Individuals and communities across Canada and the world were impacted in diverse ways by the discovery of insulin. Many Canadians have worked to advance insulin research and diabetes treatment as well. Explore their stories here. 

If you have your own story to submit, let us know!


By Anna England

Anna England, the Projects Coordinator and Digital Curator for Defining Moments Canada, has written a series of historical microhistories that examine the life and achievements of the lesser known individuals who played a significant role in the development of insulin.

Sadie Gairns

Gairns worked closely alongside Banting for nineteen years and her name appears next to his on seven research papers published between 1924 and 1934. And yet, little is known about this woman, whose assistance Banting himself described as indispensable and valuable.

Continue Reading

Dr. Gladys Boyd

Dr. Boyd was greatly influenced by the work of Dr. Banting and his team. The strides they had made in isolating the necessary extracts to formulate the beginning framework for insulin were truly astonishing and Dr. Boyd was eager to apply this new treatment in her ward.

Continue Reading

Dr. Lillian Chase

Her professor, Dr. McPhedran, presented a 14-year diabetic boy named Leonard Thompson to her class and it was at this moment that Lillian witnessed one of the first administrations of insulin to a human.

Continue Reading

Early Patients

Before the first human use of insulin in January 1922, it was exceptional for people with Type 1 diabetes to live more than a year or two. In one of medicine’s more dramatized moments, the discovery of insulin has been retold as Banting, Best, and Collip going from bed to bed of the Children’s Ward…

Continue Reading

The Lasting Legacy of Insulin

By Dr. Christopher Rutty

Dr. Christopher J. Rutty, the Lead Historian for our Insulin100 project, has written new educational and historic articles pertaining to the legacy of the discovery of insulin and the institutions that supported this discovery.

University of Toronto

Tracing the Spread of Insulin

To mark the Insulin 100th, Canada Post issued a new stamp on April 15, 2021. It features a vial of “Insulin – Toronto,” which was produced by Connaught Laboratories of the University of Toronto. The vial’s label includes an important code — “Lot No. 292-19” — which reveals much about the history of not only…

Continue Reading

Elizabeth Hughes: Letters from Toronto

On August 22, 1922, 15-year-old Elizabeth Hughes wrote the first of her 18 letters from Toronto. “Dearest, dearest Mumsey,” she wrote. “I hope to goodness this does reach you safely for it carries in it some very interesting news I think.”

Continue Reading

Insulin Research & Innovation Legacies: Institution Building

The discovery of insulin was a transformative event on many levels, starting with its impact on the lives of millions of diabetics around the world. In Canada, more than any other country, the discovery of insulin was transformational in its influence on the creation of new medical research institutions and infrastructures; the rapid development of…

Continue Reading

History of the History of the Discovery of Insulin

There are a number of elements that make the discovery of insulin an especially compelling story for historians, as well as journalists, scientists, filmmakers and physicians. There was the unlikely figure of the country doctor-surgeon with a novel idea, who then somehow convinced a skeptical university professor to give him a chance to pursue it.…

Continue Reading

Trailblazing Women: Canadian Women in STEM

By Baneen Haideri

Baneen Haideri, a York University student who completed her public history placement with Defining Moments Canada, has developed a series of microhistorical profiles examining Canadian women throughout our shared history who have broken barriers in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

Ananya Banerjee

Dr. Banerjee is a trail blazing woman who wears many hats, including researcher, educator and community advocate. A hundred years after insulin’s discovery, Dr. Banerjee is involved in diabetes research and development in a wide range of innovative ways – namely Community-Based Participatory Research, a method where communities are highly involved with the healthcare practitioners…

Continue Reading

Carrie Derick

Three decades prior to the birth of Fredrick Banting in Alliston, Ontario, around 600km away in the province next door, Carrie Matilda Derick was born in Clarenceville, Québec, on January 14, 1862. Derick is a highly praised figure in Canadian history, and McGill University is credited, by association, for its landmark achievement in Canadian women’s…

Continue Reading

Henrietta Ball Banting

Lady Banting, as Henrietta would become famously known, was a highly accomplished obstetrician, and the champion of routine mammography and breast cancer prevention in Canada. One can argue that Henrietta Banting’s accomplishments at very least equal that of her husband’s in medicine and research.

Continue Reading

Leone Farrell

Working tirelessly, Dr. Leone Farrell had formulated a method, famously dubbed the ‘Toronto Method’, that brought the rate of polio infections among Canadian children from 50,000 in the 1950s to almost zero by 1965. Yet, the story of this little known science heroine became buried in the archives, and has only recently been unearthed in…

Continue Reading

Maud Menten

Maud Menten is a highly celebrated figure today, not only as being among the first Canadian women to become a medical doctor, but also because of her career which includes a lengthy list of other notable ‘firsts’.

Continue Reading