John Clarence Webster, CMG FRSC FRS FRSE was born October 21, 1863 in Shediac. He became a physician pioneering in Obstetrics and gynaecology who in retirement had a second career as an historian, specializing in the history of his native New Brunswick.
Webster was educated at Mount Allison College where he matriculated in 1878 and obtained a general Bachelor of Arts degree in 1882. He became known as the “Laird of Shediac”.
After graduating, in 1883 he went to Scotland where he began medical studies at the University of Edinburgh, graduating MB ChB in 1888. He then did further postgraduate studies in both Leipzig and Berlin. From 1884 he was working as an obstetrician at Minto House School of Medicine on Chambers Street in Edinburgh. He obtained his doctorate (MD) in 1891.
Enormously successful, by 1895 he was living at 20 Charlotte Square, one of the most exclusive addresses in Edinburgh. This huge house was previously home to Sir John Batty Tuke.
In 1893 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. In January 1896 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
In 1896, after thirteen years absence, he returned to Canada in 1896 and settled in Montreal where he was appointed Lecturer in Gynecology at McGill University and Assistant Gynecologist to the Royal Victoria Hospital. In Montreal, Webster assisted with the formation of the Jubilee Nursing Scheme, which later became the Victorian Order of Nurses.
Three years later, in 1899, he moved to Chicago where he had accepted the Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Rush Medical College when it was affiliated with the University of Chicago. He also worked at various hospitals in Chicago. He also contributed to various medical journals and was one of the Editors-in-Chief of Surgery, Gynecology and Obstetrics. He was married to Alice Kussler Lusk of New York the same year he moved to Chicago. She was the daughter of a well known New York physician named Dr. William Lusk. The couple would have three children. The Webster children were in many ways as remarkable as their parents. The eldest son, J. C. Webster, Jr. contributed to Canadian aviation history before dying at an early age. Daughter Janet married the French artist Camille Roche and lived in Europe. She was incarcerated under the Nazi regime and died in captivity in 1945. Her letters were published by her father in 1945. The youngest son, Dr. William L. Webster was a physicist and mathematician who worked under Ernest Rutherford and Sir James Chadwick, and he was Secretary to the Manhattan Project.
Webster became well known for his pioneering work in obstetrics and gynecology in Chicago, and soon rose to the position of Head of the Department. The Baldy-Webster Operation is named after him.
Webster retired from medicine in 1919 and returned to Shediac. There, he began work to record and popularize the history of New Brunswick. History had been a lifelong interest, and he was now able to devote his entire energies to the task. As a doctor, he had obtained the wealth and resources that enabled him to acquire important historical documents which had not yet been deposited in museums. Most of these documents would later be donated to the New Brunswick Museum, Saint John, but before then, he would use them to produce an important body of literature on the history of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and early Acadia. He was assisted by his wife in his work. For example, she translated various French language documents from the Acadian period, a difficult task given the archaic form of the language. A remarkable woman in her own right, Alice Webster was an important collector of art. She founded the Fine Arts Department of the New Brunswick Museum, created an endowment for the collection, and donated her own collection of regional and Asian art. She and Webster also acquired one of the most important artwork treasures in Canada, which portrays the death of James Wolfe in 1759, by James Barry and is on exhibition at the New Brunswick Museum.
Dr. Webster travelled the Maritimes and other areas of Canada, providing historical lectures, illustrated by lantern show slides of images from his own collection of General Wolfe, Fort Louisbourg and the forts of the Chignecto region of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. He was instrumental in the establishment of the New Brunswick Museum, Fort Beausejour National Historic Site and the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site. He published numerous pamphlets and articles, and ultimately donated his historical and cultural collections to public institutions of the Maritime region.
Webster became a Trustee of the Public Archives of Nova Scotia, a Member of the Historic and Monuments Board of Canada, and the Honorary Curator of Fort Beausejour Museum, for which he was responsible. Apart from his writings which remain definitive sources on many subjects, it was with the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada that he perhaps had his most lasting influence. Working with other members of the board, he surveyed the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and made recommendations for the commemoration of dozens of sites throughout New Brunswick and Nova Scotia with important historical relevance including: Fort Gaspareaux, Fort Beausejour, Fort Anne and Fort Louisbourg. Webster was instrumental is preserving Fort Beausejour, even going so far as to purchase the land underlying the fort, which he subsequently donated to the nation.
On 16, March 1950, Webster died in Shediac at the age of 86 and was buried at St. Martin’s in the Woods Anglican Church Cemetery in Shediac. His former home is now a Bed & Breakfast.
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