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The history of medicine in Canada.

Medical History
Cambridge University Press
Publication Date
  • Research Article
  • History
  • Law
  • Medicine
  • Political Science


THE HISTORY OF MEDICINE IN CANADA* by ROBERT SWAN GEOGRAPHICALLY, Canada suffers from gigantism. Its total area is almost 4,000,000 square miles, lying north of the 49th parallel that separates us from the United States. Much of this land mass is almost uninhabitable, and so the majority of our 19,000,000 people live along its southern borders, stretched out like a 4,000 mile ribbon from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts. This vast area has undergone almost four centuries of development and change, and to give an adequate description of its medical history is by no means easy. One can only select some of the highlights and curiosities of the story. Much cannot be included. The picture is further confused by the fact that pioneering doctors were not only medical men, but were, at the same time, pioneers in other fields, such as exploration, legislation, and also in allied sciences, politics and the law. One of our more notable examples was Sir Charles Tupper, a doctor who became Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, then High Commissioner in London, and finally the Prime Minister of Canada. Osler said of Sir Charles, perhaps too sardonically, that he was 'really a politician first, and a medical practitioner only when stranded by the exigencies of the party'. Any medical history must inevitably be fitted into its political framework and historical background, so please forgive my occasional digressions. To begin at the beginning: Canada was first sighted by Norsemen, around the year 1,000. Traces of their settlements have been well authenticated. In the thirteenth century, men from the Orkneys followed in their wake, but it was not until 1497 that we were officially 'discovered'. The brothers Cabot, sailing out of Bristol in the hope of finding a western route to China, found instead Newfoundland and Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, which they claimed in the name of Henry VII. He gave them ten pounds. But the Cabots found only the fringe. Thirty-five years later, Jaques Cartier, sailing out of St.

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