My folks are downsizing.
Mom said they should have sorted through all these things a couple of moves ago. But we all know what life can be like, and sometimes things get pushed to the back burner.
When they visited on Easter Weekend, they came (well, my brother came) with my grandma‘s dresser. And a boodle of other unexpected things, like photos and old school work. There were things I had forgotten and some things I was really grateful to have.
In all those treasures was a framed letter. To my grandmother’s family. Dated May 1902, which meant letter was from before she was born and, about someone I had never heard of prior to this.
It initiated a want to dig a little deeper into that side of my family…
Both sides of my father’s family contain some pretty interesting people. As kids we were aware of bits of family history but to say we were well versed in it would be a stretch.
One well-known relative, and one we knew about, is Dr. V. Ben Meen. He is wildly interesting. He received a Ph. D. in mineralogy (his father was a prospector and a miner, so his gravitation towards geology was natural). He taught at the University of Toronto, and was the Director of the Royal Ontario Museum of Mineralogy. He traveled all over the world studying gem stones and geological sites. When the R.O.M. celebrated their 100th anniversary they kindly sent me a couple of pictures, including this one:
I was always proud walking through that particular section of the museum knowing that a lot of those pretty stones were there thanks to someone in my lineage, especially someone so well liked by everyone who knew him.
Funnily enough, my husband has a relative whom briefly worked for the museum and she was quite familiar with Vic Meen. She too said he exuded great warmth and amiability.
But what about the Bantings?
The name Frederick Banting was well known in our household growing up, not only is he a famous Canadian but he is our relative. My brothers, cousins, and I grew up aware of his impact on the scientific/medical community with his co-discovery of insulin, among other notable accomplishments.
And we knew he was connected to my paternal grandmother. Her maiden name is Banting so we guessed they were cousins of some sort. But it was all superficial knowledge. We knew it to be true but couldn’t tell you how.
In March of 1999, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. And that connection was suddenly a lot more meaningful. At least to me. Fuck, the man is a damn rock star in the Type 1 community. If not THE rock star.
Family members would lovingly tease, “bet you’re glad he discovered insulin, eh?” Sure as shit, I am, you fuckers. Without it, I wouldn’t fucking be here. None of us T1Ds would be…
And so I dug a little deeper.
It was easy enough to find Lt. Col. Robert Thompson Banting on the ol’ Internet. I learned he was born in 1826 in Ireland, and then went on to reside in Essa Township, Ontario. There he was a farmer and a militia officer (9th Battalion of Reserve Militia, Simcoe County). He was also the long-time Clerk of Simcoe County, serving from 1860 until he passed in 1902.
The letter expresses how well liked he was and so did other documents I came across during my search.
And it turns out he is my three times great-grandfather! That’s when it hit me: HE must be our connection to Sir Frederick Banting!
So I dug even deeper.
Banting is a pretty interesting guy. Most people know him for his co-discovery of insulin with Dr. Charles Best, however, there are quite a few other captivating notes in his history:
He dabbled in the arts. He picked up an interest in painting when he resided in London, Ontario. His love of the rugged Canadian landscape came through in his paintings and he became friends with A. Y. Jackson and Lawren Harris, two of the Group of Seven. You can view some of his artwork at the Banting House National Historic Site.
This fucking blows my mind. I love the Group of Seven! I studied them in school. My darling grandmother was a wonderful artist. Everyone says that’s where my artistic ability stems from…turns out, it really is in the family!
He was also in the military. He served during WWI, in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps from 1916-1918. He was wounded in 1918, yet he continued to help other injured soldiers for sixteen hours. He didn’t stop until another doctor told him to and, in 1919, was awarded the Military Cross, for heroism.
Banting attempted to enter the army in twice in 1914, and was denied due to poor eyesight. A need for military doctors found his class fast-tracked and found him in the army in 1916. As we began exploring the Banting side of my family in earnest, my husband joked that my resilience and fortitude must come from that side of the family.
And he is from that side of my family. His grandfather, John Banting, and my three times great-grandfather, Lt. Col. Robert Thompson Banting, are brothers.
Making Sir Frederick Banting this gal’s second cousin three times removed.
A fact amazing enough on its own, but made even cooler by my Type 1 Diabetes.