Dr. James Delamere Lafferty, 1849-1920

Dr. James D. Lafferty

A key figure in professionalizing the practice of medicine on the Prairies, Dr. Lafferty was involved in founding both the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta and the Alberta Medical Association.

... an ebullient, effervescent, entertaining pro westerner [he was] a shrewd judge of character with great drive and persuasion. (From Dr. Lafferty's obituary in the Calgary Albertan, July 20, 1920)

Born in Ontario in 1849, Dr. James D. Lafferty came west as the first western chief CPR surgeon in 1881. After working in Winnipeg and Regina, he and his family arrived in Calgary in 1885, where Dr. Lafferty secured the CPR mainline and nearby Indian Reservation medical contracts.

Setting up major provincial medical associationsCalgary, circa 1885

His drive and influence guided the early North West Territories Medical Council and the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons (in fact, he organized the first meeting of the CPSA in October 1906).

As NWT Medical Council Registrar, Dr. Lafferty became responsible for implementing the College’s disciplinary and qualification policies.

One of his first steps was to hire a law student who traveled by rail throughout Alberta and Assiniboia to charge or de-license unregistered physicians. Although this move wasn’t very popular with “under-doctored” communities, Dr. Lafferty stood his ground. He held the first unprofessional conduct hearings in the NWT in 1903.

Dr. Lafferty also worked with the NWT Legislative Assembly to create the first medical laboratory. The NWT Medical Council gave $3,795.65 to equip the lab in 1905. All physicians who were members of the NWT Medical Association could access the lab’s testing services for free – an important adjunct to diagnosing diseases.

He wrote Alberta’s first Public Health Act and became the chair of the first provincial board of health in 1907.

He also wrote the Provincial Medical Profession Acts for Alberta and Saskatchewan and initiated a test case to confirm the validity of the new Alberta Act and the grandfathering of NWTMA registrants. After Alberta and Saskatchewan became provinces, new physicians couldn’t move their practices between the two provinces without having to re-register.

In February 1906, Dr. Lafferty called the first meeting of all physicians practicing in Alberta. Held in Calgary in March 1906, the participants formed the Alberta Medical Association.

At the first AMA convention, held in March of the same year in Banff, Dr. Lafferty was appointed to a committee draft a code of ethics.

Dr. Lafferty was involved in forming the Western Canadian Medical Federation in 1907. The federation’s purpose was to set a common medical examination, so that successful candidates could register to practice in all four western provinces. By 1909, there was sufficient agreement to stimulate the CMA to resurrect the concept of a national examination system. This led to the passage of the “Roddick” Act, creating the Dominion Medical Council in 1912.

Successful entrepreneur

Besides being a successful physician, Dr. Lafferty was also a businessman.

He had 4.5 acres of land set aside by the NWT Legislative Council for the eventual site of the Calgary General Hospital.

He acquired the western CPR medical contract (to Golden) and brought Dr. H.G. Mackid west to help honor it. Together they secured the medical contract for health care services for the building of the Calgary and Edmonton railway (1890-92). Despite all his other activities, he still had time to be elected the Mayor of Calgary (1890-91).

Dr. Lafferty’s banking life began with the establishment of the Lafferty & Smith Bank (1882) in Regina. Eventually there were branches throughout the prairies. He added his wife as a shareholder (1885) and turned the bank over to her and a colleague’s wife. The bank was bought by the Bank of Montreal in 1893.

Dr. Lafferty was the President of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce and organized a tour to Edmonton as soon as the C and E railway was open in 1891. In another venture, he was involved in converting Calgary from DC to AC electric power.

Together with his extended family, he convinced Eric Lafferty Harvie to come to Calgary to practice law in 1911. Harvie later had a huge influence on the province, using money from oil revenues to found the Glenbow Museum and to support other projects such as the Calgary Zoo and the Banff Centre for the Arts.

Newspaper editor Bob Edwards promoted Dr. Lafferty as Alberta’s first Lieutenant Governor and he was seriously considered by Laurier for the position in 1910.

Get the whole story!

Read the full profile of Dr. Lafferty in Dr. Robert Lampard's "Alberta's Medical History"
Dr. Lafferty >> 

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