“The Place of my Hours of Misery”
Realizing a staff position at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children was unattainable, and unsure how to proceed with his career, Banting sought advice from Dr. Clarence Leslie Starr - his friend, mentor and “father of research”.
Starr likely suggested Banting set up a private practice in London, Ontario. London was the largest city between Windsor and Toronto; there was an established Medical School with a modern facility under construction, and his friend and classmate W.P. Tew had also chosen London to start his practice.
Another compelling reason was Edith Roach, a woman Banting met in his hometown of Alliston, Ont. and to whom he became engaged in 1916. In moving to London, he would be closer to Edith, who held a teaching position at the nearby Ingersoll District Collegiate Institute.
With few options, Banting left Toronto and on June 3, 1920, Banting purchased this home for $7,800 from a well known shoe merchant Rowland Hill Sr. As their new home was still under construction, Banting allowed the Hills to remain in the house until the following spring. It was agreed that Banting would take posession of three rooms - an upstairs bedroom, the front room and the telephone room (which he turned into his apothecary), and the Hills would inhabit the remaining rooms. This agreement would later be expanded to have the Hills pay for light, heat, water, and Banting’s board.
On July 1, a brass plate was mounted on the front door, reading Frederick G. Banting M.D. He kept the regular office hours of 2-4 in the afternoon and 7-9 in the evening, 6 days a week. It would be twenty-eight days before the first patient arrived:
“My first patient wanted a liquor prescription. He was an honest soldier who had friends visiting him and he wanted to give them a drink. I gave him the prescription and considered myself rather highly trained for the bar-keeping business.” -Banting, 1940
As a newcomer to London, Banting’s practice was slow to develop. In his first month, his income was only $4.00. It was a difficult time for the struggling young doctor in his new town.
In early October 1920, Professor Frederick R. Miller, Head of the Department of Physiology, Western University Medical School, offered Banting a position in the Department of Surgery and Physiology. Eager to supplement his income, Banting took a position as Instructor in Surgery. At Western he earned an additional $8.00-$10.00 per week. Despite this additional income, his financial struggles continued to burden Banting.
As an instructor, the Graduating Class of 1921 liked Banting. They invited him to be the first speaker at the first meeting of the newly formed Medical Historical Society. After his talk on “The Life of Louis Pasteur”, he received a standing ovation, and was asked to continue the discussions for another fifteen minutes. Banting must have been surprised by this for, by his own admission, he disliked public speaking and never thought he was much good at it.