Frederick Banting was a small-town Canadian doctor in the early 1920s. He was just starting out in practice and didn’t even have enough patients to afford to get married.
His life changed when he discovered insulin in 1921-22. For his discovery, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1923 and was knighted Sir Frederick Banting in 1934. He was able to marry in 1924.
The lives of millions of people with diabetes changed even more. They lived. Before Banting’s discovery, for many people a diagnosis of diabetes was a death sentence.
Banting was born in 1891 on a farm in Alliston, Ontario, Canada, in 1891, which made him 30 when he discovered insulin. The farm is 85 kilometers (53 miles) north of Toronto.
It’s still a working farm, growing potatoes. But there’s nothing there to honor Banting.
In the last couple of weeks several people from Toronto have called and written me about the Banting homestead.
“Being from Toronto, my husband and I take the time to go to country,” Linda writes. “We checked out the Alliston area and found that Frederick Banting was born there. We went to check out the property and home, thinking it was a museum and were horrified to see its condition. The property and homestead was bequeathed to the Ontario Historical Society for future generations to enjoy but that has not happened. The homestead may not survive the winter.”
Frederick Banting’s nephew, Edward Banting, was the last family member to own and work the Alliston farm where Frederick was born and grew up. In 1999 Edward donated the 100-acre Banting Homestead to the Ontario Historical Society. Despite a $15,000 annual income the historical society receives by renting the Banting property to a local potato farmer, they have apparently not even minimally maintained the Banting farmhouse and outbuildings.
With Canadian understatement, Bob Banting told me when he called a few days ago from Toronto that his cousin Edward wanted to be sure that the Banting Homestead would be preserved, but “it hasn’t worked out very well.” Bob can’t even visit the farm where his great uncle discovered insulin. “I got a letter that threatens me with a lawsuit if I go on the property.”
Bob says that Edward’s records show that he turned down a $4.4 million offer to sell the farm, because he wanted it to be protected and he trusted the historical society to expedite his wishes. The crux of the problem is a missing codicil to the will that gave the homestead to the historical society, Bob says. And now the historical society claims the legal right to sell the property.
“The OHS may have the legal right to sell the homestead,” Bob says, “but they do not have moral right to run counter to their mandate.” Now the Banting family want it returned to them.
The Banting family is close to establishing The Sir Frederick Banting Legacy Foundation. They hope that the historical society will turn the Banting homestead over to the Foundation to take care of.
“Our long term goal is to turn Fred Banting’s birthplace into a camp for children with diabetes,” Bob told me. “This would be the best and lasting tribute to my great uncle.”
Update November 30, 2007:
Dr. Peter M. Banting, Chairman, Sir Frederick Banting Educational Committee, just sent me this message:
Here is an update on the Banting Homestead story.
In 1999, Edward Banting, the nephew of Sir Frederick Banting died, and bequeathed the more than 100-acre Alliston, Ontario, farm and birthplace of Sir Frederick Banting to the Ontario Historical Society (OHS) in the expectation that they would preserve and maintain it for the benefit of future generations. Edward also had a dream that a camp for diabetic children some day would be located on the farm.
Despite income from rental of the farmland and despite offers of help from the Banting family, the OHS did not maintain the property and allowed the farmhouse and outbuildings to deteriorate. Observing this deterioration, the Town of New Tecumseth (formerly Alliston) negotiated over several years with the OHS to preserve the property, finally offering to purchase it for one million dollars. The OHS then announced it had sold the farm to a developer for $2.2 million.
To save the property from being buried in a housing development, the Town served notice of “designation” as an historic site under the Ontario Heritage Act. OHS objected. As a result, the Conservation Review Board of Ontario heard arguments from both sides in September, 2007. In October, 2007 the CRB recommended that there is sufficient cultural heritage value in the property to proceed with designation. On November 12, 2007 the Town passed the “Sir Frederick Banting Homestead Designation By-law. You can read about this at the following site:
Currently, the OHS is the legal owner of the property. However, designation now obligates the owner to maintain it properly, and prevents its commercial development.
Several months ago, you published an article in the Mendosa Report about our efforts to protect Sir Frederick Banting’s birthplace from being destroyed. On behalf of the Banting family, and all those who believe that the wishes of Edward Banting (who made this generous gift to the OHS) should be respected, I wish to thank you for your help. And I wish to thank your many readers who wrote on our behalf to the CRB. The property is now protected. Maybe now the OHS will recognize the intrinsic value of Edward’s gift.
To keep abreast of any further developments, check out our Web-site: http://www.discoveryofinsulin.com/
Thanks again for your help.
HealthCentral published an earlier version of this article.