Who was Dr. John FitzGerald?
The FitzGerald academy is named after Dr. John FitzGerald, a renowned microbiologist, teacher, researcher and a pioneer in Canadian public health care. FitzGerald founded what was to become Connaught Laboratories, where an anti-rabies vaccine and diphtheria anti-toxin were prepared. As a part of his vision, the vaccine was mass-produced and provided for free or at cost leading to the eradication of diphtheria in cities across Canada. Dr. FitzGerald was dean of the faculty of medicine at the University of Toronto from 1932 to 1936 and also created the School of Hygiene in response to the growing need for postgraduate medical training in public health and hygiene.
Dr. FitzGerald graduated from the University of Toronto Medical School in 1903 and initially studied psychiatry with internships at Johns Hopkins Hospital and Sheppard Pratt. By 1907, he was chief pathologist and clinical director at the Toronto Asylum for the Insane, but made the fateful switch to bacteriology in 1909 where he spent a year studying at Harvard University. He spent the next three years travelling abroad and building a network of contacts with leading international experts including Dr. Emile Roux, creator of the world’s first diphtheria antitoxin.
Upon returning to Toronto, Dr. FitzGerald spent the next decade transforming a $3000 horse stable and five horses into what would become Connaught Laboratories. FitzGerald’s work at Connaught caught the attention of New York- based Rockefeller Foundation which granted $1.25 million to establish the University of Toronto’s School of Hygiene that opened in 1927. In the years before becoming dean in 1932, Dr. FitzGerald lobbied for a national health insurance program and became the first Canadian scientific director at the Rockefeller Foundation’s international health division. After serving four years as dean, he spent his last years of life travelling the world, assessing medical schools in 24 countries for the League of Nations. Dr. FitzGerald died on June 20, 1940, and was posthumously inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 2004.
Today, the multiple disciplines of the School of Hygiene are integrated within various departments of the Faculty of Medicine. Connaught Laboratories was later sold in 1972 and privatized. Today it exists under Sanofi Pasteur- the largest company in the world that is devoted solely to producing vaccines. Without a doubt, Dr. FitzGerald helped bring Canadian medicine onto the world stage and he is rightly proclaimed as the visionary architect of Canada’s modern public health system.