Making Medicare:  The History of Health Care in Canada, 1914-2007 Back to Timeline Back to Timeline
History: 1914-1929 ORIGINS, 1914–1929 DEPRESSION DEVELOPMENTS, 1930–1939



Medical Education and Medical Practice

In 1914, Canada had eight medical schools with 1,792 students in all. That year, 321 doctors graduated, the majority of whom went into private practice as general practitioners. Only the elite continued on to pursue specialist studies, usually in Great Britain, the United States or Western Europe. As the following chart demonstrates, in 1914 Canada’s medical practitioners, like the population at large, were unevenly distributed across the country.

Province Number Ratio to population
British Columbia 547 1:783
Alberta 429 1:999
Saskatchewan 427 1:1,312
Manitoba 444 1:1,130
Ontario 2,911 1:907
Québec 1,940 1:1,086
New Brunswick 256 1:1,415
Nova Scotia 433 1:1,158
Newfoundland 105 1:2,367
Prince Edward Island 79 1:1,167
Territories 6 1:2,358
CANADA 7,472 1:1,024

A similar pattern held true for hospitals, nurses, dentists and other health professionals. Long-established provinces had numerous public general hospitals, and Catholic nursing orders had directed health care activities in Hotels-Dieu since the first one opened in Québec City in 1639. Leading cities such as Toronto, Montréal and Halifax had large modern hospitals that were closely linked to their university medical faculties. These “ medical workshops” were increasingly attractive to middle- and upper-class patients, who began to move childbirth and surgery out of their homes and into sterile, scientific surroundings staffed by experts.

Photo: Doctor's bag, from the Museum of Health Care at Kingston

In the early 1900s, the instruments a doctor needed to examine and treat patients could fit into a single bag. Most of Canada’s doctors were general practitioners who made house calls at any time of the day or night.
From the Museum of Health Care at Kingston, 1970.9.1. Used with permission.

On the Prairies, newly established communities banded together to obtain medical and hospital services similar to those their members had left behind. In 1916, Saskatchewan amended the Rural Municipality Act to permit communities to hire doctors on contract, and this initiative resulted in 32 municipalities with municipal doctors by 1932. But only one of those doctors had a hospital work in; the rest were on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week and went to their patients’ homes by car, horse and buggy, or sleigh to provide care. In rural areas in other provinces, general practitioners continued to make house calls, to deliver babies and to conduct operations for relatively limited remuneration but apparently great psychological satisfaction in learning about life through the doctor–patient relationship. As Dr. Alton Goldbloom observed: “The compensations are inherent in the craft” because general practice is person-centred (“My First Fifty Years in Medicine,” Maclean’s Magazine 76 [February 23, 1963]: 37.

Photo: sterile operating room

This gleaming sterile operating room, where nurses observe experts at work in 1924, is at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto. People who could afford it increasingly chose to go to a modern hospital.
St. Michael’s Hospital Archives, NS-3. From Christina Bates, Dianne Dodd and Nicole Rousseau, eds., On All Frontiers: Four Centuries of Canadian Nursing (Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2005), p. 210.

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    Date Created: March 31, 2010 | Last Updated: April 21, 2010