February is African Heritage Month in Nova Scotia – an opportunity to honour the contributions, culture and history of people of African descent in the province.
Physicians from the West Indies made important contributions to the Canadian war effort during the First World War and provided vital health-care services in Halifax in the early twentieth century. Here are three of those physicians.
Dr. Grant Mahabir
Included in the photograph of Dalhousie University medical graduates in 1917 was the photo of Kenneth Grant Mahabir. Research has shown that Dr. Mahabir was born in Trinidad in the British West Indies in 1890. According to the Dalhousie University Alumni Directory, Kenneth Mahabir actually graduated with his MD and CM degrees in May 1916 and, later that year, enrolled in the Diploma in Public Health program at the University of Toronto.
Shortly after returning to Nova Scotia, Dr. Mahabir enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps, and by February 1917 was described in his Attestation Papers as Lt. Mahabir. His first posting was to Shorncliffe Military Hospital in England, where he was a member of the Hygiene Unit. He returned to Halifax in 1918 as a captain and was posted to the Hygiene Unit at the Garrison Military Hospital, on the corner of Cogswell and Gottingen streets. By March 1919, Dr. Mahabir was listed as a major and as commanding officer of the Cogswell Military Hospital. He contracted Spanish influenza in February 1920, recovered, and was demobilized from the Army in late March of that year.
During the next 20 years, Dr. Mahabir carried on a large medical practice in Halifax and had his own stable of thoroughbred horses. He died in Halifax in 1941 at the age of 51.
Dr. Clement Ligoure
On March 26, 1917, the Acadian Recorder newspaper included an announcement by Dr. C. Courtenay Ligoure, a native of Trinidad, that he had opened a medical office in Halifax. Dr. Ligoure had graduated from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., in 1916 with his MD and CM degrees. His medical office was at 166 North Street (now 5812 North Street); by 1917, he had also opened a hospital called the Amanda Hospital at that location.
Dr. Ligoure is remembered as one of the heroes of the Halifax Explosion because he opened his hospital to the injured and worked tirelessly to treat and care for them on the day of the explosion and for many days and nights thereafter. During the First World War, Dr. Ligoure was a strong supporter of the No. 2 Black Construction Battalion and also served as the editor and publisher of the first Black newspaper in Nova Scotia, the Atlantic Advocate. He remained in Halifax until at least 1921, however, his whereabouts afterward are unknown.
Dr. Frederick B. Holder
A third doctor from the Caribbean, Frederick B. Holder, established a practice in Halifax in 1922. He was born at Georgetown, British Guiana, and received his medical education at McGill and at Queen’s University, from which he graduated in 1919. Dr. Holder’s office was at 126 Gottingen Street and, in addition to his medical practice, he took a deep interest in the affairs of his community, serving as one of the founders and chairman of the Coloured Education Centre. He passed away in Halifax in December 1940, at the age of 52.
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