Proposal by La Fondation Aubin

There are two major components to this plan:

  • The Educational-Cultural part and

  • The Diplomatic-Commemorative part

I Educational-Cultural Component

Canadians need to recall this heroic figure and to reclaim him as one of theirs. Also, younger generations need to learn about his life and the relevance today of internationalists like him.

This component would consist of:

a)      Photographic exhibits from China, Spain and Canada;

b)      Books and films on Bethune and his times, in their original languages;

c)      Resource people: historians, writers, filmmakers, to stimulate and facilitate public discourse.

The exhibition would retrace the footsteps of Bethune when he travelled across Canada in 1937, educating Canadians about the struggles in Spain and China and raising funds for his projects in those countries.

II Diplomatic-Commemorative Component

The year-long educational component will give greater meaning to the international commemorative events for the 70th anniversary of Bethune’s death, November 12, 2009.

The commemorative ceremonies could be held simultaneously in all three capitals of the countries involved, as well as in other key cities like Montreal, Shanghai, Málaga, etc. Diplomats and local representatives from each country might journey to the other two for such events.

The message underlying all these events lies in the spirit of Bethune, that is, the urgent need for international engagement¾ the need to care for all human beings as intensely as we care for our own.

An extraordinary career in Montreal, Spain and China


BETHUNE IN SPAIN (l936-1937)

BETHUNE IN CHINA (1938-1939)

“I refuse to live in a world that breeds corruption and murder.”

In Montreal, memories of Dr Norman Bethune are closely associated with:


His crusade against tuberculosis:
  Barely cured of tuberculosis himself, Bethune had one of the most productive periods of his entire career during his time in Montreal. In eight years, driven by his determination to eliminate the “white plague” and save lives, he perfected his skills as a physician and surgeon and became well known in his field. He gave papers at many conferences here and abroad and published over a dozen articles in the most renowned scientific journals in the Americas.


His own innovations:


He invented or redesigned most of the surgical instruments and apparatus he used as a thoracic surgeon, for example, the pneumothorax apparatus and rib shears.


His name was associated with a number of apparatus and instruments that he designed and were manufactured by the Pilling Company in the United States.
c) His surgical practices were controversial.



His attack on poverty during the Great Depression (when a third of Montrealers lived in poverty) when he became aware of the social and environmental components of disease:


He opened a free public clinic for the unemployed;


In 1935, he founded the Montreal Group for the Security of the People’s Health, that advocated measures eventually adopted by the health care system instituted in Québec in the 1960s. Composed of representatives of the main health professions, this group was the first of its kind to put forward a program for socialized medicine in Canada;
c) With his artist friend Fritz Brandtner, Bethune founded an art centre in his home for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.


Through his social and political actions, Bethune became the figure we know today: the enfant terrible of his profession, the champion of socialized medicine and the communist. A man of integrity and action, events in his time left him no choice. “It was the people of Montreal, Spain and China who forged his social and political conscience” in the tumultuous years of the history of democracy.

To pay tribute to Norman Bethune and mark the 80th anniversary of his arrival in Montreal, the City and its partners—Concordia University, the Centre d’histoire de Montréal, McCord Museum, La Fondation Aubin and others—are organizing many events starting this fall. The year of activities will close with the 70th anniversary of Bethune’s death in November 2009. On that occasion, the City wants to have the posthumous title of Distinguished Montrealer conferred on him.

BETHUNE IN SPAIN  (l936-1937)
“I didn’t come to Spain to spill blood but to give it.”

He was one of the most effective communicators in North America of the message that Spain could be the tomb of fascism if money and arms could be supplied to the Republic.


His medical contribution:


He developed free civilian blood donations on a large scale, an innovative and highly successful idea.


He and his colleagues set up the Canadian Blood Transfusion Service, whose novel feature was that it could carry blood to the wounded at the front thereby reducing blood loss and saving lives.


Mobile transfusion services, the most important medical contribution to the war in Spain, were adopted by the Allies in World War II and after the war by the Red Cross.



His contribution as a propagandist:


He helped improve Canada’s image worldwide. He openly declared his solidarity with the anti-fascist struggle by painting on his vehicles the words “Canadian Blood Transfusion Service.” This was one of the first manifestations of Canadians’ nationalism, at a time when these British subjects weren’t used to expressing their patriotism.


He was the central figure of Herbert Kline’s Heart of Spain, a documentary that paid tribute to the Spanish people’s courage. The film served to raise funds for the Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy, when Bethune returned to Canada and embarked on a North American speaking tour to present the film and promote the Republicans’ cause.
c) His radio features from Spain were poignant, remarkable accounts of the war.


Thanks to his propaganda campaign, Bethune motivated men to sign up for the MacKenzie-Papineau Battalion, the Canadian contingent of the International Brigades that fought fascism in Spain and lost almost one quarter of its members. Canada provided the second largest number of volunteers per population, after France.


