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.”

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For more information, please contact:

Liam Mitchell
Associate Director, Communications
Temerty Temerty Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto
Tel: 416-978-4672
Email: liam.mitchell@utoronto.ca