RODDICK, Sir THOMAS GEORGE, surgeon, university professor, militia officer, and politician; b. 30 July 1846 in Harbour Grace, Nfld, son of John Irving Roddick and Emma Jane Martin; m. first 2 Aug. 1880 Urelia Marion Fraser McKinnon (d. 1890) in Montreal; m. secondly 3 Sept. 1906 Amy Redpath in Chislehurst (London), England; no children were born of either marriage; d. 20 Feb. 1923 in Montreal.
Thomas Roddick, one of five children, had a strict Protestant education at the grammar school in Harbour Grace where his father was principal. A promising student, at age 14 he was sent by his father to the Normal School in Truro, N.S. While studying there from 1860 to 1864, he also began to accompany a local physician, Samuel Muir, on his rounds and to assist him in his office. On vacations in Newfoundland, he helped Dr Charles Hugh Renouf, a graduate of the University of Edinburgh. Influenced by these men, he decided to become a physician and to study in Scotland. He stopped in Montreal en route to Edinburgh and had brought with him an introduction to George Edgeworth Fenwick*, a doctor and demonstrator of anatomy at McGill College. While he was visiting Fenwick on 29 June 1864, the Montreal physician received a telegram requesting assistance. A train with 458 passengers had run through an open drawbridge over the Rivière Richelieu near Saint-Hilaire (Mont Saint-Hilaire), plunging cars and passengers into the water. Fenwick took Roddick with him to help. He was so struck with the young man’s surgical skills in the face of a major disaster that he persuaded him to abandon his plans for Scotland and to apply to McGill. Roddick graduated in 1868, was first in his class, was valedictorian, and won the Holmes Medal for the highest aggregate marks in the four-year course.
Roddick served as assistant house surgeon at the Montreal General Hospital from 1868 to 1872. His duties were to admit patients, write their histories, assist in operations, and work in the clinic. As house surgeon from 1872 to 1874, he began to have referrals of his own and by 1874 he was well enough established to start a practice. Disturbed by the high rate of surgical infection at the hospital, in 1872 he had made a special trip to Edinburgh to study with Joseph Lister, the discoverer of antisepsis. The following year he was appointed lecturer in hygiene at McGill and in 1874 he became demonstrator in anatomy. His extraordinary surgical talent so impressed the medical faculty that it appointed him professor of clinical surgery in 1875 at age 28.
Roddick’s surgical career at the Montreal General had begun in the outpatient clinic in 1874, where he performed only minor surgery. The following year he was promoted full surgeon, but it was not until 1877 that he obtained an indoor appointment, which meant that he could use the operating room and perform major surgery. His operations consisted mostly of amputations, which often resulted in fatal post-operative infections, so much so that he went back to visit Lister in 1877 for retraining in antisepsis. Within two years, with strict adherence to Lister’s methods, he reduced his surgical mortality rate due to infection from more than 50 per cent to 3.2 per cent. He was not the first person at McGill to use antiseptic techniques: Robert Craik and others had done so in the previous decade, but had not adhered strictly to Lister’s methods, so their results were not as impressive. Through articles and talks at meetings, Roddick became the leading proponent of antisepsis in Canada.
A member of the local militia since 1868, Roddick had been appointed assistant surgeon to the Grand Trunk Railway Brigade and he had served during the Fenian raids of 1870. Later he was placed in command of the University Company of the 1st (Prince of Wales’s) Regiment of Volunteer Rifles and by 1885 he was surgeon to the regiment. In March 1885 the Canadian government, in response to the rebellion led by Métis leader Louis Riel*, began to send troops under Major-General Frederick Dobson Middleton* to the North-West Territories to suppress the uprising. On 5 April Roddick was offered the post of deputy surgeon general by the surgeon general of the expedition, Darby Bergin*. He mobilized doctors, nurses, aides, and supplies for the campaign and followed the battles, attending to the wounded. He stayed in the northwest until late August, seeing to the evacuation of casualties by barge and railway and even caring for wounded Métis. Loss of life was minimal during the care and transportation of the injured and Roddick was mentioned in dispatches.
Roddick’s reputation began to spread after 1885 and he received numerous appointments, such as the presidency of the Montreal Medico-Chirurgical Society for 1886–88, the professorship in surgery at McGill in 1890, and in the same year the presidency of the Canadian Medical Association. As a member of the original board of governors of the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, set up in 1887, he had advised the project’s benefactors, Sir Donald Alexander Smith* and Sir George Stephen, on the design of the surgical services. In 1894, soon after the hospital opened, he was appointed chief of surgery. Within one year, once the surgical service was running well, he resigned and was succeeded by James Bell. From 1901 to 1917 he would serve as chairman of the hospital’s medical board.
