The McGill Medical Museum originated as a collection of specimens donated by physicians associated with its Medical School. Among the earliest of these was a three chambered heart derived in 1822 from an autopsy performed by Andrew Holmes, first Dean of the McGill Medical Faculty. In 1826, an adult skeleton was donated by John Stephenson, a cofounder with Holmes of the Medical Faculty and its first Professor of Anatomy. The Holmes heart and Stephenson's skeleton are the oldest specimens in the museum today.
The Pathology Collection
The pathology collection increased gradually during the 1800s by donations from McGill physicians, particularly William Osler between 1876 and 1884, when he performed over 800 autopsies at the Montreal General Hospital. However, the museum experienced its greatest success following the appointment of Maude Abbott as Curator in 1899. She introduced a new classification system and promoted the use of specimens in medical student teaching and, by 1904, the collection had grown to several thousand specimens. Abbott’s work suffered a serious setback in 1907 when a fire destroyed much of the medical building and its contents. An appeal went out to other museums, and by 1910 approximately 3,000 "renewal" specimens had been donated. Along with specimens salvaged from the fire, these were housed in a beautiful cross-shaped display area in the Strathcona Medical building (opened in 1909).
Abbott’s museum continued to play an important role in student education for the next 10 years. However, when the Pathology Department moved to the newly constructed Pathological Institute in 1923, the museum began a decline which was to continue for the remainder of the 20th century. After Abbott's death in 1940, the Pathological Institute museum was converted into laboratories and most of its specimens were moved to storage. Following this, student teaching was carried out in a series of small cubicles, with selected specimens located on wall racks. In 1996, the last of this material was moved to storage.
The Anatomy Collection
The anatomy collection was housed initially in rooms adjacent to the pathology museum and was overseen by the Professor of Anatomy. As with the pathological material, bones—both human and animal (the latter used for teaching comparative anatomy)—were acquired throughout the 19th century and early 20th centuries. The most prolific collector was Francis Shepherd, Professor from 1875 to 1913. During his tenure, a variety of wax, corrosion and papier maché models were also purchased or assembled for teaching. The anatomical museum stayed in the Strathcona building when the pathology department moved in 1923. There, it continued to acquire and preserve specimens for display until the end of the 20th century; many of these were complicated dissections housed in large plexiglass containers. However, as with its pathological cousin, decreased time for anatomy teaching and increased use of print and digital images meant that the anatomical museum was progressively less utilized and its main location was emptied of specimens and converted to a study area in the 1990s.
Increased appreciation of the value of the pathological and anatomical collections led the University to officially establish the Maude Abbott Medical Museum in 2012. By 2014, the material remaining at the Pathological Institute had been transferred back to the Strathcona Building, to be housed with much of the anatomy collection in one of the areas occupied by the museum in 1909. This "new" museum has over 4000 artifacts. Although most of these are from the pathology and anatomy collections, material also has been collected from other McGill medical units (such as the School of Physical and Occupational Therapy) and from physicians and institutions elsewhere in Quebec.
Strathcona Anatomy and Dentistry Building
3640 University Street, Room 2/38E
Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3A 0C7
Email: medicalmuseum.med [at] mcgill.ca
Wednesday 1300 to 1600 or by appointment
richard.fraser [at] mcgill.ca (Dr. Richard Fraser)
Faculty of Medicine