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d. 18 April 1881 at Victoria, B.C.


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From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

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The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

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The First World War

MACALLUM, ARCHIBALD BYRON (named at birth Archibald McCallum, he added Byron around 1877 and changed his surname to Macallum in the early 1880s; it is spelled MacCallum in some university records), biochemist, physiologist, educator, and administrator; b. 7 April 1858 on a farm in Westminster Township, Upper Canada, son of Alexander McCallum and Nancy (Annie, Anna) McAlpin (McAlpine, Macalpine); m. 28 Dec. 1881 Minnie Isabella Bruce in Cornwall, Ont., and they had three sons; d. 5 April 1934 in London, Ont.

Archibald Macallum’s father emigrated to Upper Canada from Argyll, Scotland, in the 1830s and established a pioneer farm near the village of Kettle Creek (Belmont). The eighth of ten children who survived infancy, Archibald was born into the Gaelic-speaking family in 1858. He received his primary education locally, completed high school in nearby London, and earned a first-class teaching certificate. During these years he became a voracious reader and began his lifelong interest in English poetry, committing much of it to memory. After two or three years of employment at a rural school, he could afford to enrol at the University of Toronto; there he gave himself the middle name of Byron when, it is said, he was asked for a second one. He completed his ba in 1880 and was awarded the silver medal in natural sciences. He would receive an ma in 1899.

While teaching high school in Cornwall between 1880 and 1883, Macallum met his future wife, Minnie Bruce, and formed a lasting friendship with Morrisburg lawyer and politician James Pliny Whitney*. He also travelled regularly to Toronto to carry out research on the anatomy and physiology of the catfish with biology professor Robert Ramsay Wright. In 1883 Macallum returned to the university as a lecturer in biology; his title was changed to lecturer in physiology four years later. Following his completion in 1888 of a phd under Henry Newell Martin at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md, the main focus of his research changed from histology and comparative anatomy to detailed microchemical investigations of the subcellular distribution of inorganic elements (iron, phosphorus, potassium, chlorides) in a wide variety of invertebrates, vertebrates, and plants.

Although he did not intend to practise medicine, Macallum earned an mb at Toronto in 1889 because he felt that it would be wise for a teacher of medical students to have such a degree. He was appointed professor of physiology the next year. Initially, he did all the lecturing and laboratory teaching to students in medicine and the honours natural-science courses, but gradually he built up the department with class and laboratory assistants and lecturers, including Clara Cynthia Benson*, who became a demonstrator in physiology in 1905.

Macallum’s influence at Toronto extended well beyond his department, and some of the changes he introduced while serving on the university council relied on his forceful personality to overcome opposition from other members of the university. He was given the “chief credit” by President James Loudon* for the introduction of the doctoral program in 1897. He argued for a research degree requiring a written thesis, and he supervised Frederick Hughes Scott, who three years later obtained Toronto’s first phd. At Macallum’s urging, a small advisory body he chaired was placed in charge of postgraduate studies; still under his direction, it became the board of graduate studies in 1915. As well, according to a biography published in 1938, Macallum, through his friendship with James Whitney, now the Ontario premier, strongly influenced the drafting of an act passed in 1906 that revised the charter of the university, changed its governing structure, and provided for its future funding on what Whitney described as “a sound, stable, and permanent footing.”

Against strong resistance from the clinically minded members of the faculty of medicine at Toronto, Macallum took a prominent role in changing the focus of teaching in the faculty from a strictly clinical one to one that emphasized biological science. An obituary published by the Royal Society of London in 1934 begins with the observation that his “monument is the Medical School of Toronto,” and it goes on to state that by the second decade of the 20th century the school “ranked among the first two or three on the American continent and could teach the world.” Macallum oversaw the detailed planning and construction of the medical building, and at the celebration marking its completion in 1903, the noted physician William Osler*, then teaching at Johns Hopkins, praised him, saying that Macallum’s research had “carried the name of this University to every nook and corner of the globe where the science of physiology is cultivated. How much you owe him in connexion with the new buildings I need scarcely mention in this audience.”

His correspondence with Osler in 1908 reveals that Macallum was in the process of dividing his department, bringing Thomas Gregor Brodie from Britain to assume the chair in physiology and taking on the leadership of a newly created department of biochemistry himself. In addition, he was arranging for John Beresford Leathes, also from Britain, to head a department of pathological chemistry, which would reflect Macallum’s broader interests. During the years (1908–17) that Macallum chaired biochemistry, he hired staff (including his son Archibald Bruce, who was employed as a lecturer) and supervised graduate students, among them James Bertram Collip*, later of insulin fame.

Meanwhile, Macallum was carrying out his own research, often working until midnight or later, and establishing the reputation that led to his fellowships in the Royal Society of Canada in 1901 and the Royal Society of London five years later, the first University of Toronto graduate to be elected to the latter organization. He was the earliest serious student of chromatin in Canada and studied nucleoproteins in many types of cells, but his cytochemical methods led him to conclude, erroneously, that iron was an essential component of chromatin. Nevertheless, as James Michael Neelin pointed out in 1982, Macallum “did anticipate the sequence of gene expression from nuclear chromatin and nucleoli through cytoplasmic nucleoproteins to secreted proteins.”

