Dr. George Henry Malcolmson, 1868-1944

Main street, Frank, pre-1903. Source: Glenbow Museum

Dr. Malcolmson treated the survivors of the 1903 Frank Slide in his small hospital in Frank, Alberta.

Dr. Malcolmson was also Alberta’s first radiologist and one of the first in Canada. He also brought the first X-ray unit to Alberta in 1906 and the first radium for cancer treatment to Western Canada in 1919.

 

Caring for the victims of the Frank Slide

Dr. Malcolmson moved to the coal mining town of Frank in 1901 from Lethbridge, bringing with him three nurses —  one of them his wife. He opened one of Alberta’s first rural hospitals by building an annex to his home in 1902.

At 4:10 a.m. on April 29, 1903, Turtle Mountain, hovering above the town of Frank, fractured. Over 81 million metric tonnes avalanched down the north side of the mountain, demolishing one-third of the town and narrowly missing Dr. Malcolmson’s home.

Canada’s most deadly landslide lasted about seven seconds. An estimated 70 people died in the slide. About 10 people were injured, four of them seriously.  All of the injured were sent to Dr. Malcolmson’s hospital.

The worst cases were caused by the windblast. The wind drove a board into one patient’s abdomen. Feathers from the patient’s bedspread then became embedded in the wound. Dr. Malcolmson had to remove each feather, one at a time.

Injuries to other patients included a broken hip, shock from internal injuries and stone splinters “embedded like a pin cushion” in a patient’s skin. All of the injured patients survived under the care of Dr. Malcolmson and his nurses.

Alberta's first radiologist

Dr. Malcolmson was Alberta’s first radiologist and one of the first in Canada. He also brought the first X-ray unit to Alberta in 1906 and the first radium for cancer treatment to Western Canada in 1919.

X-rays were still a new phenomenon in the early 20th century. During a trip to Boston in 1906, Dr. Malcolmson was so excited by X-rays’ medical potential that he bought an X-ray machine and brought it to his small hospital in Frank, Alberta.

We don’t know how many patients received X-rays in Frank, but we do know that Dr. Malcolmson travelled regularly to eastern Canada and the US as well as Europe as part of his continuing medical education program.

X-rays played a key role in his own life. In 1914, they helped to diagnose tuberculosis in one of his kidneys. Doctors at Johns Hopkins University had missed this diagnosis only the week before. Dr. Will Mayo removed the kidney at the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Malcolmson remained tuberculosis free the rest of his life.

By 1915, he had become the first full-time radiologist in Alberta, practicing at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton.

With colleague Dr. Edgar Allin he brought radium for the treatment of cervical cancer to Western Canada in 1919. Dr. Malcolmson continued to practice as a full-time radiologist and teach through the 1920s and 1930s. Unfortunately, he had to give up his hobby, violin playing, because of the side effects of the X-rays.

The Malcolmson’s had five children. One daughter joined him as an early X-ray technician. One of his sons took over his radiological practice when Dr. Malcolmson became the first head of the Alberta Cancer Service and the government introduced free cancer diagnostic and treatment — another first in Canada.

Get the whole story!

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

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