At a meeting of the Canadian Medical Association in 1894 at Saint John, the lack of uniform standards for medical qualification throughout Canada was raised once again and Roddick was made chairman of a committee to investigate the matter. Little did he realize that this appointment would launch him into an 18-year effort to establish a nation-wide standard of medical education and a central system of medical registration in Canada. In 1896, at the request of Prime Minister Sir Charles Tupper*, he ran as a Conservative for election to the House of Commons. He was returned for the Montreal riding of St Antoine and was re-elected in 1900, but did not contest the general election of 1904. He took advantage of his position to promote a bill which became known as the Roddick Bill. Passed in 1902 and officially called the Canada Medical Act, it established the Medical Council of Canada to register all medical graduates in the country. Since education and medical licensing were matters of provincial jurisdiction, the act required ratification by the provincial legislatures before becoming effective. Roddick spent the next few years negotiating with the provincial medical councils over requirements for matriculation, the manner of provincial representation on the dominion council, and a clause to provide special provisions for existing practitioners. In 1911 a revised bill passed the house and by the following year all nine provinces had ratified it. The provinces retained control of pre-medical education and of disciplinary action over doctors. The Medical Council of Canada set examinations for Canadian graduates to qualify for practice anywhere in the dominion. In gratitude for this monumental accomplishment, the Canadian Medical Association elected him honorary president for life in 1912. He served as the first president of the council from 1912 to 1914 and it gave him the first certificate of registration on 1 July 1913.
In Ottawa Roddick had strongly advocated that Newfoundland enter the Dominion of Canada. He supported various projects in the colony, including in 1901 the organization of medical care for the fishing and sealing fleets while at sea. For years he served as president of Montreal’s Newfoundland Society, which welcomed Newfoundlanders to the city, and he organized a branch of the Grenfell Mission Society in Montreal to support the work of Wilfred Thomason Grenfell*. In Newfoundland the town of Roddickton and a hospital in Stephenville would be named after him.
As an mp, he also spoke on issues of public health, especially tuberculosis. From 1903 to 1908 he served as vice-president of the Montreal League for the Prevention of Tuberculosis and in 1909 he was appointed to Quebec’s royal commission on tuberculosis. Roddick played a prominent role in several other medical organizations. He had helped set up the Canadian branch of the British Medical Association, of which he became president. In 1896–98 he was the first overseas president of the parent organization and he arranged for a meeting of the association in Montreal in 1897, the first outside the British Isles. The meeting was such a huge success that he was elected vice-president for life. He also founded and helped to raise money for an isolation hospital, the Alexandra Hospital in Montreal, and was its president from 1905 to World War I. He held the vice-presidency of the Quebec branch of the Canadian Red Cross in 1896 and was an honorary vice-president of the Victorian Order of Nurses.
In December 1901 Roddick was appointed dean of medicine at McGill. During the next seven years he negotiated more major developments in the faculty than had been seen in the past 72 years. The first problem requiring his negotiating skills was a financial one. Independent of the university, the faculty appointed its members and collected its own fees, but by the turn of the century, with all its bequests and donations having gone for capital expansion, it was running at an annual deficit. By 1903 it was apparent that this situation was going to continue and that the faculty owed a sizeable amount to the university. At Roddick’s request, Lord Strathcona [Smith] donated $50,000 to pay the debt, but he strongly suggested that the faculty make arrangements for better financial management. Strathcona was the faculty’s major benefactor and Roddick knew that with his eventual passing the faculty would be in even greater trouble. In 1904 he proposed an amalgamation with McGill, which was accomplished the following year, thereby ending 76 years of separate existence.
The second important event during Roddick’s term was the establishment of a dental school. The Dental Association of the Province of Quebec had requested that McGill open a dental school many years earlier, but negotiations had failed, so the association had established the Dental College of the Province of Quebec, which affiliated with Bishop’s College in 1896. Since by 1903 the school was experiencing difficulty, the Dental Association contacted McGill expressing renewed interest in the establishment of a dental school at the university. In 1904 Bishop’s school was accepted in its entirety as the dental faculty of McGill, a department of the faculty of medicine. McGill began teaching dentistry in the autumn of 1905.
The most important development during Roddick’s deanship was the request in 1904 from Bishop’s medical faculty to amalgamate with McGill. Its school was solvent, and had had 221 graduates since 1872, including Casey Albert Wood*, William Henry Drummond*, and Maude Elizabeth Seymour Abbott*. The merger, completed in 1905, eliminated competition for McGill in the field of English-language medical education in Quebec. There was no room on the staff at McGill for most of the faculty of Bishop’s. Students who wanted to graduate with a McGill degree had to start in the first year. Those who did not could continue at McGill and graduate with a degree from Bishop’s.
