Friday, May 13, 2011

Dr. Forbes Godfrey – First Ontario Minister of Health

Godfrey House - 49 Stanley Avenue
© Michael Harrison 2010

Godfrey House 1913
detail from 1913 Goad's Fire Insurance Plan - Town of Mimico

Forbes Elliott Godfrey, son of the Rev. Robert Godfrey, a Methodist Minister and Mrs. Mary Godfrey was born in 1867 in York Township but grew up in Owen Sound.   After attending the local primary school he attended Owen Sound Collegiate and then went on to the University of Toronto to study medicine.  After graduating from the University of Toronto in 1889 he went to Scotland for post graduate studies in Glasgow and Edinburgh. 

He was married to Mary Melissa Carson in Logan County, Ohio in 1894.  They moved to Mimico shortly thereafter and lived in a home on Southampton Avenue (present day Cavell Avenue) out of which he operated his medical practice.  Their first and only child Constance was born there in 1900.  In 1908 he commissioned Ellis and Connery, Architects to design a large home and office further south on a property located at the south west corner of Stanley and Albert Avenues

Dr. Godfrey's political career began in 1907 when he entered provincial politics as a Conservative and was elected in a by-election in the York West riding.  He took his seat in the Provincial Legislature as a back bencher in the government of James Whitney.

Dr. Godfrey felt strongly that the government should take the lead in combating tuberculosis, a disease that was taking a terrible toll on the citizens of Ontario – especially the young.  He was instrumental in the formation of a government commission to create a provincial plan for its prevention and cure, the end result being the construction of a system of government supported tuberculosis hospitals.  A big supporter of preventative medicine, he was a champion of inoculation against infectious diseases.

When Whitney died following the 1914 election he served as a backbencher in the government of William Hearst, and then in Opposition when the government of E.C. Drury was in power from 1919 to 1923.

In the general election of 1923 the Conservatives returned to power and G. Howard Ferguson became Premier.  Godfrey was invited into Cabinet and became the Minister of Labour; and then in 1924 was also made the first Minister of Health.

As the first Minister of Health in Ontario, Godfrey was responsible for organizing the department from the ground up, and began tackling many of the preventative health initiatives that needed to be addressed.  He brought in measures to protect miners from silicosis; instituted industrial health programs; created public health clinics in remote areas of Ontario and offered free immunization programs for Ontario school children.

On February 14, 1925 his daughter, Constance Godfrey was married to Warren Snyder.  They were both students at the University of Toronto at the time of their marriage.  Snyder was a football player and rower.   His greatest athletic achievement was in 1924 when he won a sliver medal as part of the eight rowing team at the Olympic Games in Paris, France.  After graduating with his medical degree he became Godfrey’s partner working from the large Godfrey home on the corner of Stanley and Albert Avenues.

Godfrey remained in Cabinet until September 1930 when he was forced to resign by ill health though he remained the MPP for York West.  Suffering from pernicious anaemia his health continued to deteriorate until he died on January 6, 1932.

courtesy of The Story of Mimico:  Home of the Wild Pigeon

In the 1960s the home would be purchased by a developer who built apartment buildings on the large grounds and divided the Godfrey House into apartments.  

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