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VAN CORTLANDT, EDWARD, physician, surgeon, and author; b. 1805 in Newfoundland, son of Major Philip Van Cortlandt, an officer in the War of the American Revolution, and United Empire Loyalist; d. 25 March 1875 in Ottawa, Ont.

Edward Van Cortlandt was educated in Quebec at the school run by the Reverend Daniel Wilkie*, and from 1819 to 1825 he studied medicine in Quebec under Dr William Hackett. He then went to England and, in 1827, passed the examinations at the Royal College of Surgeons in London, receiving praise from the celebrated John Abernethy and from Sir Anthony Carlisle for “the creditable manner in which he passed through the vigorous ordeal.” In 1829 he was chosen over 12 competitors to be librarian to the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society, an early indication of a bookish tendency.

Van Cortlandt returned to Canada in 1832, and on 26 December was authorized by the provincial secretary to practise medicine in Lower Canada. The succeeding year, he went to the new frontier community of Bytown (later named Ottawa), Upper Canada, on the recommendation of Dr James Skey. There he quickly established a large and lucrative practice and in 1834 served through the cholera epidemic. He contributed his services gratuitously for a time in the lower Bytown hospital of the Grey Nuns of the Cross under Elisabeth Bruyère who had arrived from Montreal in 1845, and he was appointed physician and later consulting physician to their General Hospital which was established in 1851. He was coroner of the city of Ottawa, physician to the county gaol, and surgeon for some 20 years to the Ottawa Field Battery.

Edward Van Cortlandt also had a deep interest in other aspects of science, particularly geology and archeology. In 1843, when workmen building the Union Bridge came upon an Indian burial site on the Ottawa River, he carried out searches, collected artifacts, and recorded his work in a report which appeared in 1853 in the Canadian Journal. He published, in 1854, a little study entitled The productions of the Ottawa district of Canada, and, in 1860, a significant brochure entitled Observations on the building stone of the Ottawa country. In the latter, Van Cortlandt claims to have earlier called to the attention of Lord Elgin [James Bruce*] the location of the stone from which the parliament building was constructed. Van Cortlandt also contributed many articles to Ottawa newspapers and took part in civic movements, including a celebration of the tercentenary of Shakespeare’s birth.

Van Cortlandt was a founding member of the Ottawa Silurian Society, president of the Horticultural Society, the Mechanics’ Institute, the Athenaeum, and one-time secretary to the Board of Arts and Manufactures of Montreal. Almost from his arrival in Bytown he was an ardent promoter of the Ottawa region, and occasionally established exhibits of its products. He constructed a private museum of archeology and geology in the capital and opened it to the public.

Edward Van Cortlandt was a “bold surgeon and a good operator,” if mannered in style. It is said that he imitated “the great Abernethy” but, “as always happens, a second edition was a failure.” He was “eccentric in his manner,” and was no doubt quarrelsome; about 1839 he was involved in an assault against one Lieutenant Hadden over pet animals. In the same year he pursued the impecunious Wright family for non-payment of an account in respect of Philemon Wright*’s last illness, and threatened to treat Wright’s son Ruggles the way he had Hadden. When he died in 1875, however, his obituaries stated that his “genial and warm-hearted qualities won the esteem of a large circle of acquaintances.”

He married Harriet Amelia Harrington of St Andrews East (county of Argenteuil), Quebec, and they had four daughters and two sons. One daughter, Gertrude, was a writer and published Records of the rise and progress of the City of Ottawa, from the foundation of the Rideau Canal to the present time (Ottawa, 1858).

Edward Van Cortlandt died in 1875 and received full military honours from the Ottawa Field Battery.

Courtney C. J. Bond

Edward Van Cortlandt, “Notes on an Indian burying ground,” Canadian Journal, I (1852–53), 160–61; Observations on the building stone of the Ottawa country; being the abridgment of a lecture delivered before the Ottawa Silurian Society, the 15th November, 1859 ([Ottawa], 1860); The productions of the Ottawa district of Canada . . . (Montreal, 1854).

PAC, MG 12, D, T28, 14, p.12; MG 23, D1 (Chipman papers), ser.1, 26, p.207; MG 24, D8 (Wright papers), 27, ff.10674, 10727–28; 35, ff.16013–14, 16241–42; 19 (Hill collection), 3, ff.754–55; 19, ff.4697–99, 4712–15, 4723–24; 20, ff.5046–59, 5105–6; 21, ff.5456–57, 5459; 30, ff.7523; RG 8, I, D2, 1203 1/2P, pp.128, 140, 162, 196. PRO, CO 5/1067, pp.172–73. Ottawa Citizen, 9 Feb., 26 April 1864, 3 Jan. 1953. Ottawa Free Press, 27 March 1875. The Quebec directory, or strangersguide to the city, for 1826 . . . , ed. John Smith (Quebec, 1826), 44. Quebec Mercury, 29 Dec. 1832. Morgan, Bibliotheca Canadensis, 381. Wallace, Macmillan dictionary, 766. C. C. J. Bond, City on the Ottawa (Ottawa, 1967), 37. Canniff, Medical profession in Upper Canada, 652–53. J. W. Hughson and C. C. J. Bond, Hurling down the pine; the story of the Wright, Gilmour and Hughson families, timber and lumber manufacturers in the Hull and Ottawa region and on the Gatineau River, 1800–1920 (2nd ed., Old Chelsea, Que., 1965), 31. C. C. J. Bond, “Alexander James Christie, Bytown pioneer; his life and times, 1787–1843,” Ont. Hist., LVI (1964), 16–36.

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Cite This Article

Courtney C. J. Bond, “VAN CORTLANDT, EDWARD,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 6, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/van_cortlandt_edward_10E.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/van_cortlandt_edward_10E.html
Author of Article:   Courtney C. J. Bond
Title of Article:   VAN CORTLANDT, EDWARD
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1972
Year of revision:   1972
Access Date:   February 6, 2023