John McCrae to be Inducted into Canadian Medical Hall of Fame

By Robin Morden, Community Relations Coordinator, Guelph Museums

GUELPH, ON – Guelph’s John McCrae is one of six “medical heroes” being inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 2015 for contributions to the field of medicine and health sciences.

An event to honour the late McCrae and five other inductees will be held on April 23, 2015 in Winnipeg.

Guelph Museums partnered with the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada to create a compelling nomination that highlighted Dr. McCrae’s medical career.

“We’re very pleased and proud that John McCrae will be inducted in the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 2015,” says Bev Dietrich, curator at Guelph Museums and co-author of the nomination. “It is so fitting that this honour is happening 100 years after he wrote the famous First World War poem ‘In Flanders Fields.’”

The Canadian Medical Hall of Fame honours innovators and pioneers in the field of medicine and health sciences whose contributions significantly improve the state of health and healthcare in Canada and the world.

“Guelph is very proud to be the birthplace of John McCrae. Most of us know about his contributions as a poet and soldier, but this honour shines a new light on his tremendous contributions as a doctor,” says Mayor Karen Farbridge.

McCrae was an incredibly accomplished physician in his lifetime, and his research significantly advanced an understanding of tuberculosis, scarlet fever, nephritis and lobar pneumonia. He received his medical degree in 1898 from University of Toronto before completing an internship at Johns Hopkins University, and a pathology fellowship and laboratory training at McGill University.

He served as a medical officer during the First World War, writing ‘In Flanders Fields’ on May 3, 1915, following the Second Battle of Ypres. The Canadian Medical Hall of Fame nomination letter observes, “the fact that in 1915, Dr. McCrae wrote ‘In Flanders Fields,’ the most famous Canadian poem of the First World War, while resting from his dressing station duties gives one pause, for since 1915, the ‘torch’ of dedication and leadership in wartime medical service has impelled Canada to the forefront during subsequent wars.” McCrae died in 1918 of pneumonia and meningitis.

(Guelph Civic Museum)

The Young Doctor

mccrae3Back in Montréal in 1901, John McCrae picked up the thread of his life, resuming his studies in pathology. The years after the war were busy ones for the young doctor. As Governor’s Fellow in pathology and resident assistant pathologist, he had the dual function of research work in the Medical Faculty laboratories at McGill and autopsy duties at Montréal General Hospital.

In 1902, he was appointed resident pathologist at Montréal General Hospital and later also became assistant pathologist to the Royal Victoria Hospital. In 1904, he was appointed an associate in medicine at the Royal Victoria Hospital. Later that year, he went to England where he studied for several months and became a member of the Royal College of Physicians.

In 1905, he set up his own practice although he continued to work and lecture at several hospitals. He was appointed pathologist to the Montréal Foundling and Baby Hospital in 1905. In 1908, he was appointed physician to the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Infectious Diseases.

During these busy years, he also lectured in pathology at the University of Vermont Medical College in Burlington and in clinical medicine and pathology at McGill. He attended medical conferences in Europe and wrote extensively on medical subjects, including articles for the Montreal Medical Journal and American Journal of Medical Science.

Both John and Thomas McCrae were major contributor’s to Osler’s Modern Medicine, a 10-volume textbook published in 1909. In addition, John McCrae co-authored a textbook on pathology which was published in 1912.

He was a respected teacher and doctor, much in demand due to his enthusiasm and sense of responsibility to his patients, students and colleagues. He was a gregarious man with many friends. His busy schedule included time for socializing and holidays.

Although McCrae worked hard at his university teaching and at his increasingly busy practice, the advantage of working in a university was that he could take time off. He holidayed at various times in England, France and Europe . . . At times he worked his passage to Europe as ship’s surgeon; he enjoyed ships and the sea. These were the compensations of a bachelor’s life. (Prescott, In Flanders Fields: the Story of John McCrae, p. 70)

An avid outdoorsman, John McCrae was invited in 1910 to serve as expedition physician when the Governor General, Lord Grey, journeyed by canoe from Norway House on Lake Winnipeg to Hudson’s Bay.

John McCrae attended Sunday morning services regularly at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Montréal. He also continued to write poetry and was a member of the Shakespearean Club and the Pen and Pencil Club, a group of artists, writers and teachers which included Stephen Leacock among its members.

As well as expressing himself in words, John McCrae also did small, detailed pencil sketches of scenes on his trips, mostly in South Africa, the United States and Scotland.

(Veterans Affairs Canada)