Search for "history of medicine"

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Childbirth in Canada

Childbirth is the beginning of a child’s life and a powerful rite of passage for the mother. Methods vary according to culture and time periods. Before the 19th century, Canadians relied mostly on the help of midwives, as well as prayers and even superstitions, to face the intense pains of contractions. Advances in the field of obstetrics in the 19th and 20th centuries introduced new ways of shortening the length of childbirth and managing its pains. Those developments also resulted in the transition of childbirth from homes to hospitals. Today, the different methods of childbirth can involve the help of physicians, midwives and doulas.

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Jennie Smillie

Jennie Smillie Robertson, physician, surgeon and teacher (born 10 February 1878 in Huron County, ON; died 26 February 1981 in Toronto, ON). Smillie is considered the first recorded female surgeon to practise in Ontario. She also performed the first major gynecological surgery in Canada.

Click here for definitions of key terms used in this article.

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Jacalyn Duffin

Jacalyn Duffin, MD, FRCP, PhD, CM, hematologist and medical historian (born 9 June 1950 in Thorndale, Ontario). Duffin began her medical career as a hematologist and became a medical historian and professor of medical history. She is a champion of the medical humanities, an interdisciplinary field of study that explores the arts, humanities and social sciences as they relate to healthcare education and practice. She has published numerous books and articles in the field and was president of the American Association for the History of Medicine (AAHM) and the Canadian Society for the History of Medicine. Duffin received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the AAHM in 2019 and was named a Member of the Order of Canada in 2020.

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Sir Frederick Banting

Sir Frederick Grant Banting, KBE, MC, FRS, FRSC, co-discoverer of insulin, medical scientist, painter (born 14 November 1891 in Alliston, ON; died 21 February 1941 near Musgrave Harbour, Newfoundland). Banting is best known as one of the scientists who discovered insulin in 1922. After this breakthrough, he became Canada’s first professor of medical research at the University of Toronto. Banting was also an accomplished amateur painter. As an artist, he had links to A.Y. Jackson and the Group of Seven.

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James Barry

James Miranda Steuart Barry, FRS (probably born Margaret Anne Bulkley), military surgeon, physician (born c. 1789–99; died 25 July 1865 in London, England). Posted across the British Empire, Barry reformed medical standards in the British army. His final and highest-ranking position was as inspector-general of military hospitals in the Province of Canada in the 1850s. After his death, it was reported that Barry’s assigned sex at birth was female. This has sparked significant debate about his identity.

Note on pronouns: This article refers to James Barry with masculine pronouns, as this was how Barry referred to himself throughout his life.

Click here for definitions of key terms used in this article.

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Dominique Gaspard

Dominique François Gaspard, physician and community builder (born 22 December 1884 in New Orleans, Louisiana; died 6 February 1938 in Montreal, QC). Gaspard was a respected doctor and a trailblazer in Montreal’s Black district. After serving with distinction at a field hospital during the First World War, he devoted himself to medical practice in Montreal. He also worked to create social and intellectual outlets for Black men in the city. A bilingual Catholic, he was unique in the city’s early-20th-century anglophone  Protestant Black community. His story speaks of a complexity of language, ethnicity and migration not often explored in narratives of Quebec’s English-speaking and Black communities.

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Indigenous Peoples' Medicine in Canada

Since time immemorial Indigenous peoples in Canada have been using plants and other natural materials as medicine. Plant medicines are used more frequently than those derived from animals. In all, Indigenous peoples have identified over 400 different species of plants (as well as lichens, fungi and algae) with medicinal applications. Medicine traditions — the plants used, the ailments treated, protocols for harvesting and application, and modes of preparation — are similar for Indigenous peoples across the country. In many Indigenous communities, there are recognized specialists trained in traditional medicine, and their practice often reflects spiritual aspects of healing as well as physical outcomes. In many cases, the therapeutic properties of Indigenous medicines are attributable to particular compounds and their effects on the body, but in other instances, their application is little understood by western medical practitioners. Within Indigenous communities, specific methods of harvesting and preparation of medicines are considered intellectual property of particular individuals or families.

