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Historic Birthplace of Sir Frederick Banting Threatened

By Dr. Peter M. Banting

Posted On: March 4, 2007

About an hour’s drive north of Toronto, Ontario is the small rural town of Alliston. On November 14, 1891, on a nearby 100-acre farm a baby boy named Fred was born. In 1921 Fred made a wonderful discovery  —  a discovery that since 1921 has saved the lives of more than 350 million people worldwide. Fred discovered, isolated, and purified a hormone which he first named isletin, then renamed insulin.

Today more than 300 million people have the killer disease diabetes. Many would be dead were it not for Fred’s life-saving discovery.

Fred lived an exciting life. He served in the First World War, was wounded, and received the Military Cross for Bravery. His medical research was not limited to the discovery of insulin. It also led to the creation of the first flight suit to prevent pilots from blacking out when pulling many “G’s” in a dive. This was the precursor of our current astronauts’ space suits. Fred also conducted research on cancer and germ warfare. Fred was an accomplished wood carver and artist. He went on sketching trips with A.Y. Jackson, one of the famous “Group of Seven” Canadian artists.

At the beginning of the Second World War, Fred re-enlisted and was on a secret mission to England in 1941 when his aircraft crashed in Newfoundland. The plane had been sabotaged by the enemy. The man whose discovery continues to save so many lives was dead in his fiftieth year.

Fred didn’t earn any money from his discovery. He didn’t even get paid for his research. In fact, if his family had not provided the money for Fred to conduct research, he would not have discovered insulin.

For his discovery of insulin, Fred won the Nobel Prize and was knighted by the King of England. He could have been a rich man, but instead he donated the patent for insulin so that it could be made affordable to people with diabetes who need the life-saving medicine. We owe a lot to Sir Frederick Grant Banting.

What about his birthplace? The last person to live and work the farm in Alliston was Fred’s nephew: Edward Banting. He was a proud relative. In his front parlor he had many mementos of uncle Fred’s life, including some of Fred’s landscapes. Edward was visited frequently by people with diabetes from all over the world. They came to see where uncle Fred was born, to experience the ambiance, to breathe the country air, and to walk in the same paths and fields where Fred grew up and learned the values of hard work, and concern for humanity.

Edward welcomed these visitors and took great pride in showing them his treasured mementos. He determined that others like them, and future generations too, should be able to continue visiting uncle Fred’s birthplace, even after his own death. Indeed, Edward hoped that some day a camp for children with diabetes might be established on the very land that nurtured the discoverer of insulin. To this end, Edward invited executives of the Ontario Historical Society (OHS) to his home, and during the course of more than a dozen meetings over several years, shared his dream with them.

In 1999 Edward died and bequeathed the 100-acre Banting Homestead to the OHS. During the past seven years, despite earning a $15,000 annual income from renting the Banting farmland to a local potato farmer, the OHS has not maintained the buildings on the property. The farmhouse roof developed holes, and water damage resulted. The henhouse decayed beyond recovery. The roof of an historical unique octagonal drive shed collapsed. Yet the OHS has rejected offers from Banting family members to help repair and maintain the property.

More than a year ago the town council began negotiations with the OHS to buy the property and save it from destruction. Twice when the town thought they had an agreement, the OHS reneged. Then the Province of Ontario appointed an individual to facilitate the negotiations. The town offered a million dollars to the OHS. The town and the provincially-appointed facilitator thought that they had reached an agreement. They drew up purchase/sale papers with a November 22, 2006, deadline and sent it to the OHS. On November 23, the OHS sent a message that they had accepted an offer of $2.2 million from housing developer Solmar Development. The owner of Solmar Development later told the press that his deal had been made with OHS five months earlier. Clearly OHS had been duplicitous, negotiating with the town in bad faith.

Why would a (formerly) respected, more than one hundred year old historical society do such a thing? Their stated mandate is to preserve and protect Ontario’s history. Their past has involved fighting developers to preserve historical sites. Now they are in bed with a developer whose goal is to erect a housing development on an historic property  —  the place where Sir Frederick Banting was born and grew up. The answer is: Avarice. The OHS is simply greedy.

Currently the town is seeking “designation as an historical property” for the Banting Homestead. Under the Ontario Heritage Act, designation will prevent commercial development of the land and will require the owner to maintain the buildings properly. Both the OHS and Solmar Development have filed objection to such designation.

As a result of their objections, a Conservation Review Board will hold a hearing in the near future and make recommendations. More information about the Banting Homestead can be found at http://www.discoveryofinsulin.com/.

If you feel that the 100-acre Banting Homestead should be preserved for future generations and that a camp for children with diabetes should be erected on the very birthplace and childhood home of the discoverer of insulin, please feel free to contact the Conservation Review Board. In your letter, please indicate the town, state, and country from which you are writing.

By e-mail you can write to: the Ontario Conservation Review Board c/o Sir Frederick Banting Legacy Foundation foundation@banting.ca

or send a letter by regular mail to:
Ontario Conservation Review Board
c/o Sir Frederick Banting Legacy Foundation
2 John Ave. Alliston, Ontario, L9R 1J8

You can help us in another way, too. Please ask your family, friends, and associates to write to us at the above addresses if they support our cause. They should indicate in their letter the town, state and country from which they are writing. This will show how geographically wide-spread is the support for our cause. 


Dr. Peter Myles Banting is Emeritus Professor of Marketing, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Peter’s grandfather was Sir Frederick Banting’s cousin. Peter is chairman of the Sir Frederick Banting Educational Committee and a founding director of the non-profit Sir Frederick Banting Legacy Foundation. The Legacy Foundation was established as a charitable organization to accept title to the Banting Homestead after its purchase by the Town of New Tecumseth (where Alliston is located). The Legacy Foundation hopes to build a camp for children with diabetes on the Banting Homestead in fulfillment of Edward Banting’s expectation.

Contact: Dr. Peter Banting
105 Upper Filman Road
Ancaster, Ontario
L9G 3K9 Canada
Phone: (905) 648-5889
e-mail: peter.banting@sympatico.ca


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