Dr. Frederick Banting is the ultimate Canadian ambassador.
Every now and then, you come across a travel stereotype that's true - or, at least, I'd like to believe that all the travel stereotypes about Canadians are true. Apparently we're quite a likable bunch! But reputations are not built overnight. Modern travelers owe a debt of gratitude to some of our earliest unofficial ambassadors; those who turned a spotlight on Canada and helped us shine.
One such remarkable pioneer was Dr. Frederick Banting. Renowned for discovering insulin and employing it for the treatment of diabetes, Banting was extremely deserving of the honors that flooded in as a result of his research. But as he rose to super-stardom in the 1920s and 1930s, he never lost touch with his roots. And his humble, hardworking persona continues to resonate with Canadians, who voted him into 4th place on the Greatest Canadians list in 2004. When I think of the best qualities of a Canadian, at home or abroad, I think of Dr. Banting. Here's why.
A wry sense of humor
As a community doctor during the time of prohibition, some of Dr. Banting's earliest prescriptions were for medicinal alcohol! Fortunately, he saw the humor in the situation and, after a slow start, he built up his practice in the front room of his house while teaching part time at the University of Western Ontario. You can see how his medical practice was set up for yourself if you visit Banting House National Historic Site in London, Ontario.
A selfless teammate
Serving as a medical officer in World War I, Dr. Banting's arm was severely injured during the course of his duties. Ignoring his own safety, he continued to work tirelessly on the front lines to assist others for 16 hours. Dr. Banting was eventually awarded the Military Cross in recognition of his heroism.
In World War II, he enlisted to serve again and did so in the capacity of medical research. He was so dedicated to his work that he even subjected himself to mustard gas burns so he could study the effects and test potential antidotes.
A humble trailblazer
If you want to impress people at your next trivia night, ask them to name the first Canadian to appear on the cover of Time Magazine? Chances are, they won't think of Dr. Banting! It's easy to forget just how devastating it was to be diagnosed with diabetes and the incredible suffering experienced by patients before insulin was available. But the discovery of insulin was more than just an academic breakthrough - it changed the lives of millions and made headlines around the world.
A generous colleague
At the age of 32 Dr. Banting became the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Prize for Medicine, a record he continues to hold. He shared this honor with university researcher John MacLeod. However, Banting felt his former assistant and student, Dr. Charles Best, should have been recognized as well and he split his Nobel prize money with Best - an unheard of act of generosity.
Banting, MacLeod, and the rest of the team working on the development of insulin also generously turned over the patent rights to insulin to the University of Toronto so that no one individual would profit from the discovery.
A quiet talent
What did a brilliant scientist like Banting do in his downtime to relax? Paint gorgeous nature scenes! A bona fide artistic talent, his work attracted the attention of none other than A.Y. Jackson, a founding member of the Group of Seven. Jackson served as Banting's friend and mentor as Banting made his own important contributions to the Canadian artistic landscape. Banting House has a superb collection of his artist works that are well worth a visit.
Banting House is more than just a point of pilgrimage for those diagnosed with diabetes. It should be on everyone's must-visit list for London. When you stop by, you'll walk in expecting to learn a lot about medicine -but you'll leave bursting with pride. Dr. Banting's character was every bit as remarkable as his talent and his selfless service to his country will inspire you, no matter what your nationality.
I'd love to hear from you? What historical figure inspires you? Have you ever traveled for the purposes of learning more about a famous person?
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Our visit to Banting House was sponsored in part by SWOTC. All writing, research, and opinions are our own.