On 15 April 1907 the central portion of the medical faculty’s building was destroyed by fire. About 50 per cent of the structure was lost, including part of the medical museum, laboratories, and offices. Roddick felt that incendiarism had to be considered, but an investigation by the fire commission of Montreal failed to reveal any evidence of arson. Roddick, who was to retire in June 1907, agreed to stay on as dean until arrangements were made to continue the medical courses and construct a new building, but he did retire as professor of surgery that year. With the help of funds from Strathcona, construction began and the decision to lengthen the curriculum to five years was finally approved by the university. This important development provided a clinical year for most students, who went into practice without internship. Roddick resigned the deanship in 1908 and in appreciation of his service he was appointed a life governor of McGill.
Additional honours had been conferred on Roddick, among them several honorary degrees: an lld from Edinburgh in 1898, an lld from Queen’s College, Kingston, in 1903, and a dsc from Oxford in 1904. Others included an honorary fellowship in the Royal College of Surgeons of England in 1900, an honorary membership in the Medical Society of London in 1897, an associate fellowship in the Physicians and Surgeons of Philadelphia in 1898, an honorary fellowship in the American College of Surgeons in 1914, and membership in the Royal Society of Canada in 1914. The crowning honour of his career was a knighthood conferred by King George V in 1914; many considered it long overdue.
The author of 45 publications, including 4 articles on antiseptic surgery which established his reputation, Roddick probably had as great an influence on the practice of medicine in his role as one of the editors of the prestigious Canada Medical & Surgical Journal (Montreal) (1882–88) and its successor, the Montreal Medical Journal (1888–1903).
Roddick’s health began to fail after his deanship. He had arteriosclerosis with coronary artery disease and took nitroglycerin. He had no specific hobbies or interests apart from medicine, but he and his wife enjoyed travelling. Even this activity was limited after 1914. His last trip to England to receive his knighthood that year was particularly exhausting because of the difficulty getting passage back to Canada once the war had broken out. For a number of years he spent the winter in Florida, but even this custom became too much by the end of the war. Charles Ferdinand Martin, his physician, diagnosed pernicious anaemia with combined system disease, a degeneration of the spinal cord. He gradually deteriorated and he died quietly at home on 20 Feb. 1923.
A punctual man, Sir Thomas Roddick had often discussed with his wife Amy the need for a clock tower at McGill. In 1924 she donated money for the construction of formal gates off Sherbrooke Street with a bell tower at one end. A committee was established, chaired by Sir Herbert Samuel Holt* of Montreal, various designs were considered, and the gates as they are today were constructed; a bell tower on the west side has three clock faces and bells that ring on the quarter-hour. Hundreds of thousands have passed through these gates since their formal opening in 1925.
The appendix to H. E. MacDermot, Sir Thomas Roddick: his work in medicine and public life (Toronto, 1938), includes partial listings of Roddick’s contributions to various medical journals and the addresses he gave throughout his career. Additional references can be found in the CIHM, Reg. Eighty-three articles by Roddick are listed in the Fichier Medicus quebecensis online database at the Centre Interuniversitaire d’Études Québécoises of the Univ. Laval, Québec, and the Univ. du Québec à Trois-Rivières.
ANQ-M, CE601-S120, 2 août 1880. MUA, RG 38, c.14–16. McGill Univ. Libraries, Dept. of Rare Books and Special Coll., ms coll., MS 659 (T. G. Roddick papers). St Paul’s Anglican Church (Harbour Grace, Nfld), Reg. of baptisms, 1775–1916 (copy at PANL). Le Devoir, 21 févr. 1923. Montreal Daily Star, 4 Sept. 1906, 20 Feb. 1923. Montreal Gazette, 30 June 1864, continued as Gazette, 16–17 April 1907. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898 and 1912). CPG, 1897–1903. R. B. Kerr, History of the Medical Council of Canada (Ottawa, 1979). D. S. Lewis, Royal Victoria Hospital, 1887–1947 (Montreal, 1969). M. A. Rogers, A history of the McGill dental school (Montreal, 1980). Standard dict. of Canadian biog. (Roberts and Tunnell). G. D. Thompson, “The Roddick Memorial Gates,” McGill News (Montreal), 6, no.3 (June 1925): 21–23. Who’s who in Canada, 1922.
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Cite This Article
Joseph Hanaway, “RODDICK, Sir THOMAS GEORGE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 1, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/roddick_thomas_george_15E.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:
|Author of Article:||Joseph Hanaway|
|Title of Article:||RODDICK, Sir THOMAS GEORGE|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||2005|
|Year of revision:||2005|
|Access Date:||April 1, 2023|