08 September 2010

Belleville’s James Bertram Collip

Article written by George Pearce and first published in Volume 253 of the Hastings County Historical Society's magazine "Outlook" - reproduced with permission. 

July 2010 presented an opportunity for Hastings County Historical Society member and volunteer research worker, George Pearce, to visit Edmonton, Alberta where James Bertram Collip (J.B.C.) began his career as a “lecturer” at the University of Alberta, circa 1914 - 15.

The purpose of the visit was to accumulate archival material from that area to place in a J.B.C. file here at the Belleville and Hastings County Archives that is currently in the redevelopment phase.

In addition, the information might serve as a future data base for a recommendation from HCHS to Heritage Belleville to consider a commemorative for James Collip who is well respected in medical research organizations as probably Canada’s most outstanding medical research figure of the twentieth century. (Background literature has been provided in an earlier submission).

In addition to those references, the book titled “J.B. Collip, and the Development of Medical Research in Canada” by Alison Li has now been received and is being studied. The book’s subtitle is “Extracts and Enterprise” (published circa 2003), McGill-Queens Press.

It appears that history has somewhat understated the role of Collip, a rather shy and reserved person, with respect to his importance among the insulin collaborators who made their discoveries in Toronto in 1921 - 22.

J.B.C.’s daughter told the writer that her father always stated — “he sought knowledge rather than fame.”  (Telephone conversation with Dr. Barbara Collip [Mrs. C.J. Wyatt] and Dr. George Pearce, June 23, 2010). Furthermore, J.B. Collip always maintained that historians would clarify controversial matters in time.

Collip’s profile has been elevated by medical historians such as G. Lloyd Stevenson, Michael Bliss, Alison Li, Francis Dworshak and others who have written books and articles about him and which have noted the roles of earlier researchers regarding the role of the pancreas in diabetes.

It seems that the Nobel Award in Medicine and Physiology in 1923 did not cover the efforts of Collip adequately. However, this is gradually being amended by historians.

With the foregoing in mind this writer welcomed the opportunity to visit Edmonton and gather archival material from the location of Collip’s early employment.

It was possible on this visit to meet with Alberta’s representative on the “Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada,” Dr. Roderick Charles Macleod, and with Ray V. Rajotte, Professor of Surgery and Medicine, and Director Surgical Medical Research Institute. These men hold appointments at the University of Alberta and assisted with suggestions and references. Visits were also possible to University of Alberta Archives, Province of Alberta Archives, Offices of the Alberta Medical Association, and Edmonton Public Library. The information collected is being reviewed and will be available shortly.

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