Making Medicare:  The History of Health Care in Canada, 1914-2007 Back to Timeline Back to Timeline
Key Players: 1914-1929 Key Players: 1914-1929 Key Players: 1930-1939


Newton Rowell

Born near Arva, Ontario, Newton Wesley Rowell (1867–1941) was a lawyer, politician and judge. He led the Ontario Liberal Party from 1911 to 1917, and became known for his commitment to Prohibition and urban reform. Rowell’s strong support of conscription led him to campaign for it in 1917, and he served in Prime Minister Borden’s Cabinet from 1917 to 1920. In 1919, when Rowell introduced the act to create the federal Department of Health, he stated: “This Bill is of very great importance. It is not a new departure in the sense of the Federal Parliament legislating on public health; ever since Confederation we have legislated on various aspects of the question. But it is a new departure in the emphasis which it places upon the conservation of the health of the people and upon their social welfare” (Canada, House of Commons Debates, Hansard [April 4, 1919], pp. 1174–75). On July 1, 1919, Rowell became the first federal Minister of Health and moved swiftly to focus attention on creating the Dominion Council of Health and organizing his department’s activities. However, Rowell left Parliament in 1921 and returned to law, becoming President of the Canadian Bar Association in 1932 and Chief Justice of Ontario in 1936. In 1937, he was appointed to chair the Royal Commission on Dominion–Provincial Relations to study “the economic and financial basis of Confederation and the distribution of legislative powers in light of the economic and social developments of the last seventy years” (John L. Finlay and Douglas N. Sprague, The Structure of Canadian History [Scarborough, Ontario: Prentice-Hall Canada Inc., 2000], p. 401). Although Rowell had to resign from the commission in 1938 due to ill health, his advocacy of government support for health care contributed to the creation of medicare.

Appointed in 1919, Newton Wesley Rowell was the first federal minister of health.

Appointed in 1919, Newton Wesley Rowell was the first federal minister of health. Photograph dated 1914–1919.
Library and Archives Canada, Department of National Defence, PA-005109

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