The Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) was founded in 1879 as an annual event where the community could experience the latest technology, commercial products, and art performances that the nation had to offer. In 1923, the CNE’s theme was “International and Science Year” and the planning committee hoped to showcase the impact of the advances of Canadian sciences on the world. When looking for a keynote speaker for the opening ceremonies Robert Miller, CNE President, reached out to Dr. Frederick Banting. He believed that Banting’s discovery of insulin would “lessen human suffering and save innumerable lives” worldwide. When Banting got the letter asking if he would participate in the exhibition he was in Britain receiving honours from His Majesty King George V. He was planning to stay in Britain for an extended period of time but decided to cut his visit short to return to Toronto to take part in the CNE’s opening ceremonies. Banting said that the was a decision was not based on personal gain but rather he wanted the opportunity to bring “science a little closer to our Canadian people.”
On Saturday, August 25th, 1923, 76,500 people attended the exhibition’s opening day, a record number at that time. Banting stood in front of a large crowd and read a speech he had prepared about the sciences in Canada. He began his speech by recognizing the work of Charles Best and his other colleagues in the discovery of insulin and thanked the Provincial and Federal Governments for providing funds to support his future medical research endeavors. He recalled great scientists throughout history to demonstrate that scientific inquiry pushes society forward. Banting used the end of his speech to recognize the talented students that were graduating from medical schools across Canada every year who did not have the facilities to support their scientific discovery. Many of these students moved to the United States to find work in medical research as there were more opportunities. He called for the funding of institutes in Canada that could support these research facilities so that recent graduates could take part in the “search for truth” at home. Numerous newspapers across Canada reprinted Banting’s speech to reach a larger audience.
Banting’s parents attended the opening ceremony of the CNE. When his mother, Margaret Banting, was asked if she was proud of her son she said, “Not proud, thankful.” The new pair of black gloves Margaret had bought to wear at the exhibition were full of holes by the end from all of the handshaking. Charles H. Best, co-discoverer of insulin, was present at the CNE luncheon for honoured guests. Banting was seated at the right side of Robert Miller, the CNE President. Best initially had “modestly hidden himself among the other guests” until he was called upon by Miller to sit beside Banting. Banting and Best were reportedly uncomfortable with all the attention they received at the exhibition but felt that the spotlight they could shine on needs of the Canadian medical industry was worth it.
This post was written by Rachel Delle Palme, Graduate Research Assistant at
Banting House NHSC. Rachel is currently completing her M.A. in Public History at