Manitoba Historical Society
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Memorable Manitobans: John A. “Jack” MacDonell (1918-2011)


Born at Edmonton, Alberta on 18 July 1918, son of Lillian and Alexander Duncan MacDonell, he graduated from the University of Manitoba Medical School in 1943, and immediately volunteered for the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps. Between 1943 and 1946, he served in Canada, England and northwestern Europe. After the war, he completed postgraduate studies at Winnipeg and London, England, with a focus on chest disease.

In 1960, he received a scholarship from the National Council of Jewish Women to return to Europe to visit hospitals and centres for the elderly in England, Holland, Belgium, and Scandinavia. These experiences led him to develop, along with others, a patient-centred model of geriatrics that recognized the desire of the elderly to participate in all facets of life. He was one of the first presidents of the Age and Opportunity Bureau and he helped to establish three geriatric units for the assessment and rehabilitation of the elderly, three day hospitals for the elderly, readmission programs, community home care services, the Advanced Certificate Program in Gerontology and a section of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Manitoba, and the first Geriatric Clinical Teaching Unit in Canada.

He was a founding and executive member of the Canadian Association of Gerontology, a President of the Canadian Society of Geriatric Medicine, the chair of the first and second Canadian Conference on Aging, and an active participant in the Secretariat on Aging of the Canadian Council on Social Development. He also chaired a subcommittee of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada that led to the establishment of geriatrics as a specialty in Canada.

In 1943, he married fellow physician Asa Kristjansson and they had a daughter. In 1976, he was inducted into the Order of Canada for his leadership in the field of geriatrics in Manitoba. He also received the Distinguished Member Award from the Canadian Association on Gerontology, an Outreach Award from the University of Manitoba, a Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal (1977), and a Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal (2002). On retirement in 1984, his colleagues established a scholarship in his name at the University of Manitoba, and in 1988, he received the designation of Professor Emeritus in Medicine.

He died at Toronto, Ontario on 29 April 2011.


Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 5 May 2011.

“Doctor was the father of Canadian geriatric medicine,” Winnipeg Free Press, 7 May 2011, page B3.

Obituary [Asa MacDonell], Winnipeg Free Press, 8 August 2020.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 17 October 2021

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

This is a collection of noteworthy Manitobans from the past, compiled by the Manitoba Historical Society. We acknowledge that the collection contains both reputable and disreputable people. All are worth remembering as a lesson to future generations.

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