Published in the Montreal Gazette on February 21, 2015

One of several items that has accompanied me over the now many years is the bill my father was handed as he left the Verdun General Hospital in March of 1947. It is the invoice for $73.50 in costs related to my birth in that suburban hospice. Money well spent, I would say.

As is the case with many articles we carry with us through time, I don’t really know its value, if any. Do I dispose of it, as I find I am doing with so many other personal mementos nowadays? Or do I search for some archival institution that might be interested in taking possession of it?

In this regard, just imagine the onerous task faced by those responsible for processing the historic belongings of the three venerable hospitals preparing to move to the new MUHC consolidated site at the Glen. The Royal Victoria Hospital, Montreal Chest Institute, and the Children’s Hospital are all scheduled to make the big move sometime this year.

With that difficult undertaking in mind, the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) created in 2011 the Art and Heritage Centre, the purpose of which is to pinpoint, hunt down, and gather up the story of the MUHC.

In a little over three years, this same Art and Heritage Centre has managed to catalogue more than 2000 vintage photos, 1000 diverse items, and nearly 100 metres of documented information. Much of this outstanding collection is already on display in various MUHC hospitals and other public establishments on the Island of Montreal.

A lot else has been achieved in very little time. For instance, as a result of a government programme, $4.3 million of contemporary artwork has been acquired to exhibit at the new Glen location. This is all part and parcel of the current, popular philosophy of creating good curative environments in which patients are restored to health through assorted total care stratagems.

To this gallant end, over 100 exposition display cases have been obtained to accommodate a significant amount of the collected works. In addition, wall space has already been selected to lay out before the public many of the newly purchased compositions.

The Art and Heritage Centre is composed of a dedicated team of assiduous individuals. The group is headed by Dr. Jonathan Larmonth Meakins, O.C., M.D., DSc., who is the third-in-line in the Meakins lineage at the Royal Victoria Hospital as both Dr. Meakins’ father and grandfather practised medicine with distinction at that same iconic institution.

Dr. Meakins, who was at one time Surgeon-in-Chief at the Royal Vic, is the Director of the Art and Heritage Centre. Assisting him are Associate Director and Curator, Karine Raynor; Alexandra Kirsh, Associate Curator; Pamela Causey, Archivist; and Jean-Paul Begin, Collections Technician.

The Centre has already taken possession of many interesting and, indeed, valuable items, including a series of priceless stain-glass windows by the renowned Birmingham-born artist, Edward Burne – Jones. Found in the Royal Victoria Hospital, they are now looking for another home at the new, enhanced facility.

Other artefacts held by the Art and Heritage Centre incorporate an original Dr. Joseph Lister’s anti-septic carbolic spray device that the celebrated English surgeon first used in 1867. Newfoundland – born Dr. Thomas G. Roddick brought it to Canada in 1877 and used it regularly at the old Montreal General Hospital on Dorchester Street.

Also included in the Centre’s collection is a 1935 painting by Dr. Norman Bethune. Entitled ‘Night Operating Theatre’, the canvas was realized in the surgical amphitheatre of the Royal Victoria Hospital where it was to be found for the longest time hanging above the fireplace in the library of that institution.

The lot of other pieces of less value will be determined within a year or two after the opening of the new medical centre this April.

Despite all the work in front of them in the coming months, the MUHC Art and Heritage Centre nevertheless welcomes donations from individuals who feel that they may possess something of value to Canadian medical history and perhaps as well to the chronicle of our very own city. This might include anything from items pertaining to the nursing profession to teaching tools related to the practice of medicine.

The Art and Heritage Centre can be reached at 514-934-1934 extension 71771 or by e – mail at

Below, Dr. Lister’s anti – septic carbolic spray device –