Bethune House National Historic Site
In China, Norman Bethune is perhaps the most famous Canadian ever to have lived. Yet he remains somewhat unknown in his home country. The Gravenhurst, Ontario, native enlisted in 1914 with the No. 2 Field Ambulance and served as a stretcher bearer. Wounded by shrapnel in Belgium at the Second Battle of Ypres, he was eventually sent home, and by 1916, he had graduated with a medical degree.
Re-enlisting with the Royal Navy, Bethune headed back to the war, where he served as a medical officer. The conflict greatly influenced his later career; after witnessing so much carnage, Bethune dedicated his life to providing timely front-line care to the wounded.
Early in his medical career, Bethune helped to improve surgical tools and was an innovator in thoracic surgery. During this period, he increasingly favoured socialized medicine and eventually joined the Communist Party of Canada.
An advocate for workers and the oppressed, Bethune in 1936 volunteered with left-wing loyalist forces in the Spanish Civil War, where he pioneered the mobile blood transfusion unit.
Later in the 1930s, Bethune travelled to China to provide health care and aid to Communist revolutionary forces. He died from blood poisoning he contracted while operating on a Communist soldier.
In 1973, the federal government purchased Bethune House, Bethune’s childhood home. The Victorian-era home features artifacts and images that help to paint a picture of this First World War veteran — today commemorated as a martyr and a hero in China.