Date: 1923

Origin: Canadian National Exhibition

In 1923, the CNE’s theme was “International and Science Year” and accordingly Robert Miller, CNE President, invited Dr. Frederick Banting, who had recently discovered insulin with Charles Best, to open the fair. When Banting received the CNE letter of invitation, he was in Britain receiving honours from His Majesty King George V.  Banting was planning to stay in Britain for an extended period of time, but decided to cut his visit short to take part in the CNE’s Opening Ceremonies.  He saw the event as an opportunity to bring “science a little closer to our Canadian people”. More than 76,000 people reportedly attended Opening Day in 1923.  Banting’s parents were present for the event. His mother, Margaret Banting had purchased a new pair of black gloves for the occasion, which were full of holes by the end of the festivities from all the handshaking.

Excerpt from Sir Frederick Banting’s Opening Day Remarks, delivered August 25, 1923

Scientific research is nothing more nor less than the endeavour to unfold the secrets of nature.  When once the law underlying natural phenomena is understood, we are placed in a better position to govern those phenomena. Man, by his intelligence, long ago gained control of his natural enemies, the wild animals.  The lion was driven back into his jungle and the reptile to his marsh.  And during the past century it has required a keener science of those much smaller, but even more deadly natural enemies – the bacteria.

Debt of Curiosity

It is the inquiring mind during all these centuries of progress that has observed important truth locked up in common things. Apples had been falling from trees since Adam and Eve lived in the garden of Eden, but it was not until Newton questioned the simple fact that it was found to involve a fundamental law of the universe. Steam had risen from boiling water since the time when man first used fire, but the power of steam was not dreamed of until Watt questioned the behavior of the tea-kettle lid. Lightning had been striking fear and awe into the hearts of men for centuries before Franklin flew his kite. Nor is the mental curiosity of a Newton, a Watt, or a Franklin so different from that natural curiosity inherent in all of us. Man is essentially an inquiring spirit from the moment of his physical birth. The investigatory method of the infant is rewarded by the knowledge that fires burn, that bees stings, that pins prick and that those unpleasant agents must therefore be avoided. It is unfortunate that the greatness of the child’s mind so develops curiosity which fashions its first lisping syllables into interrogations, should disappear as age increases, for the greatest discoveries in science have been made by men who challenged, with almost childish simplicity, things generally accepted without question. These men have changed the world. The work of Saunders in crossing two inferior types of wheat to make the famous Marquis wheat had added, and will continue to add, untold wealth to the Dominion of Canada. (He still awaits his awards). Stevenson, Bell and Marconi are the reasons for our development and advancement in the world as it is today. Our food, once garnered by our door, is now transported to us from the ends of the earth. Our clothing, once spun on the hand loom, comes to us now from several continents. Our very homes are comparative palaces. The printing press, rapid transportation, telegraphy and the telephone, wireless and the airplane have made the world smaller and have enlarged the the international consciousness. Science is truly the most international commodity we possess. It is rapidly transmitted without reserve to all countries of the world. It knows no protective tariff, no embargo, no boundary line to prevent its free dissemination for the good of all. At present, it is the only common language and spirit among the nations. At a time when racial, religious and political cleavages cause greater separation than ever before, science continues to hold her international ideal, and scientists from the four corners of the earth meet together periodically to place the results of their labours on the common board. It is particularly fitting, therefore, that the Canadian National Exhibition should couple science with her international year, marking as this year does, the centenary of that truly international figure, the French scientist who has become a household word, Louis Pasteur.

