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SMITH, WILLIAM HARLEY, physician, army officer, and consular agent; b. 23 Dec. 1863 in Toronto, son of Joshua Smith and Alice Berry; m. there 23 Sept. 1890 Isabelle Lucy Emma Gianelli (d. 4 March 1957), and they had two daughters and three sons; d. there 12 Aug. 1929.

Harley Smith’s father, a bookkeeper, was a native of Fritton in Suffolk County, England; his mother came from County Cavan (Republic of Ireland). Educated at Lord Dufferin School and Jarvis Street Collegiate Institute, in 1884 he graduated from the University of Toronto with a ba and a gold medal in languages. (It would become clear from his marriage that he was especially proficient in Italian.) After a period of time teaching in Strathroy, Ont., and Toronto, he attended the Toronto School of Medicine and in 1888 received his mb from the university, with first-class honours in surgery and clinical medicine. A youthful abstainer, he had served in 1887-88 as president of the Toronto Students’ Temperance League.

Smith developed a successful private practice in Toronto and became quite active in the city’s medical community, though not as a member of the university faculty. In 1898 he was an inspector of “maternity boarding homes.” Among his institutional affiliations, Smith, an Anglican, was secretary of the Medical Alumni Association from 1889 to his death, secretary-treasurer of the Toronto Medical Students’ Mission Board in 1890-92, a board member of the Victorian Order of Nurses for Canada, and honorary treasurer of the medical department of the Church Missionary Society. More significantly, he was a charter fellow (1907) and president (1924-25) of the Toronto Academy of Medicine.

Over the course of his career, Smith’s views on the pressing issues of his day in health and medicine were frequently highlighted in the newspapers. Harshly critical of practitioners who were not allopathically trained, he called in 1924 for stronger laws against “those who attempt to practice without preparation.” He also cautioned against the rising rate of medical (especially surgical) specialization among physicians in Ontario. General practice, he maintained, “requires more knowledge of human nature and more experience over a wide field of observation.” These concerns were typical of the generation trained in the late 19th century, whose professional successors were drawn to the prestige and potential of specialization. At the same time, Smith enthused about medical advances, notably the discovery of the relationship between vitamins and health and hopeful research into the treatment of diabetes. Like many doctors, he was sceptical about the harmful effects of tobacco, noting that alcohol was more dangerous, but he did recommend that those under 20 refrain from smoking in case it triggered some inherited disability during growth. His opinions on alcohol and physical development were consistent with his involvement in the temperance movement and with his philanthropic interests, as a board member of the Canadian Purity-Education Association, vice-president of the Children’s Aid Society, and president of the Young Men’s Christian Associations of the Provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

Smith’s medical career had defined his participation in World War I. He joined the Canadian Army Medical Corps in February 1916 and went overseas in April with the rank of captain. His records reveal that he was a small man  five feet four inches, 125 pounds. Promoted major in October, he served at various hospitals in England and France. Afflicted by neuralgia in his right arm, he returned to Canada in September 1919. Smith’s sons had also enlisted; one was killed at Dommiers in France while serving with the French Foreign Legion. Sometime after his return Smith was appointed medical officer to the Toronto Scottish Regiment, a position he held until 1928.

Harley Smith’s interest in Europe predated the Great War. His study of languages and his marriage in 1890 to Isabelle Gianelli, daughter of produce dealer and honorary consul Angelo Michel François Gianelli, had drawn him into the Italian community in Toronto. Appointed consular agent there in September 1901, Smith retired in March 1915, when the elevation of the post to a vice-consulate required a native Italian trained in diplomatic service. During that period he often dealt with immigration matters and, with his wife, was active in the cultural activities sponsored by such organizations as the Umberto Primo Benevolent Society; in 1915 Isabelle was on the local committee of the Italian Red Cross Society. In recognition of Harley’s duties he was made a chevalier of the Order of the Crown of Italy.

After the war, Smith’s interest in Italy continued. He shared his expertise in Italian affairs in the form of several presentations to the Toronto community in the grand settings of the Royal Alexandra Theatre and Massey Music Hall, and in more humble surroundings such as the Anglican Church Home for the elderly on Oxford Street and the Aged Women’s and Aged Men’s homes on Belmont. During a trip to Italy in 1927, he took part in a service at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Rome and interviewed Fascist leader Benito Mussolini. As an unofficial envoy, he helped Mussolini and Ontario premier George Howard Ferguson* exchange greetings. He lauded Il Duce’s record in post-war reconstruction and labour policies, and defended him in the face of growing concerns about his handling of the church and Italy’s royalty. Like many, Smith saw the Fascists’ resistance to the communist threat and their policies of regeneration as signs of a model European state.

Harley Smith died from a heart attack in August 1929, arguably before the worst excesses of Mussolini’s regime had become fully evident. Survived by his wife, two sons, and a daughter, he was buried in St James’ Cemetery. At his funeral, a friend from student days, the Reverend Henry John Cody*, lamented the loss of “the cheery little doctor who had always some good scheme in hand.” Smith’s professional views on medicine, his interests in philanthropy, his services in war, and his links to the Italian Canadian community and to Italy had made him a remarkable figure.

James E. Moran

AO, RG 22-305, no.62567; RG 80-5-0-192, no.13657; RG 80-8-0-1158, no.6136. LAC, RG 150, Acc. 1992-93/166, box 9051-11. St James’ Cemetery and Crematorium (Toronto), Tombstone, lot 109 north sect.8. UTA, A1973-0026/430(63). Daily Mail and Empire, 8 Oct. 1924, 19 Sept. 1927, 13 Aug. 1929. Daily Telegraph (Toronto), 3 March 1928. Evening Telegram (Toronto), 20 Feb. 1926, 16 Jan. 1928. Globe, 18 Sept. 1919; 7 May 1924; 23 Jan. 1925; 21 April, 14, 21 July, 17 Sept., 8 Nov. 1927; 28 Jan., 5 Nov. 1928; 13, 15 Aug. 1929. Toronto Daily Star, 5 Nov. 1896; 6 Oct. 1898; 19 Dec. 1903; 19 July 1904; 8 Feb. 1905; 12, 22 March, 30 July 1915; 10, 28 Nov. 1922; 7 May, 8-9 Oct. 1924; 6 March 1957. H. B. Anderson, “Harley Smith: for forty-five years secretary of the Medical Alumni Association,” Univ. of Toronto Monthly, 30 (1929-30): [9]. Can., Parl., Sessional papers, 1902, no.29, app.B: 45, 47. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898 and 1912). Directory, Toronto, 1875-1909. Univ. of Toronto, University of Toronto roll of service, 1914-1918 (Toronto, 1921).

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Cite This Article

James E. Moran, “SMITH, WILLIAM HARLEY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 22, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/smith_william_harley_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:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/smith_william_harley_15E.html
Author of Article:   James E. Moran
Title of Article:   SMITH, WILLIAM HARLEY
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   2005
Year of revision:   2005
Access Date:   February 22, 2024