JOHNSTON, WYATT GALT, physician, professor, researcher, and author; b. 22 Aug. 1862 in Sherbrooke, Lower Canada, son of James B. Johnston, a physician, and Mary Ann Francis Wyatt; m. December 1895 Julia Turnor; d. 19 June 1902 in Montreal.
After studying at Bishop’s College, Lennoxville, and the faculty of medicine at McGill College, Wyatt Galt Johnston was licensed to practise medicine on 30 Sept. 1885. That year he became a resident physician at Montreal General Hospital, where he succeeded William Osler* as pathologist. From 1886 he served as a demonstrator in pathology at McGill University, and later he was to hold several other teaching posts there concurrently. In 1894 he became one of the first lecturers in bacteriology in Canada, if not the very first. The following year he accepted the chair of medical and forensic pathology, to which was added the chair of public health in 1897. Johnston was one of the country’s earliest experts in forensic medicine, as is evident from articles published in L’Union médicale in particular. Along with his work in the hospital setting and his university teaching, Johnston was much sought after as a bacteriological expert in public health matters. In 1894 he and Dr Robert Fulford Ruttan were appointed bacteriologists in the first Montreal laboratory so specializing, which had been established by the province’s Central Board of Health.
Johnston was one of a team including Amédée Marien, Michel-Thomas Brennan, and several others which established the new aetiological, diagnostic, and therapeutic techniques in Canada. Although most of the Quebec doctors interested in the new discipline of bacteriology went to the Institut Pasteur in Paris to train under Émile Roux or Fernand Widal, around 1890 Johnston spent several years in Germany at the laboratories of Rudolf Virchow and Ernst Grawitz. There he acquired the basic knowledge needed to practise and teach the subject when it was still in its infancy at Canadian medical establishments. Around 1895 Johnston was involved in studying agglutination using dried blood, a process that would make the test for typhoid fever more available. He presented the results of his research at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in September 1896, and apparently his work was well received. Since similar studies had already been done at the Institut Pasteur, however, he could not claim to be the originator of this new process. None the less his studies enabled the Central Board of Health to make the new diagnostic test available to the medical profession. His efforts also helped promote the use of serodiagnosis by Quebec practitioners. One of the few Canadians to join the Society of American Bacteriologists at its beginning, Johnston quickly gained peer recognition as one of the continent’s specialists in the bacteriological analysis of water.
Johnston was particularly interested in the bacteriological aspects of diphtheria, and he published some 15 articles and pamphlets on this serious illness. Nor did he neglect other contagious diseases: he published various articles on typhoid fever, leprosy, pneumonia, tetanus, and tuberculosis, in periodicals such as the Montreal Medical Journal in 1891 and in 1896–97. He died of a pulmonary embolism in 1902 at Montreal.
Wyatt Galt Johnston is the author of numerous medical reports, including: “Notes on the bacteriological study of diphtheria,” Montreal Medical Journal, 20 (1891): 161–75, also issued as an offprint ([Montreal, 1891?]); A new method for the culture of diphtheria-bacilli in hard-boiled eggs (n.p., [1892?]); Report on a year’s work in bacteriological diagnosis of diphtheria ([Montreal, 1896?]) and “Nouvelle méthode sérothérapique pour le traitement de la lèpre grecque, Dr Carrasquilla (Colombie),” L’Union médicale, 26 (1897): 37. He is co-author with Duncan Donald MacTaggart of “On the difference between serum and blood solutions, the condition of the test culture and the significance of bacterium coli infection in relation to typhoid diagnosis,” Montreal Medical Journal, 25 (1896–97): 709–17; and co-author with George Villeneuve of “Les verdicts de la Cour du coroner du district de Montréal, pour le premier semestre de 1893, au point de vue médical,” L’Union médicale, 22 (1893): 393–404, and “Revue statistique des enquêtes tenues par la Cour du coroner du district de Montréal, pendant l’année 1893,” L’Union médicale, 23 (1894): 57–67. Additional works by Johnston are listed in the CIHM Reg.
ANQ-E, CE1-46, 7 déc. 1862. M. E. [S.] Abbott, History of medicine in the province of Quebec (Montreal, 1931). “Bulletin médical: les étapes de la bactériologie,” L’Union médicale, 24 (1895): 435–39. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898). Denis Goulet et Othmar Keel, “L’introduction de la médecine pasteurienne au Québec,” International Congress of the Hist. of Medicine, Proc. of the 31st congress, ed. R. A. Bernabeo (Bologna, Italy, 1989), 823–28. J. J. Heagerty, Four centuries of medical history in Canada and a sketch of the medical history of Newfoundland (2v., Toronto, 1928), 1. D. S. Lewis, Royal Victoria Hospital, 1887–1947 (Montreal, 1969). H. E. MacDermot, A history of the Montreal General Hospital (Montreal, 1950).