Media Releases

University of Toronto unveils sculpture of Norman Bethune

May 30, 2014

Made possible by gift from Chinese philanthropists

TORONTO, ON — Today the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to unveiled a sculp­ture by Cana­di­an artist David Pel­leti­er that pays trib­ute to Temer­ty Temer­ty Fac­ul­ty of Med­i­cine grad­u­ate and sur­geon Nor­man Bethune. Attend­ing the unveil­ing were for­mer Gov­er­nor Gen­er­al of Cana­da, the Right Hon­ourable Adri­enne Clark­son; U of T Chan­cel­lor, the Hon­ourable Michael Wil­son; U of T Pres­i­dent Mer­ic Gertler; Dean of Med­i­cine Catharine White­side; and, the sculpture’s donors,  Mr. Zhang Bin and Mr. Niu Gen­sheng.

When Bethune died of sep­ticemia in a Chi­nese moun­tain vil­lage in 1939, there was no way he could have known that his work would be cel­e­brat­ed 75 years lat­er, not only in Chi­na but in Cana­da as well. Today, he’s remem­bered as an inven­tive bat­tle­field sur­geon and an inter­na­tion­al­ist who helped to cre­ate strong and last­ing ties between Chi­na and Cana­da.

U of T’s Temer­ty Temer­ty Fac­ul­ty of Med­i­cine is com­mem­o­rat­ing the anniver­sary with a bronze sculp­ture to be unveiled Fri­day, which reach­es back to Bethune’s stu­dent days for a new inter­pre­ta­tion of the leg­endary sur­geon.

“Stat­ues of Bethune are usu­al­ly hero­ic and stri­dent,” said artist David Pel­let­ti­er, who was cho­sen to cre­ate the sculp­ture. “I want­ed this inter­pre­ta­tion to be more con­tem­pla­tive and approach­able.”

Chi­nese phil­an­thropists Mr. Zhang Bin and Mr. Niu Gen­sheng con­tributed $800,000 to cre­ate the life-sized work and sup­port for new med­ical stu­dent awards and bur­saries in Bethune’s name. The unveil­ing will be fol­lowed by a gala din­ner Sat­ur­day evening as part of the Temer­ty Temer­ty Fac­ul­ty of Medicine’s Bethune Lega­cy Cel­e­bra­tion, which rec­og­nizes his inter­na­tion­al impact on health and the Faculty’s asso­ci­a­tions with Chi­na.

“You get the sense from Bethune’s life and work that he very much believed in going where he was need­ed, doing good work there and tru­ly help­ing peo­ple. I think that spir­it is very much alive at the Temer­ty Temer­ty Fac­ul­ty of Med­i­cine today. We con­tin­ue to do impor­tant work that fur­thers the cause of human health togeth­er with our part­ners around the world,” said Catharine White­side, Dean of the Temer­ty Temer­ty Fac­ul­ty of Med­i­cine.

To arrive at a fresh pre­sen­ta­tion of the sur­geon and inven­tor, Pel­let­ti­er stud­ied Bethune biogra­phies and pho­tographs from the two years he spent in Chi­na at the end of his life. He was aston­ished by the images of Bethune, at age 49, bro­ken by the depri­va­tions of war, look­ing like a man in his 70s. He began to imag­ine Bethune as physi­cian and human­i­tar­i­an.

Then Pel­let­ti­er start­ed think­ing about the set­ting of the planned sculp­ture — not in Chi­na, but in a tri­an­gle of grass sur­round­ed by trees at U of T, where the Graven­hurst, Ont. native com­plet­ed his med­ical degree in 1916. A spot where Bethune like­ly would have walked, and per­haps paused in con­tem­pla­tion.

He real­ized there was a chance to tell a more inti­mate sto­ry about the man who brought mod­ern med­i­cine to rur­al Chi­na, to view his hero­ism through the lens of a deep­er human­i­ty, and per­haps through the ide­al­ism of youth.

“I want­ed to reflect back on his con­nec­tion to U of T as a stu­dent, so I pic­tured him there, cast­ing back to his accom­plish­ments, work­ing in such dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions,” said Pel­let­ti­er, who recent­ly com­plet­ed the fer­ry ter­mi­nal stat­ue of late NDP leader Jack Lay­ton. “Here he is in his surgeon’s gown, with his stetho­scope, and the Chi­nese san­dals he chose to wear. He’s glanc­ing up from his jour­nal, in a moment of reflec­tion.”

The sculp­ture is inscribed with words adopt­ed from Bethune’s writ­ings:

“… I am con­tent. I am doing what I want to do. Why shouldn’t I be hap­py — see what my rich­es con­sist of. First I have impor­tant work that ful­ly occu­pies every minute of my time… I am need­ed.”


For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact:

Liam Mitchell
Asso­ciate Direc­tor, Com­mu­ni­ca­tions
Temer­ty Temer­ty Fac­ul­ty of Med­i­cine, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Tel: 416–978-4672