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Emily Stowe

Emily Howard Jennings Stowe, physician, teacher, school principal, suffragist (born 1 May 1831 in Norwich, Ontario; died 30 April 1903 in Toronto, Ontario). Stowe was a founder of the Canadian Women’s Suffrage Association. She is considered to be the first female physician to publicly practise medicine in Ontario. She was also the first female principal of a public school in Ontario. 

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Nadine Caron

Nadine Rena Caron, surgeon, researcher, mentor, educator, patient advocate, community leader (born 1970 in Kamloops, BC). Nadine Caron was the first female First Nations student to graduate from the University of British Columbia Faculty of Medicine. She was also the first female First Nations general surgeon in Canada. For many years, Caron has highlighted the needs and voices of northern, rural and Indigenous populations in Canada.

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Tom Thomson

Thomas John Thomson, painter (born 5 August 1877 in Claremont, ON; died 8 July 1917 in Algonquin Provincial Park, ON). Tom Thomson was the most influential and enduringly popular Canadian artist of the early 20th century. An intense, wry and gentle artist with a canny sensibility, he was an early inspiration for what became the Group of Seven. He was one of the first painters to give acute visual form to the Canadian landscape. His works portray the natural world in a way that is poetic but still informed by direct experience. Many of his paintings, such as The West Wind (1916–17) and The Jack Pine (1916–17), have become icons of Canadian culture. He produced about 50 canvases and more than 400 sketches in his short professional career. His legend only grew after his untimely death at the age of 39.

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Historical Societies

The main purpose of historical societies in Canada is the study and promotion of Canadian history. There are hundreds of historical associations in Canada. Activities include publication of scholarly and amateur works, public education programs, and assistance to and co-operation with archives, museums, heritage groups and other similar organizations.

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Oronhyatekha

Oronhyatekha (pronounced O-RON-ya-day-ga, meaning "Burning Sky" or “Burning Cloud”), also known as Peter Martin, a Kanyen'kehà:ka (Mohawk) medical doctor and businessman (born 10 August 1841 on the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve near Brantford, Canada West [now Ontario]; died 3 March 1907 in Savannah, Georgia, US). In 1867, Oronhyatekha became the second Indigenous person in Canada to earn a medical degree. Passionate about Indigenous issues, he was elected to the Grand General Indian Council of Ontario and Quebec in 1872, where he fought against the restrictive measures of the Indian Act. Oronhyatekha was also a businessman and, in 1881, headed the Independent Order of Foresters.

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Laurent Duvernay-Tardif

Laurent “Dr. Kill” Duvernay-Tardif, CQ, football player, doctor (born 11 February 1991 in Saint-Jean-Baptiste, QC). Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is an offensive lineman with the Kansas City Chiefs of the National Football League (NFL). Only the 10th player ever drafted into the NFL from Canadian college and university football, he became the first Quebec-born football player to win a Super Bowl championship in 2020. The first active NFL player to become a doctor, he opted out of the 2020 season to work as an orderly at a long-term care facility in Montreal during the COVID-19 pandemic. He was made a Chevalier of the Ordre National du Québec in 2019. In 2020, he was named a Sportsperson of the Year by Sports Illustrated magazine, as well as co-winner, with soccer player Alphonso Davies, of the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s athlete of the year.

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Stanley Vollant

Stanley Vollant, CQ, Innu surgeon, professor and lecturer (born 2 April 1965 in Quebec City, Quebec). Vollant is the first Indigenous surgeon trained in Quebec. In 1996, he received a National Aboriginal Role Model Award from the Governor General of Canada. Vollant began Innu Meshkenu in 2010, a 6,000 km walk to promote the teachings of First Nations and to encourage Indigenous young people to pursue their dreams. In 2016, he founded the non-profit organization Puamun Meshkenu to inspire and support Indigenous peoples in their mental and physical health.

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The Discovery of Insulin

For many years scientists believed that some kind of internal secretion of the pancreas was the key to preventing diabetes and controlling normal metabolism. No one could find it, until in the summer of 1921 a team at the University of Toronto began trying a new experimental approach suggested by Dr. Frederick Banting.