I often went for walks when I visited my parents after they retired to Palmerston, a small town in southwestern Ontario. One day, shortly after their move, while out getting to know the town, I came across a historical plaque situated very close to their home. On reading the plaque, I was fascinated to discover that it was in honour of Dr. Alexander Stewart. a local physician. I had often heard my mother speak highly of this family and was interested to learn why the doctor was remembered in this way.
Canada was known as having played an important part in the area of vaccination production, Toronto ‘s Connaught Lab being highly respected in this field. But I discovered that this expertise was not limited to the big cities, but had taken place right next door to my parents’ new home as Dr. Steward was the first to produce smallpox vaccine in Ontario when in 1885, he established the Ontario Vaccine Farm which originally consisted of a converted barn. There Dr. Stewart Stewart used government-approved methods for obtaining and processing vaccine from inoculated calves. This took place during the time that smallpox outbreaks were recurring. Large quantities were sold to local health boards to prevent further spread of the disease.
By 1907, some 22 years later, most of the vaccine used in Ontario was from American farms but Dr. Stewart had new plans which resulted in the construction of buildings that housed a lab as well as an operating room.
After his death in 1911, Dr. H.B. Coleman continued the work for 5 years, until 1916, when it was turned over to the Antitoxin Lab at the University of Toronto.
I arrived back to my parents’ place, inspired and encouraged by how one person can make the world a better place by using his/her talents.
To learn more about the Connaught Lab and it’s work in the field of virology, get Grounded: Activity Book. Once you have it, go to page 27 to see how Connaught Lab was involved with the polio vaccine.