History of surgery in British Columbia

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Dr. Alexander Stewart Monro, VGH surgeon, Canadian Medical Association President, 1930-1931 (wearing CMA presidential badge)
(more information here)
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Last Update

This entry is out of date, and will not be updated, June 2017


See also Avicenna | Galen | History of surgery in Canada | Maimonides | Osler Library of the History of Medicine

This pathfinder is a gathering place for materials supporting a project about the history of surgery in British Columbia since about the middle of the 19th century but more specifically a history leading up to and including the UBC surgery department from its early years of development in the 1940s up to the present day. However, keep in mind that many of these resources look beyond British Columbia to historical sources relevant to Canada, the United States and elsewhere. For more information, please contact: dean.giustini@ubc.ca


To search for articles in the historical literature before 1940, see NLM's IndexCat.

  • "...contains a decided emphasis on Canadian medicine, which the author acknowledges ("...unapologetically aimed at Canadians..." p. 8). For example, we learn that the genetic hematologic disturbance, Christmas disease, is named after a five-year-old Canadian patient, Stephen Christmas. Each bibliography contains a separate section for Canadian resources. ...the broad scope of the book, combined with the author's enthusiasm and impressive scholarship, make it an excellent choice as a textbook for any history of Western medicine course, Canadian or not..."

General surgery websites

Historyofsurgery.ca is an online, open-access archive of Canadian surgery. Articles that have been published elsewhere are posted with the permission of the copyright holders. Citation should be made to the journal in which the articles were first published.

Surgeons in BC since 1800

Important but somewhat peripheral figures

Prominent figures

  • Dr. Alexander Stewart Monro (1872-1932) (photo above right)
  • A history of members of the medical profession in the province from 1778 to 1931
  • McKechnie RE. Strong medicine: history of healing on the Northwest Coast. JJ Douglas Ltd, Vancouver, 1972.

Since 1950 & founding of UBC Faculty of Medicine

  • joined VGH in 1948; served as Head of the Department of Surgery in the Faculty of Medicine at UBC and Chief of Surgery at Vancouver General Hospital from 1976 to 1981
  • Dr. Doris Kavanagh-Gray became the first female cardiologist at St. Paul’s hospital in 1959
  • Dr. A.D. Mackenzie 1959- (see page 2)
  • Dr. Robert Cameron Harrison, 1966 -
    Surgical ward of Vancouver General Hospital, 190?
  • Dr. Frank Porter Patterson (1976 - 1981)
  • Dr. Wally Chung (1981 - 1990)
  • Dr. Madeline Chung - (1955, BC's first female obstetrician and gynecologist)
Other firsts
  • Dr. Frank Turnball (first VGH brain surgeon 1933 - monograph);
  • Dr. Austin B. Shinbein at UBC Shaughnessy Hospital (first known heart operation in BC, a pericardiectomy, 1933);
  • Dr. Peter Lehmann (1st surgical Rx of Parkinson's in 60s);
  • Dr. Ian Turnbull (stereotaxic framing for Parkinson's);
  • Dr. Robert Langston, first in British Columbia to specialize in plastic surgery.
  • in 1968, the first kidney transplant in British Columbia was performed at Vancouver General Hospital. (1)
  • in 1988, the first heart transplant in BC was performed by Dr. Virginia Gudas at VGH (2) followed by liver and lung transplants in 1989
  • in 1995, Dr. Nadine Caron, surgeon (first native woman to graduate from the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Medicine)

Selected articles & ephemera

To search for articles in the historical literature before 1940, see NLM's IndexCat.

  • A history of members of the medical profession in the province from 1778 to 1931


The British Columbia Surgical Society was organized in 1938 and incorporated in 1947. Its goal is to advance the science, practice and teaching of surgery. The society has accomplished this goal through scientific meetings, essay contests and scholarships. The society does not normally address economic issues, which are administered by the BCMA Section of General Surgery. The fonds consists of constitutional documents, minutes and agendas, financial records, membership applications and registers, operational files, and meeting programs of the British Columbia Surgical Society. Operational files include general correspondence, lists of Executive Committee members and honorary members, and records pertaining to bursaries/scholarships, the Royal Commission on Health Care and Costs, and annual Spring and Fall meetings.
  • BC Medical Association (formerly Vancouver Medical Association)
Founded in 1900, the BCMA's mandate is to promote a social, economic, and political climate in which members can provide the citizens of British Columbia with the highest standard of health care while achieving maximum professional satisfaction and fair economic reward.
Robert McKechnie was a prominent B.C. physician who eventually became senior surgeon at Vancouver General Hospital. He also lectured in medical history at UBC. McKechnie wrote articles for medical journals and published a book about the history of medicine on the Northwest Coast. He also developed the British Columbia Place Names project. The fonds consists of index cards, engravings, notes, maps, printed material and documents from McKechnie's B.C. Place Names project. The fonds also includes forty engraved prints related to the project, illustrating British explorers or events in the 18th and 19th centuries and a map of Russian discoveries on the Northwest Coast (ca. 1780).
  • Vancouver Archives - photographs

Digital libraries (including medical libraries)

Selected monographs & theses

Pre-1850 Period

"...In the nineteenth century, there was a distinct division between doctors and surgeons. The former dealt with medicine and were usually university educated. The latter generally did the actual "hands-on" work and were often considered little more than able craftsmen. They might have next to no education at all, although this varied widely. ..."
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