I want to start of by writing: this is my penultimate blog post. Next week, I have my closing chapter as my internship at Banting House comes to an end. I have sifted through my previous blog posts, trying to discern what topics I have not yet discussed. I’ve written extensively about my experiences with the Teddy Ryder collection, I’ve written about public history methods (like transcribing letters), I’ve written about new acquisitions like the Banting video, and most recently, I’ve written about our Free Comic Book Day event. These posts are all under the broader umbrella topic of Banting/history. Whether it’s a video of the man himself, the broader 20th century history through which he is intimately connected, or a comic book that commemorates him and his discovery, these posts have been mostly about the (somewhat) distant past. So, for this second-last post, I want to focus on the other significant aspect of Banting House National Historic Site: present people with diabetes.
When I first arrived at Banting House, I explained to Grant Maltman (the curator) the way in which I interpreted Banting House’s mission and goal. Indeed, we are resolved to conserve and present the life of Frederick Banting, focusing on his insulin discovery, but, for me (as a diabetic), this place also represents the stories of all those who live with diabetes today. That’s why Teddy Ryder has meant so much to me. Even though his story is from the 1920s, his exhibit shares his story with diabetes, a story that lasted into the 1990s (a fairly recent past).
So many of our visitors either have diabetes or know someone who has diabetes. This place is significant to them because it represents the origin story of the treatment that continues to save their lives. They walk into Banting’s bedroom (where he came up with his idea that led to Insulin’s discovery) and stand there, silently taking in the space. Some cry. Some can’t even go in. Every time, it astounds me that one room can have such an effect on people (me included). This museum is crucial to the support of those living with diabetes today. It acts as a meeting place, where people affected by diabetes can feel connected not only to the past but to other people presently affected by diabetes too.
In my time at Western’s public history masters program, I learned that museums no longer simply house artifacts. Museums are community organisations, centers that encourage community support and growth. Banting House is special in this way. While members may live in various cities (or provinces, or countries), we support a very specific community. That community may not always be right outside our door, but regardless, we still connect with them. Even for people with diabetes who have never been to Banting House, this place is special—not only because we have the room where Banting had his idea (as significant as that is), but also because we are a physical space that signifies their diabetes related experiences.
In some ways Banting House is a literal living history site. For those who don’t know, living history sites are museums where employees interpret the history by wearing period clothing. These sites generally have historical buildings (like various pioneer villages), and sometimes have employees demonstrate historical tasks (like reenactors at military forts). Our volunteers do not wear 1920s lab coats, but we are a living history site in a different way. The history of the discovery of insulin is not contained to 1920 through 1923. The discovery continues in every person living with diabetes in the present. We have the history—the legacy—of insulin walk through our doors everyday, and that is certainly something special.
Until next time,
P.S. I only have one blog entry left! I’m not sure what I’ll write about. I may sum up my experiences. I may write about Teddy one last time. Whatever it is, you won’t want to miss it!
Thank you so much for this blog Patrick – well said. As a volunteer at Banting and the mother to a Type 1, your words really hit home. I learned quickly that my role as a tour guide was not only to tell Dr. Banting’s story but to listen to our visitors stories and to hold those stories (and even those of their diabetic therapy dogs ) I am glad I don’t have to wear a period costume to make that very special connection with our wonderful visitors.