Translating Dear Dr. Banting Letters

Recently, I’ve been busy translating the Dear Dr. Banting letters left by our visitors. These letters follow the tradition of letters expressing gratitude that were sent to Banting after his discovery of insulin from individuals all over the world. Visitors stand in the bedroom where Banting came up with his idea for insulin in 1920 and write what his work means to them in 2019. As our guests are extremely diverse, we have letters written in various languages. Translating the letters into English has proven to be a unique challenge that I am super happy to have. Seeing the gratitude and awe displayed through the writing of so many people has been an immeasurably dumbfounding experience. Trying to match up handwriting to their formal symbols has taught me about the uniqueness that each person brings to this writing desk. It has taught me how to guess which language is written only from the way it looks which is a completely new skill.

A letter written by a guest in Farsi which reads, “The day I started reading about insulin and diabetes, it never crossed my mind that I would visit the house of the creator of it. Such a great honour and today I would like to thank this outstanding physician for his endless efforts. May we follow in your footsteps, forever in our minds and hearts. -Dr. Farnaz Gnooya.”

My favourite letters by far are those that I spend a long time with because they change this translation exercise from a job into an adventure. However, every once in a while, I wish that I had someone who spoke each of the languages to help me phrase the sentences just right because I feel that direct translation can change the meaning behind the words.

After spending half an hour working through a section of a letter my translation came out as “I don’t know what to do”. I had to laugh, “Yeah, me neither”. I then continued with the next part of the phrase and the sentence ended up making sense.

A letter written by a guest in German which reads, “Dear Dr. Banting, I’ve had Type 1 Diabetes for 14 years. Because of [insulin] I live. Thank you for everything.”
Each of these letters was written with thought and care. We have some letters from people who stumbled upon the place, those who knew nothing about Dr Banting before visiting, and those who have waited a very long time to visit us. Every letter is humbling and making these sentiments available to a wider audience to show the immense value placed here has been a phenomenal experience.


This post was written by Juliana van Gaalen, intern at Banting House NHSC. Juliana is currently completing her BHSc in Health Studies with a Major in Museum and Curatorial Studies at Western University.

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