Born in Toronto, John Andrew Amyot (1867–1940) was a surgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital from 1894 to 1900, pathology lecturer, public health activist and Professor of Preventive Medicine and Hygiene at the University of Toronto from 1905 to 1919, military officer from 1915 to 1918, and first federal Deputy Minister of Health from 1919 to 1932. From the 1890s on, he campaigned vigorously to bring pure water and pasteurized milk to Ontarians, and in 1912–1913 was a member of the International Joint Commission that examined water pollution in the Great Lakes. He saw distinguished service as Chief Sanitary Officer for the Canadian Corps and the British Army and was a highly regarded choice as the federal department’s first administrative head.
In a speech to his medical colleagues at the 1927 Medical Services Conference, Amyot asked, “Do we want state medicine?” and then proceeded to point out: “The wealthy can now get hospital treatment and facilities applied and exact knowledge brought to bear on their illnesses as never before in the world’s history. The same is available for the poor, but what of that great body — the mid-financially-placed? You know the causes of this as well as I. Can they be met?” (Second Conference on Medical Services in Canada, House of Commons, March 28th, 29th, 30th, 1927 [Ottawa: F. A. Acland, King’s Printer, 1928], p. 21). Amyot was indicating that health insurance merited serious consideration by all levels of government and the medical profession. His colleagues and his son, Dr. Gregoire Amyot, Vancouver’s Medical Officer of Health and then British Columbia’s Chief Medical Officer from 1939 to 1962, would develop the concept further.