John Clarence Webster, CMG FRSC FRS FRSE, was born on October 21, 1863, in Shediac. As a pioneering physician in Obstetrics and Gynecology, he later had a second career as a historian, focusing on the history of his native New Brunswick.
Webster attended Mount Allison College, matriculating in 1878 and earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1882. He became known as the “Laird of Shediac.”
In 1883, he traveled to Scotland to pursue medical studies at the University of Edinburgh, graduating with an MB ChB in 1888. He continued his postgraduate education in Leipzig and Berlin. By 1884, he worked as an obstetrician at Minto House School of Medicine on Chambers Street in Edinburgh. He received his doctorate (MD) in 1891.
By 1895, Webster’s success led him to reside at 20 Charlotte Square, an exclusive address in Edinburgh, previously inhabited by Sir John Batty Tuke.
Webster was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in 1893 and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in January 1896.
After 13 years abroad, Webster returned to Canada in 1896, settling in Montreal. There, he took on roles as a Lecturer in Gynecology at McGill University and Assistant Gynecologist at the Royal Victoria Hospital. Additionally, he helped establish the Jubilee Nursing Scheme, which later evolved into the Victorian Order of Nurses.
In 1899, three years after returning to Canada, Webster relocated to Chicago, where he accepted the Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Rush Medical College, affiliated with the University of Chicago. He worked at various hospitals in Chicago and contributed to numerous medical journals, serving as one of the Editors-in-Chief of Surgery, Gynecology and Obstetrics. That same year, he married Alice Kussler Lusk, the daughter of a prominent New York physician, Dr. William Lusk. Together, they had three children.
The Webster children were as remarkable as their parents. Eldest son J. C. Webster Jr. made notable contributions to Canadian aviation history before his untimely death. Daughter Janet married French artist Camille Roche and resided in Europe. She was imprisoned by the Nazi regime and passed away in captivity in 1945. Her father published her letters in 1945. Youngest son Dr. William L. Webster was a physicist and mathematician who worked with Ernest Rutherford and Sir James Chadwick and served as Secretary to the Manhattan Project.
Webster gained recognition for his groundbreaking work in obstetrics and gynecology in Chicago, eventually becoming Head of the Department. The Baldy-Webster Operation is named in his honour.
After retiring from medicine in 1919, Webster returned to Shediac and dedicated himself to documenting and promoting the history of New Brunswick. As a doctor, he had acquired the wealth and resources to collect significant historical documents, many of which he later donated to the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John. With these documents, he produced an essential body of literature on the history of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and early Acadia.
His wife, Alice Webster, supported his work by translating French documents from the Acadian period, a challenging task due to the archaic language. A remarkable woman herself, Alice was an avid art collector and founded the Fine Arts Department of the New Brunswick Museum. She created an endowment for the collection and donated her personal collection of regional and Asian art. The couple also acquired an important Canadian art treasure depicting the death of James Wolfe in 1759 by James Barry, which is now on display at the New Brunswick Museum.
Dr. Webster traveled across the Maritimes and other parts of Canada, giving historical lectures and showcasing lantern slide images from his collection, featuring General Wolfe, Fort Louisbourg, and the forts of the Chignecto region in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. He played a crucial role in establishing the New Brunswick Museum, Fort Beausejour National Historic Site, and the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site. He authored numerous pamphlets and articles and ultimately donated his historical and cultural collections to public institutions in the Maritime region.
Webster held various positions related to history and preservation, such as Trustee of the Public Archives of Nova Scotia, Member of the Historic and Monuments Board of Canada, and Honorary Curator of Fort Beausejour Museum. His writings remain authoritative sources on numerous subjects, but his work with the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada perhaps had the most enduring impact. Alongside other board members, Webster surveyed the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, recommending the commemoration of numerous sites with historical significance, such as Fort Gaspareaux, Fort Beausejour, Fort Anne, and Fort Louisbourg. He played a crucial role in preserving Fort Beausejour by purchasing the land beneath the fort and later donating it to the nation.
Webster passed away in Shediac on March 16, 1950, at the age of 86. He was laid to rest at St. Martin’s in the Woods Anglican Church Cemetery in Shediac.
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