Born in Montréal, Dr. John J. Heagerty (1879–1946) graduated from the Medical Faculty at McGill University in 1905 and spent the following year travelling around the world as a ship’s surgeon. His studies had included learning about tropical diseases and the German health insurance system. After several years in private practice, Heagerty joined the federal government as a bacteriologist at Quebec in 1911, earned his doctorate in public health at McGill in 1912 and served as head of the Venereal Disease Control Division of the federal health department from 1921 to 1928. That year he published his two-volume study, Four Centuries of Medical History in Canada (Toronto: Macmillan, 1928) and became the Chief Executive Assistant to the Deputy Minister of Health. He used this position to begin to study health insurance in response to requests from the Commons Committee on Industrial and International Relations and the Canadian Medical Association.
Through the 1930s, he received little encouragement from ministers of health but, as he had argued in 1930: “The cost of sickness today is so great that it is practically impossible for the average wage earner to obtain necessary medical aid. It is an increasingly important question and while other countries have solved the problem by the institution of health insurance schemes, Canada has not yet offered any suggestions on the question” (Canada, Library and Archives Canada, Record Group 29, Vol. 1062, File 502-1-1, Part 1, “Health Insurance Urged for Canada,” Alexandria Times [September 12, 1930]). With his appointment as Director of Public Health Services in 1937, Heagerty finally had the opportunity to begin planning a national health insurance program.