Frederick Banting was born on 14 November 1891 on the Banting farm just outside of Alliston, Ontario; the youngest of William Thompson Banting and Margaret Grant’s five children. After attending public and high school in Alliston Banting entered the Arts program at Victoria College, University of Toronto where he struggled with, among other subjects, spelling and languages, and consequently failed his first year. He re-enrolled, but soon petitioned to switch to the School of Medicine, hoping to become an Orthopaedic Surgeon.
In 1914, Banting tried twice to enlist in the army, but was rejected due to his poor eyesight. In order to supply the army with medical officers though, the last year of Banting’s medical education was condensed. The class that was meant to graduate in 1917 instead graduated in 1916, and all except the four women immediately enlisted as medical officers in the Canadian army.
Banting found himself on the front lines during the last 100 days of the war. Despite being order to evacuate when a piece of shrapnel lodged itself in his right arm, he remained in the front-line aid stations tending to other wounded soldiers. For his actions and “pluck,” Banting was awarded the Military Cross.
After demobilizationm and with no available staff positions at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, Banting was advised to open a private practice in London, Ontario. He moved to 442 Adelaide St North in London in July 1920. When his practice failed to support him financially, he began performing lectures and surgical demonstrations at the new medical school at Western University.
In the fall of 1920, Banting was asked to give a lecture on the pancreas and metabolism. Openly admitting his lack of knowledge on the subject, Banting took out all the books he could find on the subject and read articles in surgical journals to adequately prepare himself. It was one such article which inspired him. At 2:00 A.M. on the morning of 31 October 1920, after “the lecture and article had been chasing each other through [his] mind for some time,” Banting woke up and wrote down the 25 word hypothesis that would permanently cement him in the minds of people everywhere as the man who discovered insulin. Soon after, in May 1921, Banting returned to Toronto where he could have access to the facilities he needed to pursue his diabetes research.
His time in London had not been completely wasted. Upon seeing a painting in a store-front window and telling himself he could probably do better, Banting took up painting. He would later become close friends with A.Y. Jackson, and took numerous trips with him for the purpose of painting the Canadian landscape. The influence of Jackson and the rest of the Group of Seven is apparent in many of Banting’s later works. Painting became Banting’s preferred method of escape and relaxation as his professional life progressively became more stressful and demanding.
In 1923, Banting was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work with insulin. He would continue to be honoued with gold medals and honourary degrees for his insulin research throughout his life. Banting left diabetes research in the mid-1920s, and for a few years remained determined to make a discovery which would rival insulin’s significance and fame. He became the head of the Banting and Best Department of Medical Research at the University of Toronto and was always a force to be reckoned with in the support of medical research all over Canada. In 1934, Banting was knighted by King George V. In the 1930s and during the Second World War, he served as head of both the Canadian Associate Committee on Aviation Medicine Research and the Canadian Associate Committee on Medical Research.
In 1941, Banting was set to go to Great Britain in order to discuss the transfer of certain research projects to Canada due to the fear that Britain would fall to Germany. In order to make the journey as quickly as possible, he decided to fly on a flight ferrying bomber planes from Newfoundland to Britain. Until very recently, the planes had been shipped over on boats. Banting’s plane took off from Gander, Newfoundland. When one engine failed, the plane turned around. When the second failed it went down at Seven Mile Pound. Sir Frederick Banting died on 21 February 1941.
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