WILLMOTT, JAMES BRANSTON, dentist and educator; b. 15 June 1837 near Milton, Upper Canada, son of William Willmott and Ann Coats; m. 15 Sept. 1864 Margaret Taylor Bowes, sister of Sarah Bowes and niece of John George Bowes*, and they had three children, two of whom died in infancy; d. 14 June 1915 in Toronto.
One of three brothers, James Branston Willmott was born of English parents on a farm near Milton. He studied arts at Victoria College in Cobourg in 1854–55 but was forced to withdraw because of ill health. In 1858 he entered an indentureship in the dental office of William Case Adams in Toronto. The following year Willmott, a devoted Methodist, opened his own practice on King Street, an event he marked religiously by resolving to tithe. In 1860 he moved to Milton, where, in addition to dentistry – he also saw patients in Waterdown, Oakville, and Dundas – he operated a drugstore and became active in local affairs as a town councillor and, from 1863, a justice of the peace. He studied law, informally, and spent much time, especially lunch-hours, observing in the courts. This experience was valuable, since he was a force in framing the act of 1868 that established the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario and gave its board authority to establish a school [see Barnabas W. Day*].
In 1870–71 Willmott attended the Philadelphia Dental College, from which he graduated with a doctorate of dental surgery. He then left Milton for Toronto, where he resumed practice. Although he suffered from congenital astigmatism, which would not be corrected until he was 38, Willmott evidently possessed great skill. He was elected secretary of the RCDS’s board of directors in 1870 and was selected, with Luke Teskey, to conduct the School of Dentistry, the first continuous school in Canada, which opened in November 1875 with 11 students. About this time he received a master of dental science degree from the New York State Dental Society and in 1878 he would be granted a master of dental surgery diploma by the RCDS.
An exemplary administrator and teacher, Willmott was head of the school from the beginning. Its course was extended to two sessions in 1876 and later to three, and admission requirements were steadily raised. The inspirational Willmott guided the school’s move to successively larger premises, in 1878, 1887, 1896, and 1909. One of his main goals, affiliation with the University of Toronto, was attained in 1888. The first dds ever conferred by any university in the British empire was granted there on 2 April 1889. In 1892 the school was reorganized, with its management being assumed by the board, and the following year Willmott was officially appointed dean. Supported by Willmott, negotiations were undertaken in 1907–8 to have the school taken over as a faculty of the university, but the university rejected the proposal. He remained active as a professor until his death in 1915.
For 40 years Willmott was an influential leader in all phases of dentistry in Ontario and he commanded respect internationally. Modest but difficult to overcome in debate, he was elected first president of the Canadian Dental Association in 1903. In 1909 the Ontario Dental Association, in recognition of his efforts, donated an exquisite stained-glass window commemorating Willmott to the new School of Dentistry. For his greatest contribution, his ongoing work in the field of dental education, he was awarded an lld by the University of Toronto in 1914, the first Canadian dentist to be so honoured. At his death, Charles Nelson Johnson, a former student and noted dean of the Chicago College of Dental Surgery, said that Willmott “meant more to Canadian dentistry during the days of its organization than will ever be computed. I do not know where in any land the profession . . . owed more to a single individual than the profession of Canada owed to Dr. Willmott.” By developing dental education, the visionary Willmott helped transform unregulated, itinerant dental tradesmen into a professional group with recognized academic standing and an international reputation.
Willmott had been an ardent Liberal in politics in his early days. Outside dentistry, his main interest was church work. In 1872, after his move to Toronto, he joined Metropolitan Church, where he eventually held most of the lay positions. He died in 1915 at Toronto General Hospital, still in office as dean of the dental school and secretary of the Ontario Dental Board. Willmott’s son and partner, Walter Earl, would follow in his father’s footsteps to serve the profession in many capacities for over 50 years.
James Branston Willmott published two articles, “The Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario” and “History of dental education in Ontario,” in the Hya Yaka (Toronto), 4 (1906–7 ), no.1: 1–4 and 6 (1908–9), no.1: 6–8.
Dental Museum, Univ. of Toronto, Faculty of dentistry, J. B. Willmott, daily account-books, 1859–64; illuminated testimonial presented to Willmott when he left Milton to practise in Toronto, Milton, Ont., 11 July 1871; printed advertisement, Milton, [Ont.], September 1860; professional card, Toronto, n.d. Univ. of Toronto Library, Faculty of Dentistry Library, Biog. file. “Banquet to Dr. J. B. Willmott,” Dominion Dental Journal (Toronto), 21 (1909): 195–229. “Biographical sketch of the life of Dean James Branston Willmott, 1837–1915,” Oral Health (Toronto), 14 (1924): 227–32. Canada Journal of Dental Science (Toronto), 4 (1878–79): 90. Canadian album (Cochrane and Hopkins), 1: 67. Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose and Charlesworth), vol.2. Dominion Dental Journal, 1 (1889): 18, 133–34; 11 (1899): 1–2; 27 (1915): 419; 38 (1926): 144–50. D. W. Gullett, A history of dentistry in Canada (Toronto, 1971). Hya Yaka, 2 (1904–5), no.1: 8–11. Polk’s dental register and directory of the United States and Canada . . . (Detroit), 1900/1: 707; 1906: 989. W. E. Willmott, “History of dentistry in Ontario,” Dominion Dental Journal, 39 (1927): 167–70.