I first picked up this book in the depths of last February, when I was spending a lot of time at home, awake in the middle of the night nursing my newborn son. It was a riveting read for those long dark hours, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in Toronto's medical history, in the history of mental health treatment, or in a meticulously-told story of family secrets come to light. Fitzgerald's book won the 2010 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Non-Fiction, and is his second after 1994's Old Boys: The Powerful Legacy of Upper Canada College.
What Disturbs Our Blood probes Fitzgerald's family history: the author's father and grandfather were both recognized pioneers in Canadian medicine, but both men also stuggled with depression.
John Gerald "Gerry" Fitzgerald (grandfather, 1882-1940) became a doctor at a young age, studied in Paris at the Pasteur Institute, and, when he returned to Toronto, was determined to develop vaccines against diseases that he saw raging through some segments of the Canadian populace. He revolutionized public health in Canada, helping to develop and then make available, for free, vaccines against diseases such as diptheria and rabies. Doctors Banting and Best were two of his contemporaries. Sadly, he died in his prime by suicide. His funeral was held at U of T's Convocation Hall.
John "Jack" Fitzgerald (father, 1917-1992) was a well-known physician who worked at Toronto Western, and opened Toronto's first allergy clinic. Despite a successful career, he attempted suicide twice and spent the last few decades of his life in a drugged haze.
While reading, I was struck by how much of the Fitzgerald family story takes place in and around the Lillian H. Smith neighbourhood. Here are some local highlights:
One Spadina Crescent
photo credit: Simon Pulsifer
This was the site of the Connaught Medical Research Laboratories; when Gerry's vaccine operation grew out of it's original Barton Street location, this is where it ended up. It's been 100 years now, as you can see if you visit Sanofi Pasteur (the pharmaceutical company that swallowed up Connaught years ago).
250 College Street
Gerry Fitzgerald worked for Doctor C.K. Clarke at the Toronto Asylum for the Insane (999 Queen St.) 250 College was named after Dr. Clarke: it was first called the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, and is now the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) College St. location.
150 College Street
This is the Fitzgerald Building at the University of Toronto, built in 1927, currently home to part of the Faculty of Medicine. Visible in the top left corner is the Leslie L. Dan Pharmacy Building (144 College), and across the street is the Dala Lana School of Public Health. Gerry Fitzgerald was instrumental in creating the original School of Hygiene at U of T in the 1920s, which was devoted to public health training and research. Today, Fitzgerald Academy at St. Michael's Hospital is named in his honour.
If the above snippets of Toronto's medical history grab you, you might be interested in Heritage Toronto's walking tour, "Dr. Fitzgerald and the Connaught Laboratories,"led by James Fitzgerald. It will be taking place this Saturday, June 21 from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm.