Last week I discussed my progress and work on Banting House NHS’s website. While the website is still an ongoing project, near the end of the week, I took a break from staring at a screen and decided to do some work with some pretty interesting objects from the house’s collection!
Over the past few days I have been going through the Dear Dr. Banting letters. For those who have not had the chance to visit Banting House NHS yet, the Dear Dr. Banting letters are a way for visitors to express their thanks and appreciation to Dr. Banting and for the discovery of insulin. When you enter Dr. Banting’s bedroom, there is a small station across from the bed where you can take a minute to reflect and write a letter. It is almost like a guestbook, as many times visitors sign off with their name, signature or where they were from. However, these letters often go beyond the typical guestbook many of us are used to.
The Dear Dr. Banting letters are far more than just people writing “Thank you” on a note card. Since the mid-2000s, the letters have been capturing the lived experiences and stories of those living with diabetes and those who know someone living with it. The letters serve as an incredible form of material culture (which refers to the physical objects that people use to define their culture). People are sharing their stories as a way to thank Dr. Banting and in turn leave a small part of themselves with the house. By writing these letters, they are simultaneously writing themselves into the continued history and legacy of Dr. Banting and Banting House NHS.
Those who have had a chance to visit the bedroom and write their own letter know that select letters are left on the station for visitors to read. But those select letters are only a fraction of the ones that have been collected over the years. I had a brief chance to read some when I visited Banting House NHS with my class last September and when my classmate and I were researching for a project. However, on Thursday, I had the chance to sit down and just read. I read every letter, every story, and every experience. Its hard to convey how I felt when I read many of these letters, but all I can say is that it feels like you are speaking with the person who wrote the letters. You laugh with them, smile with them, feel inspired with them and cry with them.
As someone who lives with Type 1 Diabetes, these letters felt close to home. At first, the hardest letters to read were the ones written by children, both living with diabetes or knowing someone who does. But as I kept reading, I noticed how hopeful and inspiring the letters were. They thanked Dr. Banting for saving their lives, helping their best friend, saving their grandmother and more. They called Dr. Banting their hero. That he has inspired them to help in whatever way they could. Even the letters that simply featured drawings, still held that same feeling of hope.
After having read a few earlier in the year, I felt incredibly inspired to do something with these letters. The Dear Dr. Banting letters are incredible objects that speak to the importance of place, legacy, hope and the continued fight for a cure. I was lucky that Grant feels the same about the letters and encouraged finding a way to display them for the public. With this sentiment in mind, part of my internship this summer will be creating a digital exhibit that will feature the letters. This way, the community can interact with the letters, especially if they are unable to visit us.
I am looking forward to being able to create this exhibit and I can’t wait to take everyone behind the scenes of how to create an online exhibit!
This post was written by Kat MacDonald, an intern at Banting House NHSC. Kat is currently completing her M.A. in Public History at Western University.