In 1898 he had been involved in the founding of a marine-research station on the east coast of Canada, where he spent parts of several summers gathering information about the constituents of forms of life in the ocean. Detailed analytical data about vertebrates and invertebrates, laboriously acquired over many years, resulted in his suggestion that the proportions of inorganic salts in the blood of vertebrates today are those of the primordial ocean. Although most of his bold speculations have been supplanted, his studies led to some noteworthy insights. He was ahead of his time in recognizing the importance of cell compartments in metabolism, and he is credited by biologist Benjamin Dawes with being the first to suggest that “kidney function is more than just excretion, namely, the regulation of the osmotic pressure of the blood.” Macallum continued his studies at the Marine Biological Stations of Canada for many years. In 1910 he was appointed secretary-treasurer of what became, two years later, the Biological Board of Canada (later the Fisheries Research Board of Canada). He would hold this influential position until 1919.

A number of Macallum’s early publications had appeared in the Proceedings of the Canadian Institute (Toronto), and he was active on the society’s executive, serving as president from 1895 to 1898. Lengthy papers were also published in the leading journals in his field, including some German-language titles. As well, Macallum pursued his more philosophical interests, as is illustrated by his address in 1916 at the annual dinner of the Columbia University Biochemical Association, entitled “Scientific truth and the scientific spirit.” He travelled frequently to Europe and the United States to participate in the many scientific organizations to which he belonged and to present his research findings. He served as local secretary of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) for its joint meeting in Toronto with the Canadian Institute in 1897 and as president of the physiological section of the BAAS in 1910. He also helped to found the American Society of Biological Chemists and held its presidency in 1911–13 and that of the Royal Society of Canada in 1916–17. Macallum was the Nathan Lewis Hatfield lecturer at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Christian A. Herter lecturer at the New York University school of medicine in 1917. In addition to being active in scientific societies, he represented the Ontario government on the Toronto General Hospital’s board of trustees from 1907 to 1913 and was a member of a delegation that visited institutions in the United States to gather information for a projected new building. Other responsibilities included serving as treasurer of the Ontario Library Association from 1901 to 1910. Over the years honorary degrees would be bestowed on Macallum by five universities: Aberdeen (1906), Yale (1907), Trinity College, Dublin (1908), McGill (1914), and Toronto (1922).

In 1917 he moved to Ottawa to become administrative chairman of the nine-member Honorary Advisory Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (later the National Research Council). It had been started the previous year under the direction of Sir George Eulas Foster, minister of trade and commerce, who had been advised by a small committee made up of representatives from universities and industry. Although the council’s terms of reference were to coordinate and promote scientific and industrial research, its surveys found that there was little to coordinate and no more than 50 individuals in the country were competent to carry out pure research. The council established studentships and fellowships, encouraged work at universities, and fostered forestry studies at Petawawa, Ont., as well as a number of industrial projects. Not without opposition from government departments and some academics, the council concluded that a National Research Institute (central laboratories) should be created in Ottawa. A parliamentary special committee chaired by Hume Blake Cronyn, mp for London, in 1919 and 1920 endorsed such an institute, and a bill was drafted to amend the Research Council Act of 1917. The legislation passed in the House of Commons in June 1921 but was defeated in the Senate.

Meanwhile, in 1920 McGill University had created a chair in biochemistry specifically to attract Macallum. Glad of the opportunity to return to research and teaching, he accepted the offer, resigned as head of the advisory council as of February 1921, and moved to Montreal. Before he gave up the chairmanship, he had received assurances from Prime Minister Arthur Meighen* that a national institute would be established during the next session of parliament. Macallum remained a member of the council until 1929, long enough to see an amended Research Council Act passed and construction of laboratories in Ottawa under way.

Before taking up his post at McGill, Macallum had travelled to Peking (Beijing, People’s Republic of China) under the auspices of the Rockefeller Foundation to deliver a seven-month lecture course at the Peking Union Medical College and to help with its reorganization. After his return to Canada, a separate department of biochemistry was established at McGill in 1922, and he would serve as its chair until he retired six years later, having recruited J. B. Collip as his successor. At McGill, Macallum’s main responsibility was instructing the large class of medical students. His active research slowed, but he continued writing articles, including a summary of his key findings and theories, which was published in Physiological Reviews in 1926. He concluded this paper with the statement that he advanced his theories “with some reserve” because of his conviction, argued in 1916, that “there is no absolute truth knowable to the human mind” – “scientific truth of any age is that which works and consequently it may change and present a new aspect with each succeeding generation.” Two of his major addresses in this period urged research on vitamins and on the gastrointestinal tract.

Accounts of Macallum’s teaching style differ. While one early student in Toronto recalled him as having “a gloomy manner and slow, ponderous speech,” Frederick Robert Miller, a former student and demonstrator, recalled that he was regarded with affection by those he taught and that his lectures were prepared “with the utmost care for accuracy and interest, delivered with great personal force.” His many invitations to be the main speaker at scientific meetings also suggest that Macallum’s abilities in this area were impressive.

