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Norman Bethune: 'The horns of a dilemma'

In China, he's been a national hero since his death in 1939. But in his birthplace of Canada Dr. Norman Bethune was virtually unknown until the 1970s. His communist beliefs and unorthodox personality made him a controversial figure in Canada. His medical accomplishments, however, are irrefutable. Bethune cared for the wounded in wartorn Spain and China, and in the process revolutionized military medicine.

"I'm caught in the horns of a dilemma," says Rev. John Houston on CBC's As It Happens. He loves his house in Gravenhurst, Ont. His family doesn't really want to move. But the crowds of visitors are starting to disrupt his home's "family atmosphere."
Rev. Houston lives in the house where Norman Bethune was born. It used to be a quiet spot, but after Canada recognized the People's Republic of China in 1970, people have been flocking to see Bethune's birthplace.

"One couple even followed my kids into the house," says Houston, explaining that many people - especially visitors from China - assume his house is a Bethune museum. They're always apologetic when they realize it's a family house, and Houston is very good-natured about the whole thing. But it's definitely time to move. 
. In 1973, Rev. Houston's church (Trinity United Church) sold the house to the federal government for approximately $60,000. This was a year after the Ontario government had erected a plaque to Bethune outside of the house.
. The federal government spent three years restoring and redecorating the building in order to turn it into a Bethune museum. On Aug. 30, 1976, the Bethune Memorial House was opened to the public as a national historic site. Parks Canada operates the museum.

. An average of 12,000 people visit the Bethune Memorial House each year (2004). According to a spokesperson for the museum, about 75 per cent of visitors are people of Chinese origin.
. The main floor and master bedroom have been decorated in the 1890s style (to reflect the time period in which Bethune lived there), and the rest of the second floor contains an exhibit on the life and career of Bethune. The staff provides guided tours.

. In 2000, the town of Gravenhurst erected a two-metre bronze statue of Bethune in the heart of the town. Gravenhurst also named a street, Bethune Drive, after its hometown hero.
. Other Bethune memorials in Canada include a statue in Montreal, given to Canada in 1978 by the Chinese government, and Bethune College at Toronto's York University. York's administration named the college after Dr. Bethune in 1972.
Medium: Radio
Program: As It Happens
Broadcast Date: Sept. 17, 1973
Guest(s): John Houston
Host: Harry Brown
Duration: 5:46

Last updated: February 10, 2012

Page consulted on December 5, 2013

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