By Dorothy Isted

Special to the Pioneer

When Dr. John George Adami died in 1926 the British Medical Journal published a three-page obituary detailing his impressive career. Such big news at the time was even reported in the Adelaide Advertiser in Australia. 

Adami was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool and prior to that, for 25 years, Professor of Pathology and Bacteriology at McGill University in Montreal. He also had an impressive summer home in the Columbia Valley, where present day Timber Ridge is located. 

Born in 1862 in Manchester, England, George, as he was known, went to Cambridge University where he received double first-class honours in natural sciences. After graduating in 1884, he began post graduate studies. He nearly died when he was studying rabid deer, cutting himself badly and developing a severe infection. He was urgently transported to Paris to be treated by none other than Louis Pasteur, and lived only after undergoing a painful treatment. He later worked with Pasteur and Nobel-prize-winning biologist Elie Mechnikov who pioneered work in immunology.

In 1892 he accepted the first Professor of Pathology position at McGill. He married a Montreal-born woman in 1894, Mary Stuart Cantlie, and they had a son and a daughter.

R. Randolph Bruce attained his mining engineering degree in 1896 at McGill. Perhaps he visited the Adamis while studying in Montreal, as Mrs. Adami was rumoured to have been his cousin. Vague local museum records note that Bruce ‘built’ their valley summer home named Edenhowe in 1907/08. More likely he oversaw the construction of it. It was a large and elaborate vacation property, with guest cottages, stables and gardens. 

Bruce was a local mine engineer and land promoter who grew up in the same Scottish town that Mrs. Adami’s maternal uncle had. Lord Mt. Stephen was brother to Mrs. Adami’s mother and started out life as a stable boy but ended up the financial genius and first president of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. When he retired he was the richest man in Canada. Their cousin, Lord Strathcona, another philanthropist, endowed the pathology chair at McGill University. 

Mrs. Adami’s father, James Alexander Cantlie was a successful Montreal businessman. There is a hotel in Montreal built on the Cantlie lands, named after the family.

Furniture was shipped by train to Golden and then by riverboat down to Lake Windermere. Mrs. Adami and their children came every summer and when his schedule allowed, Dr. Adami joined them. He often brought illustrious guests such as Governor General Earl Grey, Lord Lascelles and well-known Parisian artist Frank Armington. Armington was the illustrator for the Columbia Valley Irrigated Fruitlands pamphlet that flooded Great Britain, bringing settlers to the valley.

When Dr. Adami arrived in Montreal, he found the McGill Pathological Museum in disarray and created logical order to the chaos, which then became a useful teaching tool. In 1898 he hired Maude Abbott as assistant curator and saw that she was trained fully by sending her to study the methods of the Washington Army Medical Museum in order to best use her skills. It was not the only instance of going against the flow, in a time when women weren’t easily promoted to important positions, in spite of their competence. McGill awarded her an honorary MD in 1910 and a Canadian postal stamp was later created in recognition of her contributions. 

Adami remained the titular head of the museum. Specimens went back as far as the 1820s and the museum thereafter became heavily used by many generations of student doctors. 

Adami was described as easy-going but driven and hard working. He was considered occasionally impulsive and indiscreet, but he was full of life and his students loved him, as he inspired them and enthusiastically joined in with their fun. This popularity attracted many students to his programs. In 1919 he wrote a paper for British Medical Journal on venereal disease among enlisted men – a topic not generally considered appropriate to discuss. He entitled it “The Policy of the Ostrich.” He was also a much sought-after speaker and wrote many medical articles.

Outside of medicine he collected china and drawings, exhibited his own watercolours, had comprehensive knowledge of continental art galleries and took an interest in Christian faith, writing for the Anglican Evangelical Group a pamphlet called The Unity of Faith and Science. 

One noteworthy contribution to medicine was the publication in 1912 of his 904-paged A Textbook of Pathology for Students of Medicine, co-written with Canadian doctor John McCrae, who is more well-known today for his In Flanders Fields poem. This work was a result of the recognition that his earlier over 2000-page, two-volumed book The Principles of Pathology was difficult for average students. Both books were widely used wherever English-speaking medicine was practised. In reviewing the earlier book, a leading science journal congratulated Adami on the exhaustive work which had been published after he lost his library and final book chapters in a fire that raged through McGill’s medical buildings in 1907.

Mrs. Adami was chronically ill and died in Montreal in 1916. By then, Dr. Adami was in England, having volunteered for the First World War in 1914. He was quickly promoted to Colonel and worked in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps. He was awarded a CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of British Empire) for his war contributions by King George V. As his children were now in England with him, he reluctantly gave up Canada and accepted the Vice-Chancellor position for the University of Liverpool.

In 1924 Dr. Adami remarried an English woman, Marie Wilkinson, who wrote his biography, which can be viewed in the McGill University library. While in Montreal, Dr. Adami served as president of the Association of American Physicians as well as president of the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis. On reviewing Marie Adami’s biography in 1931, an article published by the American College of Physicians stated, “Adami became widely known and beloved in the States. He was a potent factor in the development of pathology in this country.”

Aside from a few pictures of the family’s time at Edenhowe in our museum, there is little trace of the man who made such significant contributions to medicine the world over.