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Biographical entry MacFarlane, Joseph Arthur (1893 - 1966)

OBE; Legion of Merit; Hon FRCS 1943; MD Toronto 1922; LLD Saskatchewan; Alberta; Hon MD Laval and Brazil; FRCS Ed 1924; FRCS(C).

23 April 1893
Lanark County, Ontario, Canada
11 April 1966
Toronto, Canada
General surgeon


Joseph MacFarlane was born in Lanark County, Ontario, on 23 April 1893, and as his family moved to Saskatchewan when he was 14 years old he completed his schooling in that province and finally matriculated with distinction in the University of Saskatchewan, and studied in the Faculty of Arts. At the end of his final year, in March 1915, he enlisted in the Western University's Field Ambulance, and by August 4 that year he was a stretcher bearer in France.

When the War ended he returned to Canada but to the University of Toronto to study medicine, and he graduated in 1922. He then decided on a surgical career and worked first at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, and then came over to Oxford to take up a Rhodes Scholarship which had been awarded in 1915 but could not be accepted at that time because of the war. He became a house surgeon at the Radcliffe Infirmary, and subsequently a surgical registrar at the London Hospital. After passing the Edinburgh Fellowship he returned to Toronto to become the senior surgical resident under Professor C L Starr.

In 1926 he was appointed to the surgical staff of the Toronto General Hospital where he worked and taught till the outbreak of the second world war in 1939 when he joined the Canadian Army and was appointed to the No 15 Canadian General Hospital as Lieutenant-Colonel in charge of the Surgical Section. In August 1941 he was made consulting surgeon to the Canadian Army overseas, and with the rank of Brigadier-General he directed the 24 Canadian General Hospitals distributed throughout England, North Africa and Italy; his responsibility for the appointment of younger surgeons to responsible posts under his command and his subsequent visits to their units resulted in the establishment of many life-long friendships. It was during this period of war service that he was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England in 1943.

After the war he became Director of Surgery at Sunnybrook Hospital and Adviser to the Director General of Treatment Services of the Department of Veteran Affairs. Yet perhaps his most important contribution to his profession was to come from his appointment in 1946 as the first full-time Dean of the Faculty of Medicine in the University of Toronto, and thereafter he exercised a benign and widespread influence upon medical education in many parts of Canada. This he achieved partly through the friendships formed over the years in the forces and in civil life, and partly more officially through his Chairmanship of the Committee on Medical Education of the Royal Commission on Health Services, of another which considered the establishment of a medical school at Memorial University in Newfoundland, and yet another which surveyed the advisability of creating a medical school at Calgary. He was also a trustee of the R Samuel McLaughlin Foundation and was thus enabled to help to select and support many young physicians and surgeons to obtain the post-graduate experience they required to qualify them as teachers in Canadian medical schools.

MacFarlane's outstanding qualities were acknowledged by the award of Honorary Doctorates by the Universities of Saskatchewan, Alberta, Laval and Brazil. He died in Toronto on 11 April 1966, a few days before his 73rd birthday.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Ann Roy Coll Surg Eng 1966, 39, 56].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England