'Dear Dr. Banting,:' Dozens of letters to be featured in exhibit marking World Diabetes Day

The house dubbed as the birthplace of insulin is marking World Diabetes Day by launching a virtual exhibit showcasing some of the thousands of letters penned to Sir Frederick Banting, the Canadian who co-discovered insulin 100 years ago. 

The virtual exhibit is set to go live Nov. 14 through Banting House National Historic Site of Canada

The letters were compiled from an interactive station in Banting’s bedroom at the Banting House National Historic Site in London, Ont. (Submitted by Kat MacDonald)

The historical site known as the birthplace of insulin is marking World Diabetes Day by launching a virtual exhibit showcasing some of the thousands of letters penned to Frederick Banting, the Canadian scientist who co-discovered the life-saving medication almost 100 years ago. 

The exhibit, called Dear Dr. Banting, was co-curated by Kat MacDonald, a Western University student who interned at the Banting House National Historic Site of Canada in London, Ont., this past summer.

It was there in the house on Adelaide Street where MacDonald first saw the letters visitors from around the world had left in Banting's bedroom.

MacDonald, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes three years ago, said she wanted to create this exhibit to connect people, especially during a time when people are being asked to physically stay apart. 

Kat MacDonald stands beside the statue of Sir Frederick Banting outside Banting House in London, Ont. (Submitted by Kat MacDonald)

"For me, when I read the letters, it just showed that I'm not alone in what I feel often as a Type 1 diabetic. Knowing that there's a community there with people that I've never even met — it's just so gratifying." 

MacDonald wrote a letter herself which is featured in the virtual exhibit. 

"I wouldn't be here without this discovery," she said.

"It's what saves my life on a daily basis and so being able to have the chance to write this letter and thank this man, even though he has passed, is cathartic." 

In previous years, hundreds of people from across the world would gather at Banting House on World Diabetes Day to read some of the letters written to Banting.

Part of a letter written to Banting in 1922 from a girl in Boston, Mass. The letter goes on to say that she got better with the "serum" Banting discovered. The letter is one of many featured in the Dear Dr. Banting virtual exhibit. (Submitted by Kat MacDonald)

Visitors would also get the chance to tour Banting's bedroom. It was there on an October night 100 years ago where Banting woke up in the middle of the night and penned the hypothesis that led to his famous discovery.

"People connect with that room and, in many ways, connect with Dr. Banting. It's this physical connection they have on this discovery that still affects them to this day," said Grant Maltman, the museum's curator. 

While the gathering won't be possible due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Maltman is hopeful people will be able to connect through the exhibit. 

On Saturday, Banting House will also be rekindling the Flame of Hope. 

The eternal flame, originally lit by the Queen Mother in 1989, was extinguished this summer in an act of vandalism. 

The Flame of Hope at the Banting House in London, Ont. was extinguished by vandals on June 13, 2020. (Travis Dolynny/CBC)

"Symbols are important and we need them to give us hope and to inspire us, and that's what the flame has been doing for over 30 years until it was vandalized," Maltman said. "It reminds the public that we're still looking for a cure and that together we have to end diabetes."

People will be able to watch the rekindling of the Flame of Hope and check out the Dear Dr. Banting exhibit on Banting House's Facebook page

With files from Afternoon Drive