At Banting House in London, Ontario, there’s a map of the world on the wall. Hundreds of push pins with brightly coloured tops are stuck into various countries of the world.
“These are the countries our visitors come from,” says Grant Maltman, Curator of Banting House. The National Historic Site honours the memory of Dr. Frederick Banting, the co-discoverer of insulin.
The biggest cluster of pins covers the map of Canada. It’s followed by the U.S and The United Kingdom. But the pins show visitors from the nations of Africa, the Middle East, South America, the Far East and Australia.
Many of the visitors are diabetics, says Grant, come to pay homage to the great man who saved their lives, and of others who went before them.
As visitors walk through the museum–once the home and medical office of Dr. Banting, they enter his small bedroom and immediately head for the bed. Some touch it reverently; others sit on it. For many, the experience brings tears to their eyes.
“People who come to visit us, especially those with diabetes just feel a need to sit on the bed, to have that connection to Dr. Banting,” says Grant Maltman.
With no diabetes in my family, or friends, I still followed this ritual. And I was moved. Dr. Frederick Banting is my hero.
For this was the very bed where Dr. Banting, an insomniac, worried about his unsuccessful medical practice and consumed by a burning desire to find the cure for the ravages of diabetes, had a blinding epiphany.
It was here in the dead of one sleepless night, pouring over his medical textbooks in bed, he unlocked the insulin secret, hitherto undiscovered.
Visitors to Banting House can read Banting’s hand-written diary entry of October 31, 1920 that describes what transpired on that fateful night.
It was one of those nights when I was disturbed and could not sleep…Finally about two in the morning, the idea came to me…I got up and wrote down the idea and spent most of the night thinking about it.
Banting’s idea was that extracting insulin from a dog’s pancreas might be useful in treating human diabetes. He scribbled down a 24 word formula and made plans to share it with the medical world.
Photos and letters on the walls of Banting House tell other stories. A child, no more than five or six, little frame wasted, his face pinched and drawn stands before the camera. Diabetes has ravaged his body and taken away his boyish spirit.
A second image shows the child again. Robust, smiling and spirited, he rides his tricycle and looks confidently at the world.
Between the two photos is a letter from the boy to Dr. Banting.
Dear Dr. Banting:
I wish you could come to see me. I am a fat boy now and I can climb a tree. Margaret would like to see you.
Lots of love from
A stroll through Banting House will show you the examining room where the treated his patients. But there were so few of them. One week he counted one–a World War 1 veteran looking for alcohol.
His medical tools—tweezers, needles, forceps and stethoscope–are there too. So seldom were they used, that the good doctor bought himself some oil paints, a few brushes and canvass to fill the long hours waiting for patients to come. His failure drove him to despair—and into debt.
Then one memorable night, the insulin epiphany came—and Dr. Fred Banting’s life irrevocably changed. So did the world’s…
Many visitors to Banting House are surprised when they enter a second floor room to see an art gallery. The art displayed is Dr. Frederick Banting’s.
After Banting closed his London practice and moved to Toronto, he took up the hobby in earnest, rubbing shoulders with the Group of Seven. Group founder A.Y. Jackson became Banting’s friend and mentor. A photo of friends Alex and Fred draws many comments from visitors.
Dr. Frederick Banting’s War Medals, his Knighthood which made this shy country doctor from Allison, Ontario a “Sir,” and a replica of his Nobel Prize for Medicine are also on display.
Outside Banting House an eternal flame burns. It was lit by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother when she visited London in 1989. The flame burns as a reminder that insulin is only a treatment, not a cure for diabetes. When a cure if found, the flame will be extinguished.
Banting House was designated a National Historic Site in 1997.
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