After his retirement, he lived in London, Ont. His son A. Bruce Macallum, who was now dean of the faculty of medicine at the University of Western Ontario, provided his father with an office and a laboratory, where he interacted with the staff and students on a daily basis and carried on his research and writing. The Royal Society of Canada chose Macallum as its Flavelle medallist in 1930. He continued to play golf, his only physical activity, until a few months before his death in 1934. Obituaries emphasize his extraordinary erudition, outstanding original work, vision, industry, and forceful personality. Although he has been described as a tall, lank, dignified, and dour Scot with a hasty and imperious temperament and a caustic wit, to his many friends “A. B.” was a stimulating companion, fond of good cheer and ever ready to engage in philosophical and metaphysical speculation based on his wide reading and retentive memory.

Macallum’s teaching and research had a major influence on the students he instructed. Among those with distinguished careers in the medical and biological sciences were Clara Benson, J. B. Collip, Maud Leonora Menten*, co-author of the celebrated Michaelis–Menten equation in enzyme kinetics, and F. R. Miller, who taught physiology at the University of Western Ontario for many years and wrote several laudatory articles about his mentor. Macallum was designated a national historic person by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in 1938, and a plaque honouring him was erected at the Middlesex County Court House in London nine years later. The Archibald Byron Macallum lectureship, made possible through a bequest to the department of physiology at the University of Toronto by his son Alexander Douglas, has been awarded to a distinguished physiologist each year since 1978.

Marian A. Packham

Archibald Byron Macallum’s scientific publications number more than 50. A complete bibliography has not been found. Partial lists have been compiled by his son Alexander Douglas (UTARMS, B1969-0001/001(01)), J. M. Neelin in his articles on Macallum in 1982 and 1984, S. F. McRae in her doctoral thesis, and PubMed. For the years after 1909, when A. Bruce Macallum received his md, his father’s publications can be difficult to distinguish from the younger man’s.

Macallum’s address “Scientific truth and the scientific spirit” was published in Science (New York), new ser., 43 (January–June 1916): 439–47. His review of his major research appeared as “The paleochemistry of the body fluids and tissues,” Physiological Reviews (Bethesda, Md), 6(1926): 316–57. F. R. Miller’s reminiscences of Macallum can be found in a scrapbook assembled by A. D. Macallum (UTARMS, B1969-0001/001(01), 14-16, 22).

AO, RG 80-5-0-102, no.10886; RG 80-8-0-1517, no.22645. UTARMS, A1973-0026/248(18); B1966-0005; B1969-0001; B2003-0022. “Archibald Byron Macallum,” Canadian Medical Assoc., Journal (Toronto), 30 (1934): 576–77. “Archibald B. Macallum: a pioneer in Canadian biochemistry and research organization,” Canadian Chemistry and Metallurgy (Toronto), 18 (1934): 72. [J. B. Collip], “Archibald Byron Macallum,” RSC, Trans., 3rd. ser., 28 (1934), proc.: xix–xxi. M. L. Friedland, The University of Toronto: a history (Toronto, 2002). Kenneth Johnstone, The aquatic explorers: a history of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada (Toronto, 1977). Rose Johnstone, “A sixty-year evolution of biochemistry at McGill University,” Scientia Canadensis (Ottawa), 27 (2003): 27–83. J. B. L[eathes], “Archibald Byron Macallum, 1858–1934,” Royal Soc. of London, Obit. notices of fellows, 1 (1932–35): 287–91. Thomas McCrae, “Dr. A. B. Macallum,” Univ. of Toronto Monthly, 34 (1933–34): 217. S. F. McRae, “The ‘scientific spirit’ in medicine at the University of Toronto, 1880–1910” (phd thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1987). J. M. Neelin, “Archibald Byron Macallum, pioneer of biochemistry in Canada,” Canadian Journal of Biochemistry and Cell Biology (Ottawa), 62, no.6 (June 1984): viii–xi; “Menten’s mentor: A. B. Macallum,” Canadian Biochemical Soc., Bull. ([Quebec]), 19 (1982), no.1: 29–35. M. A. Packham, 100 years of biochemistry at the University of Toronto, 1908–2008: an illustrated history (Toronto, 2008). Edwin Seaborn, The march of medicine in western Ontario (Toronto, 1944). Standard dict. of Canadian biog. (Roberts and Tunnell), vol.2. Mel Thistle, The inner ring: the early history of the National Research Council of Canada (Toronto, 1966). Univ. of Toronto, Annual report of the University of Toronto and University College for 1890–91, 1892; Calendar, 1905/6–19/20.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Marian A. Packham, “MACALLUM (McCallum, MacCallum), ARCHIBALD BYRON,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 18, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/macallum_archibald_byron_16E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/macallum_archibald_byron_16E.html
Author of Article:   Marian A. Packham
Title of Article:   MACALLUM (McCallum, MacCallum), ARCHIBALD BYRON
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   2019
Year of revision:   2019
Access Date:   April 18, 2024