A Generous Donation Leads to a Century of Medical Imaging at WCH

2020-06-29 3:50:39 PM

“He was an uncompromising opponent of what he thought was wrong, and a generous supporter of causes in which he believed.” - Tribute to William Davies from Sir Joseph Flavelle, March 1921.

July 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Department of Medical Imaging at Women’s College Hospital (WCH). This exciting milestone in our history was made possible thanks to the generous donation of the hospital’s first x-ray machine from entrepreneur and philanthropist, William Davies.

William Davies, an English grocer, immigrated to Canada with his wife and child in 1854. Shortly after settling in Toronto, he opened a grocery store in the Ward and then moved his business to a stall in St. Lawrence Market. In 1857 he established the William Davies Company, a wholesale bacon and ham curing company that exported much of its product to England. Over the next sixty years, the company grew to become the largest pork packing operation in the British Empire – earning Toronto the nickname “Hogtown”.  Along the way, his company also popularized an iconic Canadian food – peameal bacon.

William Davies' store on Queen Street, 1908

Throughout his life Davies was known as a generous philanthropist who gave back to his adopted hometown of Toronto. Beginning in May 1916, William Davies and his wife took a special interest in WCH. Recognized as Canada’s first women’s general hospital operated by women, Davies made a generous $1,000 donation to the hospital as part of its fundraising campaign to build a 4-storey addition to its 125 Rusholme Road hospital and to double its inpatient bed capacity. He later gave an operating table to WCH’s new surgical department run entirely by women surgeons. In 1920, he donated over $5,300 (almost $65,000 in today’s money) for the purchase and installation of WCH’s first x-ray machine.

The acquisition of an x-ray machine was a huge triumph for the small hospital. Radiology, a relatively new diagnostic technology at the time, was viewed by the medical community as the future of patient care. Described as a “splendid latest model machine”, WCH boosted that thanks to Davies’ donation, it is “one of the most up-to-date equipment in the city of Toronto”.
X-Ray Department, 1928

The new department was placed in the capable hands of Dr. Elizabeth Stewart who had joined the staff at WCH in 1913, just two years after she graduated from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine. From 1918-1920, Dr. Stewart briefly left her position at WCH to pursue advanced training in radiology. For two years, she completed post-graduate work at the Lenox Hill Hospital and the Vanderbilt Clinic in New York City. As she explained later in her career, “many people thought I was very foolish to be branching off into something completely new”.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart

When Dr. Stewart returned to Toronto, she was one of only four trained radiologists in the city and the first woman radiologist in Canada. In 1920, she was placed in charge of the new “X-ray Department” at WCH.
A mere five-years later, the busy department was seeing over 250 patients per year. Statistics shows that Davies’ x-ray machine was used for the detection and diagnosis of bone fractures, appendicitis, diseases of the gall bladder, stomach cancer, ulcers, and tuberculosis.

William Davies died in 1921 at the age of eighty-nine. Six years later, the William Davies Company Limited merged with another Toronto-based meat packing company to form Canada Packers. Decades later in 1991, the company would merge with Maple Leaf Mills to become Maple Leaf Foods. Most interestingly, Maple Leaf Foods continues to support the work of WCH. As a corporate sponsor of Women for Women’s, Women’s College Hospital Foundation’s annual signature gala, it helps support WCH’s life-changing programs and research.

As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of WCH’s Department of Medical Imaging, we also pay tribute to a special donor who supported WCH through the donation of the hospital’s first x-ray machine. Over the century as medical technology increasingly became seen as part of regular patient care, we are thankful to our generous donors, like William Davies, who recognize the importance of supporting WCH with the technical tools needed to advance women’s health.