The Road to Designation

Did you know that it took Banting House three tries to become designated by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada as a National Historic Site? A National Historic Site of Canada is a place that has “direct association with a nationally significant aspect of Canadian history.” An average of 70 new sites are nominated, usually by the local community, to the board every year. The site must meet a long list of criteria to be considered by the board.  Once a site is under consideration a staff member from Parks Canada’s Archaeology and History Branch researches the historical context to make suggestions on whether it should receive designation or not. Banting House’s road to designation at both the federal and provincial levels started in 1923 and continues to the present.

In 1923, a newspaper article from the Detroit Free Press called the house the “birthplace of insulin”. The same article recommended the house be turned into a museum and a historic plaque be established to recognize the significance of the place. The call to turn the house into a museum was answered 66 years later on October 20, 1984 by the Canadian Diabetes Association. The doctor’s office, kitchen, dispensary, and bedroom were restored to reflect how they looked when Banting lived in the house between 1920-1921. The remaining rooms were used as offices for the London branch of the Canadian Diabetes Association until an addition was added to the back of the house a few years later.

1923 paper
An image of the original newspaper from 1923 that called the house the “birthplace of insulin”.

The first historic plaque to be mounted at Banting House was from the Historic Sites Commitee at the London Public Library. It was unveiled on October 30th, 1970 by Dr. Henrietta Banting, Sir Frederick Banting’s widow, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the birth of insulin. The plaque read, “Sir Frederick Banting conceived the idea that led to the discovery of insulin in this house on Oct. 30, 1920. This plaque erected 1970 by the London Public Library Board.” The date on both the plaque and the day they celebrated the 50th anniversary are both incorrect. Banting actually conceived the idea of insulin at 2:00AM on October 31st, 1920. This plaque was replaced 30 years later with the correct date.

library-plaque.jpg
The historic plaque from the London Public Library.

Throughout the 1980s, staff and volunteers at Banting House applied for designation at both the provincial and federal levels numerous times. The site was denied as it was deemed “not of national historic or architectural significance”. The lengthy report written in 1983 by a staff member at the Ontario Heritage Foundation called the site only significant to London and the surrounding area. The report recommended against restoring the rooms to turn the house into a museum as they believed it would not receive many visitors.

The 1997 application for national designation pointed out inaccuracies in the provincial report to successfully prove national significance of the site.  The team was able to prove that the house had a direct connection to the “defining moment in Dr. Banting’s life, and the beginning of a dramatic research trajectory that led to the discovery of insulin”. Furthermore, they pointed out that Banting House is the only extant structure associated with Dr. Frederick Banting between 1920 and 1921.

The National Historic Site of Canada plaque was unveiled on July 7th, 1999 by Their Excellencies The Right Honourable Governor General Romeo LeBlanc and Mrs. Dianna Fowler LeBlanc.

Unveiling of plaque (3)
Governor General Romeo LeBlanc unveiling the National Historic Site of Canada plaque and Banting House NHSC.

The National Historic Plaque reads:

“Here, in the early morning hours of October 31, 1920, Dr. Frederick Banting conceived an idea for research that led to the discovery of insulin. He believed that diabetes, then a fatal disease, could be treated by a substance extracted from a dog’s atrophied pancreas. Banting was the pivotal member of the Toronto team that isolated and refined this extract, now known as insulin. In January 1922, insulin showed spectacular test results and became a lifesaving therapy worldwide. Banting House, known as the “Birthplace of Insulin”, reminds us of the most important Canadian medical discovery of the 20th century.”

National Plaque
The plaque in Sir Frederick Banting Square that recognizes the National Historic Site designation of Banting House.

Banting House NHSC also received provincial designation as a heritage property, however it has not yet been designated at the provincial level for being the site of the event of the “birth of insulin”. 

 

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
Western University.

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