SMITH, WILLIAM HENRY, surgeon, dentist, and author; fl. 1843–73.
William Henry Smith was probably born in England, most likely not before 1800, judging from the vigour of his activities in the 1840s. His parents have not been identified. Smith’s writings show him as a man of education, remarkable energy and patience, and occasionally of humour. He studied surgery in London under Sir David Barry and was a pupil of G. J. Guthrie, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, who had earlier spent five years in Canada. There is, however, no evidence that Smith ever qualified as frcs. He became surgeon to the emigrant ship Amazon and, perhaps in this capacity, emigrated to Canada. From the title-page and dedication date of his Gazetteer, we know that he had arrived in Canada West by 1843.
Smith travelled through all the settled parts of the upper province collecting data and walking more than 3,000 miles in all weathers. The result was his first known work, Smith’s Canadian gazetteer, published in Toronto for the author in 1846; it was compiled expressly to dispel ignorance and misinformation regarding Canada, particularly in Britain and amongst immigrants, and to encourage settlement. It comprises articles on districts, counties, townships, and communities in alphabetical arrangement, and includes tables (original data recorded nowhere else), six plates, and a folded map. Three new issues or variant states of the book appeared before 1849, when it was reissued with a new title-page and the names of London booksellers added to the imprint.
Smith was referring to Canada as his adopted country by the end of the 1840s, and he is listed in a Toronto directory for 1850–51 as “surgeon dentist.” He appears to have settled in Toronto with his family for in his next work, of 1851, he lists a Mrs and Miss Smith as conducting a ladies’ seminary at his own address.
Encouraged by the success of his Gazetteer, and with the desire further to promote settlement, Smith compiled his Canada: past, present and future. It was copyrighted in 1851, but publication in ten subscription parts extended into 1852. The 1,200 pages and 11 maps to be bound into two volumes are a monument of industry, for Smith had distributed thousands of prospectuses requesting information, endured long journeys to gather data, and spent years of “exertion of body and mind” to complete the work. Detailed descriptions of each county in Canada West are given, going from west to east, with commercial tables and notes on townships and settlements. An invaluable business and professional directory is added, and each volume has a geographical index. The work was acclaimed in the press of both the Canadas. Another issue bound in two volumes appeared in 1852, and a third later with additional plates.
Smith drops from sight in 1852, when the final parts of his Canada were issued, until 1873 when he published in Montreal his last known work, Smith’s family physician. Its long title-page records the details of his professional training and position as a ship’s surgeon. After this time our knowledge of him ceases.
Smith’s Gazetteer, though not the first in Canada West as he claimed, and his Canada, are indispensable references for the period, and are still widely quoted.
W. H. Smith, Canada: past, present and future, being a historical, geographical, geological and statistical account of Canada West (2v., Toronto, [1851–52]); Smith’s Canadian gazetteer; comprising statistical and general information respecting all parts of the upper province, or Canada West . . . (Toronto, 1846); Smith’s family physician: comprising the nature, causes, symptoms and treatment of diseases . . . (Montreal, 1873). Rowsell’s city of Toronto and county of York directory, for 1850–1 . . . ed. J. Armstrong (Toronto, 1850).