Fonds - Sir Frederick Banting Papers collection

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Sir Frederick Banting Papers collection

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  • 1908-2000, predominant 1914-1970 (Creation)
    Banting, F.G. (Frederick Grant), 1891-1941

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Physical description

17 cm of textual records ca. 500 drawings ; 21 x 33 cm or smaller ca. 500 photographs : b&w and col. 1 painting (oil on cardboard)

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Biographical history

Frederick Grant Banting (1891-1941), co-discoverer of insulin, was born on the family farm near Alliston, Ontario. He was the youngest of William Thompson Banting and Margaret Grant Banting's six children. Banting was active in all kinds of sports, enjoyed drawing, and took an avid interest in farm life. Among his close friends were his cousin, Fred Hipwell, and a tomboy named Jane who died of diabetes when she was fourteen. He attended school locally before going to Victoria College, Toronto, to study for the Methodist Ministry. He did not enjoy the Arts course, though, and returned home at Easter of the following year. In the fall of 1912 Banting enrolled at the University of Toronto where he was a member of the "Meds Seventeen" class and a well-known figure on the rugby field. He was in his third year when the First World War broke out. The "Meds Seventeen" attended classes during vacations and received their medical degrees in December 1916. The new doctors then enlisted and were sent overseas with the Canadian Army Medical Corps. Banting served at the Granville Special Canadian Hospital at Ramsgate, England, before going to France with the 13th Field Ambulance. In France Banting was transferred to the 44th Battalion and in 1918, during the Battle of Cambrai, he was wounded in the wrist. He remained on duty, however, and for his valour and endurance was awarded the Military Cross. Ignoring the recommendation that his infected arm be amputated, Banting took over its treatment and cured it. During his convalescence in London, Banting took some post-graduate work in surgery and qualified for membership in the Royal College of Surgeons and earned a certificate of competence in the Royal College of Physicians. After Banting returned to Canada and was discharged from the army, he became a resident physician under Dr. Starr, at the Hospital for Sick Children. When his year's internship was over Banting went to London, Ontario to establish a practice in orthopedic surgery. Dr. Starr obtained for him a position as part-time instructor in the medical department of the University of Western Ontario. In the fall of 1920, while preparing to give a lecture to second-year physiology students, Banting read a newly-published medical journal article on studies into the pancreas. After pondering the reasons for the failure of recent experiments to isolate a hormone secreted by the pancreas' Islands of Langerhans, Banting thought of another means that might succeed. During the summer of 1921, in Dr. J.J.R. Macleod's laboratory at the University of Toronto Department of Physiology, Banting and his assistant, Charles Best, successfully isolated the hormone now known as insulin. By January, 1922, the insulin solution was sufficiently purified and tested that it could be used by human diabetics around the world. Fame and honours came quickly to Banting. In 1922 he was awarded an honourary Doctor of Science degree from, and was appointed Senior Demonstrator in Medicine at, the University of Toronto. Banting and Dr. Macleod were co-winners of the 1923 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, though Banting objected to the credit given Macleod and shared his prize money with Dr. Best. (Macleod shared his prize with Dr. J.B. Collip, who had developed the process for refining and processing insulin). The same year the Ontario Legislature endowed the Banting and Best Chair of Medical Research at the University of Toronto, Banting was awarded the honourary LL.D degree from Queens University and then toured Great Britain and Europe, arriving home in time to officially open the 1923 Canadian National Exhibition. In 1934 he was invested with the Order of the British Empire, giving him the title Sir Frederick Grant Banting. Banting married Miss Marion Robertson of Elora in 1924, and as their honeymoon trip the couple travelled to Kingston, Jamaica, for the International Conference on Health Problems. Their son, William was born four years later. Banting wrote several stories for Bill, relating the adventures of boys living in different areas. The marriage ended in divorce in 1932, and Sir Frederick Banting married Miss Henrietta Ball (1912-1976) in 1939. She was a graduate of Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, and had moved to Toronto to work as a laboratory assistant in the Banting and Best Department of Medical Research. Drawing and painting were boyhood interests of Banting, and he had picked them up again while convalescing in England. During the 1920s and 