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A Move to Higher Ground

James Rutka
James Rutka

After more than 80 years of continuous occupancy on the third floor of the Banting Institute at 100 College Street West, on March 21st, 2013, the Department of Surgery moved its offices to the 5th and 6th floors of the Stewart Building, at 149 College Street West. Both the occupancy at the Banting, and the move to the Stewart Building can be construed as historic at this time for the reasons I will outline below.

Many of you will remember that Sir Frederick Banting trained initially as a surgeon in the Department of Surgery before becoming totally immersed in the project to discover insulin - the lifesaving hormone from the endocrine pancreas used to treat diabetes. Following the discovery of insulin in May 1923 by Banting and Charles Best, the Province of Ontario passed the Banting and Best Medical Research Act providing annual funding to the Board of Governors at the University to establish the Banting and Best Research Fund. This enabled the creation of the Banting and Best Chair of Medical Research, of which Banting was the first holder and the first research professor in Canada (1). In 1928, the University agreed to provide space for both basic and applied research for the physicians at the Toronto General Hospital (TGH), and this space became the “Banting Institute” across the street from TGH.

The Banting Institute was opened on September 16th, 1930. At the time of its opening, the Banting Institute was large enough to house many Departments including Pathology and Bacteriology, Pathological Chemistry, Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Ophthalmology, Otolaryngology, and Surgery. Lord Moynihan of Leeds, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, gave the opening address, and unveiled a portrait of Joseph Lister that had been given to the College by two former house surgeons who worked with Lister, Dr’s F Lem. Grasset, and Dr H. St. George Baldwin. In the same room as the portrait at the Banting Institute was a brick removed from Lister’s Ward in the Old Glasgow Royal Infirmary, under which there was a suitable inscription which reads “A brick from Lister’s Ward in the Royal Infirmary, Glasgow, presented by Professor Irving H. Cameron”. Professor Cameron was a distinguished Canadian surgeon on the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto, and one of the founders and early editors of the Canadian Journal of Medical Sciences. Those of you who have spent time at the Banting in the Department of Surgery’s 3rd floor offices will recall seeing both the portrait of Lister, and the brick inscribed by Professor Cameron.

The Department of Surgery at the Banting was confined to limited office space until the tenure of Donald R Wilson as Chair (1972-82). Dr Wilson created and developed the boardroom and the Chair’s office that remained in place until 2013. Over the years, the Department of Surgery managed to acquire additional office space for the Postgraduate and Undergraduate Medical Education efforts, and for some of the Divisions including General Surgery, Orthopaedics, and Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. But these offices were not contiguous, and were on different floors than the Chair’s office.

I can distinctly remember meeting with Dr Bernard Langer, Chair of the Department of Surgery (1982-92), at the Banting when I was a resident in neurosurgery in the 1980’s. I recall the dark wood paneling of the Chair’s Office, and the heavyset furniture within, reminiscences of a bygone era in academic medicine and surgery. It was soon after I became Chair in 2011 that Dean Catharine Whiteside informed me that the Department of Surgery must leave the Banting Institute. But where? Interestingly, all the Chairs since Bernard Langer had been told the same thing about the requirement to leave the Banting Institute.

Thankfully, the Dean identified space for the Department of Surgery on the 5th and 6th Floors of the Stewart Building which was built in 1894 by John Beverley Robinson, former Mayor of Toronto and Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. An amateur boxer, John Robinson converted the initial building into the Toronto Athletic Club. From 1931 – 1957, the Stewart Building served as the Toronto Police Headquarters, and from 1979 – 1997, it became the second campus of the Ontario College of Art and Design. Currently, the Stewart Building is primarily occupied by the offices of the Rotman School of Management of the University of Toronto.

Surgery Staff

The Surgery staff in our lofty new location.

I hope all of you will come visit us in our new space. In the Stewart Building, we are situated all together in one large space which provides a degree of cohesiveness and camaraderie that was not possible at the Banting. In addition, you will be pleased to know, we have found a home for the magnificent portrait of Lister which has made the journey from the Banting Institute!

James T Rutka,
RS McLaughlin Professor and Chair

1. Shorter, N, Partnership for Excellence: Medicine at the University of Toronto and Academic Hospitals, In Press, 2013

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