Seventy-five years ago last month on December 20th, 1943 the S.S. Frederick Banting was launched from Baltimore, Maryland. This ship was built in thirty-one days by the Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyards Inc. and measured 500 feet long, weighed 10,000 tons, and cost $2,000,000 to construct. This was part of the U.S. Liberty ship programme which in 1941 opened 18 new shipyards around the United States to quickly build cargo ships to be used to move supplies for the anticipated American involvement in the Second World War. In 1943, the S.S. Frederick Banting was christened by its namesake’s widow, Lady Henrietta Banting, who at the time was in her fifth year of medical school and was a private in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps. Dr. Charles Best, the co-discoverer of insulin, also attended the formal christening ceremony.
Reports by Canadian press of Banting’s name being honoured on this ship called it a symbol of the strong bilateral relationship between Canada and the United States. This marked the first time that a name of an individual not from the United States was chosen for one of these ships. An exception was made because of Banting’s “great service to humanity”. Dr. H.J. Cody, president of the University of Toronto, stated that the naming of the ship represented “an outward and visible sign of the union.” A letter to the editor in the Montreal Gazette by L. Ouellet praised the U.S. for honouring Banting in this way while also calling Canada’s independence into question by stating that, “we have no flag, […] nor have we any way of keeping the memory of our celebrities and heroes alive.”
The S.S. Frederick Banting sailed from January 19th, 1944 to December 18th, 1945 supplying everything from food to ammunition to the American soldiers. The ship sailed independently and part of convoys to ports in North America, Africa, Asia and Europe. JFW Mitchell, captain of the ship during this time, described the S.S. Frederick Banting as “a good ship that served me well”. He recalled how difficult it was to sail in the areas of the Mediterranean sea where they voyaged at night through narrow channels with no lighthouses or signals to guide them. When they passed the Greek and Albanian coasts they could see the German soldiers on shore. Though there were many close calls the ship survived large storms and attacks.
Lady Banting gifted a painting by Frederick Banting entitled St. Tites des Caps to be displayed on the ship during the war. This same painting is currently on display at Banting House NHSC for the public the view.
The S.S. Frederick Banting was sold to a private owner in 1947 and was later scrapped in 1969. The ship acted as a symbol of the impact of the discovery of insulin and helped to spread Sir Frederick Banting’s name around the world.
This post was written by Rachel Delle Palme, Graduate Research Assistant at
Banting House NHSC. Rachel is currently completing her M.A. in Public History at