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Remembering our roots: WWI and the formation of the Royal College

Remembrance day 2018 - Duty Call

University of Toronto Archives


Canada showed itself to be a significant force through its wartime contributions.

A young nation with fewer than eight million people, the country sent 400,000 men overseas. This included numerous doctors in the Canadian Army Medical Corps. Serving alongside their British counterparts, they gained knowledge of postgraduate training in the United Kingdom. A movement to establish a similar system in Canada began shortly after the war.

Meet our first four Royal College Presidents

The roots of modern postgraduate training in Canada

Prior to the war, medical training varied among Canadian physicians and surgeons. Most medical graduates completed one year of general internship. Extended postgraduate training was reserved for individuals who intended to teach in the medical schools.

After the war, scientific medicine flourished. Innovations in surgery and medicine (e.g. the reliable use of blood transfusions) were transferred from wartime use to wider practice. To deal with the returning wounded, Canada founded new hospital systems, sanitariums and rehabilitation centres. Postgraduate education in specialized fields of medicine also gained more ground.

Lukewarm reception to the idea of a Canadian Royal College

For years, higher qualification from a Royal College had been a requirement for hospital and teaching appointments in Great Britain. Many Canadian doctors now sought a similar structure to recognize those among them with superior qualifications. Some looked to the United Kingdom for membership/fellowship, others to the new American colleges, and still others to Paris.

Dr. S.E. Moore of Regina looked to Canada.

In 1920, he brought forward a proposal at the Canadian Medical Association’s annual meeting. He asked the Executive Council to consider the formation of a Canadian Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, in some way affiliated with the older Royal Colleges in Great Britain. The mandate of this non-teaching college would be to stimulate and promote postgraduate medical training, to assess this training against set standards and to grant diplomas.

This was not an entirely new idea. Dr. F.N.G. Starr of Toronto had brought forward a similar suggestion in 1913; however, the outbreak of war had prevented further action.

Dr. Moore’s resolution gained little support. Some felt the timing was premature; others feared the financial cost, or questioned the need for such a college and its likelihood of success. Several medical schools had their own plans for postgraduate medical education and some physicians preferred to establish Canadian branches of the British colleges.

The question was put to a committee for further study.

A Royal College for Canada

It took several years to gain adequate support from the Canadian medical community. Eventually, a determined group of doctors prevailed. They successfully pushed forward the idea of a Canadian Royal College. A Nucleus Committee was set up. Committee members outlined the organization’s foundational bylaws, rules and regulations. In 1929 — almost a decade after Dr. Moore’s proposal —the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada was incorporated by an Act of Parliament.

Today, the Royal College continues to honour the vision and commitment of its founders, to serve Canadians as a global leader in specialty medical education and care.


Military and Royal College service: the Royal College’s first four Presidents


Jonathan Campbell Meakins, MD, FRCPC (1882-1959)

Jonathan Campbell Meakins, MD, FRCPC (1882-1959)
Royal College President, 1929-1931

Born in Hamilton, Ont., Dr. Meakins received his medical education at McGill University. He became a member of McGill’s Faculty of Medicine in 1909. Throughout his career, he was known for his health leadership and dedication to the improvement of medicine.

Shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, Dr. Meakins was mobilized for service as part of the No. 3 General Hospital (McGill University) stationed in France. The following year, he was seconded to London to investigate the effects of poisonous gases on soldiers and the conditions then known as “soldier’s heart” and “shell-shock” — now recognised as the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While involved in this research, he was appointed physician-in-chief of the Duchess of Connaught Canadian Red Cross Hospital in Taplow, England. At the end of the First World War, he was demobilized as a lieutenant-colonel. During the Second World War, he served his country once again as a brigadier and deputy director-general of the Royal Army Medical Corps (1942-1944). He was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1945.

Dr. Meakins was a founding member of the Council of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. From 1929-1931, he served as the Royal College’s first President. During his tenure, he was dedicated to establishing a solid foundation for the Royal College to sustain it into the future. He also served terms as president of the American College of Physicians, the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Mental Health Association. In 2011, he was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. In 2014, the Canadian Armed Forces created the CF Brigadier Jonathan C. Meakins, CBE, RCAMC, Chair in Military Mental Health in recognition of his research on PTSD.

Frederic Newton Gisborne Starr, MD, FRCSC (1867-1934)

Frederic Newton Gisborne Starr, MD, FRCSC (1867-1934)
Royal College President, 1931-1933

Born in Thorold, Ont., Dr. Starr received his medical education in Toronto at Victoria University, Faculty of Medicine. For a time, he ran the largest surgical practice in Toronto. From 1893-1901, he served as the general secretary of the Canadian Medical Association.

