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GRIGOR, WILLIAM, doctor, office holder, and politician; b. 1798 in Elgin, Scotland; m. 14 April 1827 Catherine Louisa Foreman, fourth daughter of James Foreman, in Halifax, and they had nine children; d. there 24 Nov. 1857.

William Grigor was born and educated in Scotland. Like many of Nova Scotia’s early physicians, he received his medical training at the University of Edinburgh, reputed at that time to be the finest medical school in the empire. In 1819, shortly after receiving his md, Grigor emigrated to Nova Scotia. He practised medicine at Antigonish and Truro before taking up permanent residence in Halifax in 1824.

Grigor quickly set out to raise the standard of medical treatment in Halifax. Between 1827 and 1832 he served without remuneration as assistant to Charles Wentworth Wallace, the health officer of the city. When Wallace resigned in 1832 Grigor’s services were dispensed with. In the mean time Grigor and his colleague John Stirling had established in 1829 the first Halifax dispensary to provide medical aid to the poor and indigent, supplying it with their own surgical instruments. From their offices in the rear of St Matthew’s Church (Presbyterian), Grigor and Stirling gave medical advice, administered medicine, and performed surgical operations. In the summer of 1831 alone they vaccinated 464 poor children. The House of Assembly provided some support, but the success of the dispensary was largely dependent upon the personal sacrifices of the two doctors.

In addition to maintaining a large private practice and working in the dispensary, Grigor laboured from 1848 to 1857 as Halifax County coroner. In that capacity, however, not everyone seemed pleased with his efforts. The Novascotian of 3 March 1849 reported that “in the office of coroner he is said to act so very uncourteously and selfishly towards his professional brethren, that they intend to question his right to preside and play the part of medical witness too, at inquests.”

Grigor’s marriage in 1827 to the daughter of a successful Halifax merchant propelled him into the energetic mercantile and professional élite of Halifax, which in the 1820s and 1830s looked to the future with purposeful optimism. Like many of his contemporaries during this period of Nova Scotia’s awakening, Grigor became involved in a number of organizations concerned with social improvement. An early promoter and first president of the Halifax Mechanics’ Institute on its establishment in 1831, he favoured a less theoretical education for tradesmen and workers than did Joseph Howe*, calling for a vocational and scientific orientation to their education. Grigor and his wife were interested as well in painting, both contributing works to the 1831 Halifax exhibition; in 1836 he gave a lecture to the mechanics’ institute on the “Philosophical view of art.” At its first annual meeting on 5 Oct. 1854, he was elected president of the Halifax Medical Society, a province-wide organization of physicians and surgeons that represented a restructuring of the Medical Society of Halifax which had been established ten years earlier. He was also a governor of Dalhousie College.

On 21 Feb. 1849 Lieutenant Governor Sir John Harvey had appointed Grigor to a seat in the Legislative Council, describing him as a “gentleman in large practice in Halifax and of considerable literary and scientific acquirements, and disposed to give the administration a fair and generous support.” The new member had earlier belonged to The Club, a group of Joseph Howe’s associates whose political satire was featured in the Novascotian between May 1828 and June 1831 [see Laurence O’Connor Doyle*]. In the Legislative Council, although a liberal and Howe’s personal physician, Grigor quickly demonstrated an independence of mind in politics that was potentially embarrassing to the liberal administration. Soon after his appointment he voted against the bill to abolish the permanent grant to King’s College, an action which led many to question why “the Government have heaped a load of honors on Dr. Grigor within the past twelve months.”

Grigor seems to have avoided further political controversy, while continuing his painstaking efforts to improve the quality of medical treatment in colonial Nova Scotia. Although the dispensary was reorganized at various times after his death, it continues even today to provide out-patient treatment at the Izaac Walton Killam Children’s Hospital in Halifax.

Colin D. Howell

Edinburgh Univ. Library, Special Coll. Dept., Medical matriculation records, 1814–16. Halifax County Court of Probate (Halifax), Estate papers, no.755. PANS, RG 1, 120: 260; 182: 82; RG 5, P, 80. St Paul’s Anglican Church (Halifax), Reg. of marriages, 14 April 1827 (mfm. at PANS). N.S., House of Assembly, Journal and proc., 1830–31, app.14; 1832, app.44; Legislative Council, Journal and proc., 21 Feb. 1849. Acadian Recorder, 3, 10 March 1849. Liverpool Transcript (Liverpool, N. S.), 3 Dec. 1857. Novascotian, 26 Feb., 3, 12 March 1849; 22 Aug. 1853. DCB, vol.9 (biog. of F. W. Morris). M. W. Fleming, “The Halifax Visiting Dispensary – 100 years ago,” Nova Scotia Medical Bull. (Halifax), 36 (1957): 106–9. Patrick Keane, “Joseph Howe and adult education,” Acadiensis (Fredericton), 3 (1973–74), no.1: 35–49. D. S. McCurdy, “Growth of the medical profession in Truro,” Nova Scotia Medical Bull., 44 (1965): 163–67. K. A. MacKenzie, “Founders of the Medical Society of Nova Scotia,” Nova Scotia Medical Bull., 32 (1953): 240–41; “Nineteenth century physicians in Nova Scotia,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 31 (1957): 119. H. L. Scammell, “The legacy of Pictou County Scots to medicine, 1767–1914,” Nova Scotia Medical Bull., 53 (1974): 71–73.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Colin D. Howell, “GRIGOR, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 24, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/grigor_william_8E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/grigor_william_8E.html
Author of Article:   Colin D. Howell
Title of Article:   GRIGOR, WILLIAM
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1985
Year of revision:   1985
Access Date:   September 24, 2023