Mary-Ellen Kelm

Canada Research Chair & Professor
Office: AQ 6227

Areas of Study: CANADA, AMERICAS


This instructor is currently not teaching any courses.


I first came to SFU, from Windsor Ontario, as a Master’s student in 1987 where I studied the history of women in the psychiatric institution, Riverview. I fell in love with British Columbia instantly. I returned to Ontario to do my PhD at the University of Toronto, working with Sylvia Van Kirk on the impact of colonization on the health and healing of Indigenous Peoples in British Columbia. In 1994, I started my sojourn in northern BC with a NHRDP (now CIHR) postdoctoral fellowship working with the Nisga’a to learn how they were building health services that better suited the needs of their people. At the same time I was appointed in the History department at the University of Northern British Columbia. In 2006, I returned to SFU to take up a Canada Research Chair in Health, Medicine and Society and in 2011 became as Associate Dean in the Office of the Dean of Graduate Studies where I now spend half my time. I play the canine sport of agility with my dogs Rusty (Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever) and Dixie (Miniature Poodle) and you will sometimes find Rusty and Dixie holding office hours in History. You can see a video with some of our competition highlights here:

Research Interests

I’ve long been interested in the way power flows through relationships that seem unequal. From the unexpected agency of women in an early twentieth century mental hospital to Indigenous men and women using athletics to leverage economic, social and political opportunities, my work pays attention to the powerful and productive forces of patriarchy, capitalism and colonization but also the myriad ways in which people take that productive potential back.  My current work asks how the category of “Aboriginal health” as a subject of research has been constituted over time and who it serves. I am tracing the networks of Aboriginal health research, networks that include bench scientists, anthropologists, population health experts, government officials, missionaries, field doctors and travelling nurses as well as Indigenous community health representatives, leaders, elders and midwives. 


Articles and Book Chapters

“Flu Stories: Engaging with Disease, Death and Modernity,” in Epidemic Encounters: Influenza, Society and Culture in Canada 1918-1920 edited by Magda Fahrni and Esyllt W. Jones (UBC Press, 2011) (link:

“Part of a Large Company of White Folk: Making ‘Whiteness’, Marking Gender in the Letters of Nurse Margaret Butcher,” In Caregiving on the Periphery: Historical Perspectives on Nursing and Midwifery in Canada. (McGill-Queens, 2011) (link

“Past into Present: History and the Making of Knowledge about HIV/AIDS and Aboriginal People,” In Plagues and Epidemics: Infected Spaces Past and Present (Wenner-Gren International Symposium) (Berg, 2010). (link:

 “Manly Contests: Rodeo Masculinities at the Calgary Stampede.” Canadian Historical Review 90(4)(December 2009): 711-752 winner of the CHR Prize for 2009. (link:

Areas of Graduate Supervision

I am currently taking graduate students who have an interest in Indigenous history in the West since 1885; medical history and settler colonialism; residential schooling; relationships between missionaries and Indigenous peoples since 1850. 

Current Graduate Students:


  • Social Science and Humanities Research Council, Standard Research Grant, 2006-2009
  • Canada Research Chair (Tier II), 2006-2011
  • SFU, President's Research Grant, 2006
  • Sir John A Macdonald Prize, Canadian Historical Association, 1999.
  • SSHRC, SRG, 2000-200

News about Mary-Ellen Kelm