It’s no secret that modern medicine is amazing– but like everything, it had to start somewhere. Long before MRIs, CT scans and antibiotics, these three doctors were helping shape health care in Nova Scotia.
William Bruce Almon (1787–1840)
Born in Halifax in 1787, William Bruce Almon had a significant role in shaping the Nova Scotia health-care system as a physician and politician.
William Bruce Almon studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh – he is one of the first native Nova Scotians believed to have travelled abroad for medical training. Upon completing his medical degree, he returned to Nova Scotia.
One of his primary concerns was improving the standards of medical treatment in Nova Scotia. William Bruce Almon supported the passing of the Medical Act of 1828, which was designed to exclude “ignorant and unskilful persons from the practice of Physic and Surgery.” He also served as a member of the province’s first medical licensing board.
He apprenticed a number of young medical students, including Daniel McNeill Parker – who went on to help found the Medical Society of Nova Scotia (which became Doctors Nova Scotia in 2004) and the Canadian Medical Association. It is said that Parker remembered his mentor as “the warmest and kindest hearted man I ever met.”
William Johnston Almon (1816–1901)
The story of William Johnston Almon – son of William Bruce Almon – was similar to his father’s: born in Halifax, he received his medical training overseas, returning to Nova Scotia to pursue life as both a doctor and a politician.
When he returned to Halifax in 1839, he was appointed as an assistant surgeon in the 5th Regiment of Halifax militia. After his father died the next year, William Johnston Almon took over his father’s drug store.
William Johnston Almon was one of the first physicians in North America to anesthetize a patient. Records show that in Feb. 1848, before amputating a woman’s thumb, William Johnston Almon arranged she be anaesthetized with chloroform. A month later, he used chloroform again during an operation to amputate a leg.
Maria Louisa Angwin (1849–1898)
Maria Lousia Angwin was born in Newfoundland in 1849, but moved with her family to Dartmouth, N.S., a few years later. After completing a liberal arts diploma at Mount Allison Wesleyan Academic in Sackville, N.B., in 1866, she considered becoming a lawyer, but later set her sights on becoming a physician. She raised the money for her education herself, saving what she earned during her five years as a schoolteacher in Dartmouth.
In 1879 Maria Angwin enrolled in Women’s Medical College in New York. After a one-year internship at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston, she travelled to England to further her education, attending clinics and lectures at the Royal Free Hospital in London.
In September 1884, Dr. Angwin became the first woman licensed to practise medicine in Nova Scotia. She treated patients in both Halifax and Dartmouth, eventually moving into an office on Spring Garden Road in Halifax.