NORMAN BETHUNE MEMORIAL HOUSE
Memorial House and plaque, 235 John St., Gravenhurst
An internationally-famed humanitarian, surgeon and revolutionary, Norman Bethune was born in this house in 1890. Thirty-two years and 11 months after his death in 1939 in China, the Canadian government opened his home as a memorial site and paid tribute to Norman Bethune as “a Canadian of national historic significance”. A rich display of the major events and places that figured in his life is on exhibit.
Bethune was a pioneer champion of socialized medical care in Canada. As a leading Montreal surgeon he had long dedicated himself to innovative procedures and a social imperative in using his skills to heal people regardless of their income level. In 1935 Bethune organized a group of like-minded doctors, nurses and others concerned with health care to study the possibility of introducing socialized medicine in Canada. The Montreal Group for the Security of the People’s Health produced a series of pilot plan trials, but their pioneer work fell on the deaf ears of government and the conservative medical profession itself.
On 17 April 1936 in a formal address, “Medical Care and Modern Society”, Bethune outlined his proposal to members of the Montreal Medico-Chirurgical Society: “The protection of the people’s health should be recognized by the Government as its primary obligation and duty to its citizens. Let us take the profit, the private economic profit, out of medicine, and purify our profession of rapacious individuals. Let us make it disgraceful to enrich ourselves at the expense of the miseries of our fellow man . . . . Let us re-define medical ethics - not as a code of professional etiquette between doctors, but as a code of fundamental morality and justice between medicine and the people”. Much of his early story is told in the remarkable memoir Bethune:The Montreal Years (1978).