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The Misericordia Education and Research Centre is trying to increase awareness of Agnes Wilkie and her story. 

According to the centre, Agnes grew up in Carman and graduated from Misericordia's School of Nursing in 1927. She then volunteered to serve as a Nursing Sister in the Royal Canadian Navy in 1942 during the Second World War.

After a shore visit with her parents Agnes boarded the SS Caribou, which was travelling off the shore of Eastern Canada when it was hit by a torpedo from a German U-boat, according to Dr. Barbara Paterson, chair of the Misericordia Heritage Collection Policy and Planning Committee. 

While many people were flung into the ocean as the boat started to sink, Paterson says Agnes and a dietitian named Margaret were able to get out. 

"They opened the cabin door and went right into the water because there was nothing left," Paterson said. "It was October in the Atlantic Ocean so the water was absolutely freezing, but they swam to one of the only life boats to survive the explosion where there were several people who were hysterical because they had lost their family members and didn't know what happened." 

agnes story 2Agnes Wilkie's graduation photo is hung on the wall at the Misericordia Education and Research Centre

"Agnes and Margaret kept people calm, they prayed and sang songs and these people later recalled how if it weren't for that intervention, they wouldn't have made it." 

Unfortunately Agnes died of hypothermia just a few hours after the attack. Paterson says Margaret survived, and many years later died at the age of 100. 

"I think history is very important and it soon gets lost if we don't revisit it," Paterson said. "There are people who work at Misericordia, people in Winnipeg, people in Carman who are not aware of what an amazing person she was."

"I think we need to celebrate her and say to ourselves, 'how is our history informing who we are today?'"

The Misericordia Education and Research Centre has a number of historical records detailing Agnes' story. That includes artifacts from her acceptance into the Navy, her Misericordia report card, graduation pictures, her first paycheck and excerpts from a book and newspaper articles that detail the sinking of the SS Caribou. 

"In her report card they describe her as warm and gentle and the Navy also described her that way," Paterson said with a chuckle. "She was clearly a very caring person and very brave person as well." 

Agnes has a monument at the Carman cemetery and has received honours in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador as well. Wilkie Lake in Northern Manitoba is also named in her honour. 

"A newspaper account of the incident quoted a survivor saying Agnes never worried about herself," Paterson said. "She was asking people if they were OK and telling them 'you can do this.'"