 Not Unmixed Blessing

But possibly this remarkable progress of modern civilization is not an unmixed blessing. The growth of cities, the facility of transportation, the increased social intercourse, the artificial preparation of food material, the mounting stress and complexity of our lives, are all factors, which, directly and indirectly, form new and difficult problems. Let us not forget that our success in the struggle for existence depends on our ability to combat destroying influences. It is here that medical science, a branch of general science, plays a role of paramount importance. The secrets of the human body are being gradually uncovered by the vast army of experimental and clinical investigators. Even the most trivial fact may require the whole life effort of one man who, though unheralded and unknown, thus provides to the growing building one necessary stone upon which others will be later laid. Undoubtedly, the greatest new conception in medical science is the idea of preventing disease, rather than curing it. This new, so-called preventive medicine has only been made possible by important discoveries. In 1796 Jenner inaugurated the vaccine treatment for smallpox, thereby eradicating this ravaging disease from all areas where vaccination and re-vaccination are effectively carried out. Pasteur, by his investigations, made anthrax and hydrophobia preventable and curable maladies. Lister’s work established the principles of antiseptic operation and paved the way for modern surgery. Reed, Carroll and Lazear sacrificed their lives to make yellow fever areas safe for human habitation. Ross conquered malaria.  Roux and Gersin in 1889, and Von Behring in 1891, produced diphtheria antitoxin. Roux applied the antitoxin treatment for diphtheria and not only decreased the mortality from this disease by 75 percent, but also, by study of its infectivity, abolished the ravaging epidemics previously so common. Wright, by his discovery of anti-typhoid vaccine, has within a few years, rendered typhoid fever a comparatively rare disease. No better proof of its effect can be given than by a comparison of typhoid fever during the Boer War and the Great War. During the South African campaign 548,000 soldiers served for two years and seven months. Out of every thousand soldiers 123 contracted typhoid fever. In other words, more died of typhoid than were killed in action or died of wounds. In the recent Great War 420,000 Canadian men served for four years and three months. Out of every thousand soldiers only one contracted typhoid fever. Altogether there were only fourteen deaths from the disease in the whole Canadian army during the whole war. Not only in war, but also in times of peace, Canadian medical science is guarding the health of the Canadian people. Through our public health services there have been established laboratories for diagnosis, sanitariums for treatment, literature for popular education, and a free distribution of all specific remedies for the prevention and treatment of communicable diseases. Diphtheria antitoxin, treatment of meningitis and pneumonia and the Pasteur treatment for rabies are all manufacture by the Connaught Laboratories and supplied free by our Provinces. Through the efforts the the Provincial Ministry of Health, insulin, manufacture by the Connaught Laboratories will, after September 1st, be supplied free to all residents of the Province of Ontario who need it, and who are, in the judgement of their family physician, unable to pay for it.

Canada’s Great Loss

Canadian schools, colleges and universities turn out plenty of well-trained men with ideas and ideals. They mingle in their veins the English, Scotch, Irish and French blood that caused our forefathers, in their restless temper of investigation to explore, discover and develop. Our graduates, in their generation, wish also to travel upon paths untrodden and carry forward the torch of science. They have the ideas, the enthusiasm and the imagination – but where are the facilities? It has been much easier for them to cross the international boundary to the south and work in hospitals and laboratories where opportunity is greater and help is waiting than to labour in our won stony fields. Canadians are to be found in nearly every university in the United States. Osler, Barker, Futcher, MacCallum and McCrae, Rowntree, brilliant Canadians gave and are giving to the foremost medical schools of the United States. We are being steadily sapped of our most gifted scientists because Canada has not one single institution where a young man go to work on his problems free from the routine of a university department. It is not to be understood that an institution is indispensable for medical research, but that the greatest need of Canadian medical science today is a fund from which adequate facilities can be supplied to young men who have ideas of their own, and the unselfish enthusiasm to devote their energy whole-heartedly to their problems. During the past year it has been my privilege to visit many laboratories and institutions in the United States and Great Britain, and may I say, that I have always returned home with a justifiable pride in the men who compose the University of Toronto, the Toronto Academy of Medicine, our Canadian medical schools and our Canadian medical associations. Today, in formally opening the Science and International year of the Canadian National Exhibition, I make bold to hope that Canadian science and Canadian industry, depending as they do up on efforts of individual minds, may progress hand in hand and in harmony with the progress of other nations, until that day is reached they shall have contributed the maximum of good to the greatest number, and have brought the people at large to realize, as we realize now, that science is the search for truth, that a true knowledge of God’s creation dispels superstition, fear and disease, brings happiness, peach and prosperity, and leads to that humility with which the informed intelligence recognized the omnipotence of the Creator.

Learn more about this Canadian Nobel Prize Winner.