Grand River Branch
United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada
Selected Reprints from the
Grand River Branch Newsletter, Branches
"The Scarcity of Surgeons and Doctors In Early Canadian Loyalist Times"
Angela E.M. Files, May 2000, Vol.12 No.1, Pages 5-6
"In 1760, the beginning of the British regime in Canada, there was an influx of military surgeons who had trained in British medical schools."1 The historical records of that period of time show that there was a great scarcity of both surgeons and doctors although some men continued to practice medicine after they retired from military service.
With the influx of Loyalist pioneers in Upper Canada there were few members of the medical profession who left the confines of their American homes to flee and serve in Canada. The medical needs of our Loyalist pioneers were first served by army surgeons who were attached to the various British regiments quartered throughout Canada.
These were crude, for at that time the life of a doctor was surrounded with ideas of quackery and superstition, ignorance and the ills of poverty. Two of the popular medical practices of the day were blood letting which permitted blood to escape from the body in order to drive away impurities and disease; and the use of leeches clinging on a wound to heal it. Patent medicines, fortified with touches of liquor or drugs, guaranteed to cure all ills, were sold by wandering peddlers.
In the days of our Loyal ancestors, the healing arts were still in a primitive state. "Neophyte physicians learned their limited skills from their predecessors whom they served as apprentices. Most medical practitioners were located in a few urban centres leaving the people of the rural areas to fend for themselves."2
Some of the military physicians, surgeons and hospital mates who served during the influx of Loyalists were: Dr. Charles Blake, Surgeon, 34 Regiment; Dr. David Burns, Surgeon, 71st Regiment Queen's Rangers; James Connor, Surgeon's Hospital Mate; Dr. John Gamble, Surgeon New Queen's Rangers; York (private physician of Joseph Brant); Dr. Robert Guthrie, Surgeon, Butler's Rangers; Solomon Jones, Surgeon's Mate, Loyal Rangers; Dr. George Smythe, Surgeon, Loyal Rangers; Dr. Sparham, served in the war of 1763; James Stewart, Surgeon's Mate; Dr. Thomas Wright, Surgeon, First Battalion.
One of the interesting surgeons of this area in southern Ontario was Dr. Robert Kerr, a British army surgeon of the Second Battalion of Sir John Johnson's Royal New Yorkers, who settled at Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake) after the American Revolution. Dr. Kerr married Elizabeth Brant, a daughter of Sir William Johnson and Molly Brant. Their eldest son, William Johnson Kerr married Elizabeth Brant, youngest daughter of Chief Joseph Brant and his third wife, Catherine (Adonwentishon).
Through military records we learn that Dr. Robert Kerr, along with Dr. Kames Muirhead of the Royal Regiment, saved the lives of countless pioneers, soldiers and Natives through their extensive innoculation program against the highly contagious disease, small pox.
Dr. James MacAulay (1752 - 1822) Queen's Rangers, York, innoculated 100 Mississauga Natives for small pox which was rampant among the Natives.
Many Loyalists were unable to visit doctors and surgeons at Niagara or York so they were left without any professional medical care. With the arrival of immigrants from the British Isles and the United States in the first half of the nineteenth century, more Americans and British medical personnel appeared on the Canadian scene and the Grand River area of Ontario.
Communities are still plagued with the shortage of surgeons and doctors. Our own community in the lower Grand River is short by more than 20, but we are able to obtain medical treatment and service by travelling to other communities because of our modern system of transportation. This is a luxury that was not afforded to our early pioneer ancestors.
1Bishan, Bernard R., Doctors in Canada
Heagerty, J. J., The Romance of Medicine in Canada, Ryerson Press, p. 86
2Short, S. E. D., Medicine in Canadian Society: Historical Perspectives, McGill-Queen's University Press, Montréal, Kingston, 1981, p.11