1930s Banting took several painting trips with Group of Seven artist A.Y. Jackson. They toured Quebec, the Canadian Rockies, Great Slave Lake (1928), and went on a government-sponsored voyage to the Arctic (1927). During the latter Banting also conducted a medical assessment of the residents in the settlements they visited. Banting also sketched when he was away on medical business, including conferences in Spain (1933), Russia, Hungary and Germany (1935). He had a photograph taken of a painting he did of a laboratory and made it into his book-plate. The canvas was turned, however, when the "Meds Seventeen" class commissioned Curtis Williamson to paint Banting's portrait. In 1943 Toronto's Art Gallery held an exhibition of about 200 of Banting's paintings, sketches and wood-carvings. During the 1930s Banting continued to work on a variety of medical studies. He organized his department to make a study of silicosis, a condition caused by prolonged inhalation of silica dust, and common among miners. As well, he studied the mechanism of drowning and various types of cancer. In 1938 Banting was made chairman of a Committee on Aviation Medical Research. A year later he re-joined the army; 9 days before Canada formally entered the Second World War. One of his projects was the development of a suit which would keep pilots from losing consciousness at high speeds and high altitudes. In 1941 Banting was suddenly called to England on secret business and arrangements were made for him to fly over in a Hudson bomber. Despite a vague feeling of fear about the trip, Banting went to Gander, Newfoundland, where he waited three days for the flight. Shortly after it took off the engines failed and the airplane crashed into a snow-covered wilderness. Two of the crew were killed outright, and Banting was fatally injured. Before he died, however, he tended the pilot's injuries and attempted to dictate the medical and technical details of his various undertakings. Sir Frederick Banting was flown back to Toronto, where he lay in state in Convocation Hall, University of Toronto. He was buried with full military honours at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto. Banting's memory has been honoured in a variety of ways around the world. The high school in Alliston was re-named Banting Memorial High School and a cairn was dedicated on its grounds June 13th, 1954. A historical plaque was erected outside his home in London, Ontario, where the idea for isolating insulin occurred to him. It is also where the "Flame of Hope" burns from a cairn, and when a cure for diabetes is found it will be extinguished. Plaques were also erected outside the Banting Institute at the University of Toronto and at the Banting homestead near Alliston. After Banting's death his widow, Lady Henrietta Ball Banting, entered the medical course at the University of Toronto. Upon graduation in 1945 she was automatically enlisted with the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps. Following the war she completed post-graduate training in obstetrics and gynaecology at London, England, and then taught at University Medical School in Hong Kong. After returning to Canada Lady Banting joined the staff of Women’s College Hospital and accepted the directorship of the Cancer Detection Clinic associated with it. She was active in medical associations and education, and was appointed to the Canadian vice-presidency of the International Federation of Medical Women. Cecilia Edythe Long, an Arts ’32 graduate of UBC, was chairman of the board of the Women’s College Hospital in 1967; and a close friend of Lady Banting.

Custodial history

Most of the records in the collection were acquired by the Alliston Public Library in 1988. It is believed the donation was made by Cecilia Long, longtime companion of Lady Henrietta Banting, widow of Sir Frederick Banting. Material pertaining to Banting was added to the collection by Library staff.

Scope and content

Collection consists of textual and graphic records pertaining to Sir Frederick Grant Banting, 1891-1941, a co-discoverer of insulin; as well as to Lady Henrietta Banting, 1912-1976. Records include newspaper & magazine articles, photographs, pen & ink sketches, an oil painting, and manuscripts of stories Sir Frederick Banting wrote for his son, William. Fonds consists of the following series: Letters, diaries and papers Media clippings Photographs Sketchbooks and paintings

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Collection was acquired for safekeeping from the New Tecumseth Library in 2000.


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Also available in digital form as part of the "Banting Digital Library;" found on the New Tecumseth Public Library's website. URL:

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No further accruals are expected.

General note

All but two of the drawings and photographs are in black and white.

General note

Originally titled the Sir Frederick Banting Papers by the Alliston, now New Tecumseth, Public Library.

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