UBC.

Wendy was a trailblazer for women in the Canadian Armed Forces.

After becoming the first female acting surgeon sub-lieutenant in the Navy, she became the first woman to achieve her pilot’s wings in the Air Force (in 1974, three years before the first trial program for female pilots and six years before pilot training was officially opened to women), the first female Major-General, and, finally, the first female Surgeon General for the Canadian Forces.

While serving, she also attended the University of Toronto and earned a Master’s Degree in Health Sciences.

“The most interesting thing is that I was in the military during a transitional period,” Clay reflects on her career.

“When I started, the role of women was very limited, and at the end it was unlimited.”

Wendy was active both in Canada and internationally, serving as Commandant of the National Defence Medical Centre in Ottawa and completing a six-month peacekeeping tour in the Middle East.

While she was in the Middle East, the 1978 Israel-Egypt peace treaty was signed, and the Iranian Revolution took place.

“[The Iranian Forces] all got recalled – I don’t know what happened to them, but it can’t have been anything good,” she recalls.

In 1995, Clay was awarded an honorary doctorate from UBC.

Wendy retired to Victoria, B.C., where she continues to volunteer in the community.

Madeleine Link is a student at the University of British Columbia. She is spending the summer as Heritage Park Museum’s digital assistant in Terrace, B.C.