His work there consisted of furthering the goals of organised medical practice and education in Canada. Dr. Starr is credited with first suggesting that the Executive Committee of the Canadian Medical Association consider the need for a Canadian non-teaching college for the conferring of degrees in surgery and other specialties. This question was put on hold during the First World War, where Dr. Starr served with the Major Royal Army Medical Corps. He also worked as a consulting surgeon with the Imperial Forces fighting in France. In recognition of his “gallantry and distinguished service on the field,” Dr. Starr was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1919.

After the war, Dr. Starr served as the chair of the Nucleus Committee responsible for the incorporation of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. This was achieved in June 1929 by a special act of Parliament. Dr. Starr would later become the second president of the Royal College, serving from 1931-1933. This followed his service as president of the Canadian Medical Association. In 1933, he retired as professor emeritus of clinical surgery at the University of Toronto. In 1936, the Canadian Medical Association named the F.N.G. Starr Award is his honour.

Duncan Archibald Graham, MD, FRCPC (1882-1974)

Duncan Archibald Graham, MD, FRCPC (1882-1974)
Royal College President, 1933-1935

Born in Ivan, Ont., Dr. Graham received his medical education at the University of Toronto. He would go on to gain international recognition as a medical scientist. He was known for his extensive work in bacteriology, pathology and Internal Medicine.

Dr. Graham was called to serve during the First World War with the No. 4 Canadian General Hospital. In this capacity, he cared for the ill and injured in field hospitals in France, England and Greece. He attained the rank of lieutenant-colonel. During the Second World War, he contributed to the war effort as a medical scientist, chairing the Committee on Aviation Medical Research at the National Research Council of Canada. For his service, he was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1944. In 1968, he was named a Companion of the Order of Canada.

Dr. Graham was an inaugural member of the Council of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. He was also the first chair of the Royal College Committee on Specialties. From 1933-1935, he served as the third president of the Royal College. He was later president of the Canadian Medical Association in 1945. In 1957, he was awarded the F.N.G. Starr Award from the Canadian Medical Association. In 1969, the Royal College established the Duncan Graham Award in honour of his great commitment and contributions to medical education.

Alfred Turner Bazin, MD, FRCSC (1872-1958)

Alfred Turner Bazin, MD, FRCSC (1872-1958)
Royal College President, 1935-1937

Raised in Montreal, Dr. Bazin attended medical school at McGill University. He had a distinguished career as an educator and chief surgeon at Montreal General Hospital from 1912-1938. In 1939, he was named emeritus professor of surgery at McGill.

When the First World War broke out, Dr. Bazin was mobilized as commander of the No. 9 Canadian Field Ambulance. He was later appointed officer in charge of Surgery for No. 3 Canadian General Hospital (McGill University) stationed in Boulogne, France. At the end of the war, he was demobilized as lieutenant-colonel and given the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in recognition of his military service. During the Second World War, Dr. Bazin once again served. He organized and chaired the Disaster Preparedness and Relief Committee of the Canadian and Quebec Red Cross. He remained an active supporter of the Canadian Red Cross throughout his life.

Dr. Bazin was pivotal in the founding of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. He chaired the inaugural meeting of the Royal College and the committee that developed the Royal College’s bylaws. He was later involved in the development of examination and accreditation processes. From 1935-1937, he served as the Royal College’s fourth president, following his tenure as president of the Canadian Medical Association. In recognition of his many achievements and great contributions to Canadian medicine, he was awarded the Canadian Medical Association’s F.N.G Starr Award in 1951.


Sources/more reading

Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. 2018. “Dr. Jonathan Meakins.”
Accessed Oct. 16, 2018. http://www.cdnmedhall.org/inductees/dr-jonathan-meakins

Canadian War Museum. n.d. “Canadian Army Medical Corps.”
Accessed Oct. 16, 2018. https://www.warmuseum.ca/firstworldwar/history/life-at-the-front/medicine/canadian-army-medical-corps/

Canadian War Museum. n.d. “The War’s Impact on Canada.”
Accessed Oct. 16, 2018. https://www.warmuseum.ca/firstworldwar/history/life-at-the-front/medicine/canadian-army-medical-corps/

Cook, Tim. “A changed Canada emerged from the First World War.” (Nov. 15, 2017).
The Globe and Mail. Last retrieved October 23, 2018, from the Globe and Mail website: www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/a-changed-canada-emerged-from-the-first-world-war/article36985156/

Cruess, Richard L., Darragh, James, and Hanaway, Joseph. 2006. McGill Medicine: The Second Half Century, 1885-1936. Montreal: McGill-Queen's Press – MQUP

Royal College of Physicians of London. 2009. “Lives of the Fellows: Duncan Archibald Graham.”
Accessed Oct. 16 2018. http://munksroll.rcplondon.ac.uk/Biography/Details/1850

Sclater Lewis, D. 1962. The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada: 1920-1960. Montreal: McGill University Press.

Victoria University-University of Toronto. 2013. “Frederic Newton Gisborne Starr Fonds.”
Accessed Oct. 16, 2018. http://library.vicu.utoronto.ca/archives/holdings/f2127_frederic_newton_gisborne/