Memorable Manitobans: Frances Helen Brown Atwell (1923-2015)
Born at Winnipeg on 3 August 1923, only child of Ernest Charles Brown (c1893-1970) and Beatrice Marie Driver (c1895-1977), she attended Machray School, Holy Ghost School, Immaculate Conception School, and St. John’s Technical High School. As a child she took voice and violin lessons, and sang with several choral groups, including the James Duncan Singers with whom she appeared on CBC Radio. In 1948, she was a finalist in the Winnipeg Rose Bowl vocal festival competition.
With encouragement of her neighbourhood pharmacist, she entered the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Manitoba and graduated in 1948 in a class of 29, including five women. She is considered to be the first black pharmacist in Manitoba. She worked as a pharmacist for over 60 years at the St. Boniface Hospital, Children’s Hospital, Grace Hospital, Hudson’s Bay Company's downtown store, Ringers Drugs, St. Norbert Pharmacy, and Meadowood Pharmacy.
In 1953, she married teacher George Ivan Henry Atwell (1925-2017) and they had seven children. The family lived at St. Norbert.
She died at Winnipeg on 20 September 2015. A small collection of her historical family photographs is held the WCPI Collection at the University of Winnipeg Archives.
Marriage registration [Ernest Charles Brown, Beatrice Marie Driver], Manitoba Vital Statistics.
Obituary [Ernest C. Brown], Winnipeg Free Press, 17 June 1970, page 22.
Obituary [Beatrice Brown], Winnipeg Free Press, 27 September 1977, page 68.
Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 26 September 2015.
Obituary [George Ivan Henry Atwell], Winnipeg Free Press, 22 August 2017.
Nellie Bell-Johnson, University of Winnipeg Archives, Facebook.
“Ahead of her time: Trailblazing alumnae of the 1900s,” UM Today Alumni, 7 March 2019.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 15 April 2022