Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
August 2004

Biographies of Prominent Quebec and Canadian

Historical Figures

John Andrew Macphail



Damien-Claude Bélanger,

Department of History,

Marianopolis College .

Physician, soldier, and literary critic, was born at Orwell, Prince Edward Island. He was educated at Prince of Wales College, Charlottetown, and at McGill University. During his studies at McGill Macphail wrote reviews and articles for various newspapers, including the Montreal Gazette and the Chicago Times, and saved enough money to finance a trip around the world. In 1891 he arrived in London, England, and resumed his medical studies. Within a year, he had become a member of the Royal College of Surgeons and a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians. He returned to Canada in 1892. After practicing medicine and teaching at Bishop University's medical faculty from 1893 to 1905, Macphail was appointed McGill's first professor of the history of medicine in 1907, a position he would hold for thirty years. That same year he became the editor of the prestigious and influential University Magazine. He was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 1910. A year later, he became the founding editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal. During the Great War he served as a medical officer with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in France. In recognition for his military and literary work, he was created a knight bachelor in 1918. He authored The Medical Services (1925), the first volume of the Official History of the Canadian Forces in the Great War. A fervent ruralist, Macphail translated Louis Hémon's famous novel, Maria Chapdelaine, into English. However, his 1921 translation was overshadowed by W. H. Blake's version of the same year. Despite having achieved little success as a novelist, Macphail's contribution to the development of English Canadian literature was important. Under his supervision, the University Magazine devoted a great deal of space to literary criticism. He also played a key role in drawing public attention to the work of Canadian poets Marjorie Pickthall and John McCrae. Though by no means a socialist - his work consistently stressed the fundamental importance of racial determinism -, Macphail visited the USSR in 1935. He returned to Canada thoroughly unimpressed by most aspects of Soviet life, but did approve of Soviet public transportation and worker housing. Deeply depressed by modernity, his attachment to the British connection was tied to his great reverence for tradition. Materialistic, egalitarian and cosmopolitan, American civilization embodied the antithesis of his conservative political, religious, and social beliefs. His oft quoted 1909 article in the University Magazine , "New Lamps for Old," remains one of the most eloquent and sweeping critiques of American society ever published in Canada. A prolific and versatile writer, Sir Andrew Macphail was one of the most influential Canadian intellectuals of his time.



© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College