The late historian, Michael Bliss (1941-2017), characterized Sir Frederick Banting as “Canadian to the Core.” The newest exhibition at Banting House NHSC celebrates the Canadian sesquicentennial by exploring just what Bliss meant. It brings together a collection of Banting’s drawings, diary entries and spoken words, and serves as a reflection on how this noted Canadian experienced his beloved homeland and developed it for the better.
This blog describes 8 things to look for when you visit the exhibition:
- THE INDUSTRIOUS BEAVER
Beaver Dam (c. 1924) is one of the first paintings Banting ever commissioned. It depicts one of Canada’s national animals, a beaver, hard at work against the backdrop of Algonquin Park (Canada’s oldest provincial park, established in 1893). For Banting, this image captured the Canadian spirit and represented his desire to see art and patriotism combined. The original painting was produced by Gordon Eastcott Payne, an artist from Ingersoll. It now resides in the Winnipeg Art Gallery. If you don’t have any immediate plans to visit Manitoba, the exhibition provides an opportunity to see this work up-close.
- THE ICEFIELDS
Ok, so there is no question that this winter provided us with our fair share of snow and ice. But, since the sesquicentennial was an occasion to celebrate Canada, and since Team Canada is rocking the Winter Olympics, maybe we can embrace that which makes us a northern nation. Banting experienced the treacherous conditions of the Arctic regions at the invitation of the Department of the Interior. He joined his friend, and Group of Seven member, A.Y. Jackson, on two northern expeditions. Their drawings documented the ice fields, trading posts, “Eskimo settlements,” and wildlife that they encountered. Banting later used these images as illustrations in published articles that described life in the North and the dangers of arctic navigation.
- THE MAP OF CANADA
Canada is a sprawling nation, and the map at the centre of this exhibition allows us to visualize just how far and wide Banting travelled. In a diary entry from 1928, he wrote, “I must get a map of Canada and draw on it the trips and places I have been.” The exhibition’s map marks the places he went to paint, the locations he visited while on his expeditions and the sites he stopped at during his survey of medical facilities in 1938 and 1939. If this map inspires you to book a cross-country tour or a Canadian stay-cation, Banting would be pleased. He strongly believed that Canadians needed to explore more of their country in order to fully appreciate it. Too bad Via Rail’s Canada 150 Youth Passes were all sold out.
- BANTING VS. THE HUDSON BAY COMPANY
The Hudson Bay Company is known as Canada’s “iconic department store” and oldest company, but it also has a complicated place in the country’s colonial past. Banting saw the North through the examining eyes of a medical doctor. He was concerned about the epidemics that continued to sweep through northern settlements. He criticized Hudson Bay Company for disrupting the traditional subsistence methods of the Inuit people, and thereby threatening their health and well being. To read more of Banting’s viewpoints on the relationships that existed between the HBC and the Inuit peoples, be sure to read the Toronto Star article that hangs in the exhibition.
- THE CNE GATES
The exhibition includes an original program from the Canadian National Exhibition’s Science and International Year (1923). This artifact may be small in scale, but its charm is undeniable. Its cover features the art of Stanley F. Turner, a notable Canadian artist, who is also represented in the National Gallery of Canada. Turner’s work depicts the CNE gates; it captures all of the excitement and anticipation that goes along with attending the “Ex,” Canada’s largest annual fair.
- THE CNE CROWD
Wow look at that crowd! A grouping of about 76 500 people makes quite the sight! Banting was invited to give the opening address at the CNE in 1923. While he rarely enjoyed being the centre of attention, he agreed to speak on this occasion as a way to bring science closer to the Canadian people. Banting gave numerous speeches on the topics of Canadian industry, medicine and research. The exhibition contains many more artifacts relating to his opinions on Canada’s medical facilities, natural resources and wartime preparations.
- BANTING’S MINING SHACK
Banting House exhibits an impressive selection of Banting’s original artworks in the gallery on its second floor. It even displays some of Banting’s earliest artworks, created in London. Mining Shack, however, is usually not on display—kept safely in the collection storage room. It is definitely a must-see of the exhibition. Paintings like this one tell the story of Banting as an artist. He travelled with A.Y. Jackson to many scenic Canadian locations, and became influenced by the style of the Group of Seven painters. Working en plein air, he became ever more familiar with the Canadian climate and the country’s landscapes.
- THE REST OF THE MUSEUM
This one should be obvious. There is so much more to discover in the permanent exhibitions at Banting House NHSC. Plus, the museum has that warm, welcoming feel that goes along with being inside one of London’s older homes. Learn more about Banting’s time as a military surgeon, his struggles as a family doctor in London, the discovery of insulin, and the history of diabetes. Then share your thoughts about the museum and Banting’s Canada in the guestbook, in the comment section below, or on Twitter (@BantingHouse).
This post was written by Banting House Advisory Committee Member, Stephanie Radu. Stephanie has a PhD in Art & Visual Culture from The University of Western Ontario and has volunteered with the museum in a variety of capacities since 2014.