The McGill Medical Museum began at almost the same time as the University itself, with the procurement of the Holmes heart in 1822 (named after the first Dean of the Faculty of Medicine). During the next 50 years, faculty members performed autopsies on their own patients, from which they sometimes saved specimens deemed useful for teaching.
In 1872, McGill erected a building just east of the Arts Building for the Faculty of Medicine. The new building housed a library and the Medical Museum.
At the time of William Osler’s appointment to the McGill Medical Faculty in 1874, between 300 and 400 specimens had accumulated. This collection doubled under Osler’s leadership. However, it was not well organized and, following Osler’s departure for Philadelphia in 1884, was less utilized.
The creation of an official Chair of Pathology in 1898 carried with it the responsibility for the Museum. Its first occupant, George Adami, appointed Maude Abbott Assistant Curator in 1898. She quickly became the heart and soul of the Museum, reviewing and cataloging its specimens and promoting it to the Faculty. Her effort resulted in increased prestige for the museum and its specimens began to be used for formal medical student teaching.
Her work suffered a serious setback in April, 1907, when a fire destroyed the medical building and much of the Museum contents.