Thanks to Bethune’s writings (letters and newspaper articles) and a brochure called The Crime on the Road from Málaga to Almería, current generations of Spaniards were able to recover the memories of this event. What Bethune wrote and the film Heart of Spain were the starting point of an exhibition of photographs about Bethune in Andalusia. This same exhibition will open at the McCord Museum in Montreal in October 2008.


BETHUNE IN CHINA (1938-1939)
“I am going to China because that is where the need is greatest.”

Dr Norman Bethune, or Pai-Chu-En, left as a legacy:


His scientific approach: By insisting on perfecting professional techniques, he underscored the importance of harnessing scientific and technological skill to the enthusiasm for emancipating humanity;


His sense of responsibility in pursuing the truth and the solution to problems, always with that characteristic revolutionary spirit of his; for example,


He urged doctors to go to the wounded at the front.


He devised a portable operating theatre and a “Model Hospital” to train doctors in a year and nurses in six months.


Out of virtually nothing he invented what was needed to treat the wounded.



His internationalist spirit, so embedded in the hearts of the Chinese people, is a model to be emulated. For westerners, was he the forebear of Doctors without Borders?


Bethune was a rare witness to the two wars in the l930s that opposed the militarism of the extreme right and democracy.


Among his many contributions was the consolidation of ties between Bethune’s birth country and China, where he died a hero.

Following his visit to China in 1972, Prime Minister Trudeau declared Norman Bethune to be “a Canadian of historic importance nationwide.” The Canadian government purchased the house where Bethune was born, in Gravenhurst, Ontario, and opened the Bethune Memorial House in 1976.

Thanks to the Bethune Memorial House, an exhibition of some 20 photographs of Bethune in China, taken by his friend and official photographer of Mao Zedong’s army, Sha Fei, will be available at La Fondation Aubin. The Fondation will lend it out to be displayed free of charge in universities and schools, health institutions, cultural centres, libraries, etc.

Sources :

Norman Bethune: Politique de la passion, lettres, créations et écrits. Édition présentée et annotée par Larry Hannant. Montréal, Lux Éditeur, 2006.

Norman Bethune: His times and his legacy / Son époque et son message. David A.E. Shephard et Andrée Lévesque, éditeurs. Ottawa : Association canadienne d’Hygiène publique, 1982.


Books of the center

– Allen, Ted & Sidney Gordon. 1953. The Scalpel, the Sword: The Story of Dr. Norman Bethune. New York: Cameron Assoc.
– Bethune, Norman. 2006. Politique de la passion: lettres, créations et écrits. Ed. Larry Hannant. Traducteurs : Dominique Bouchard et François Tétreau. Montréal: Lux.

– Bethune, Norman. 1998. The Politics of Passion: Norman Bethune’s Writing and Art. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.– Bethune Norman in China. 1975. Peking: Foreign Language Press.

– Bethune: son histoire illustrée = Bethune: his story in pictures. 1975. Toronto: NC Press. (Based on a picture book entitled, Dr. Bethune, published in Chinese by the Shanghai People’s Publishing House.)

– Endicott, Stephen. 1980. James G. Endicott: Rebel out of China. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. (About James G. Endicott, with three references to Bethune)

– Ewen, Jean. 1981. China Nurse 1932-1939. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart.

Gordon, Sidney, & Ted Allen. 1973. Doctor Bethune. Traduit de l’anglais par Jean Paré. Montréal : Éditions L’étincelle.
– Homenaje a Norman Bethune, Cuaderno conmemorativo al LX aniversario de su llegada a España, Assoc. Española de Estudios canadienses. 1996. Centro de Estudios Canadienses de la Universidad de la Laguna, Madrid.

– Jack, Donald. 1981. Rogues, rebels and geniuses: the story of Canadian medicine. Toronto: Doubleday.– Langleu, Rod. 1995. Bethune, a play. Vancouver, B.C.: Talonbooks.

– Lethbridge, David, ed. 2003. Bethune: the Secret Police File. Salmon Arms, B.C. Canada: Undercurrent Press.

– Link, Eurgene P. 1991. The T.B.’s progress: Norman Bethune as artist. Plattsburgh: SUNY.

– MacLeod, Wendell, Libbie Park & Stanley Ryerson. 1978. Bethune: the Montreal Years. Toronto: James Lorimer & Co.

– Majada Neila, Jesús & Pérez Bueno, Fernando. 2006. Carretera Málaga-Almería (Febrero de 1937). Málaga: Caligrama Ediciones.
– Majada Neila, Jesús. 2004. Norman Bethune, el Crimen de la carretera Málaga-Almería (Febrero de 1937). Málaga: Caligrama Ediciones.
– Majada Neila. 1974. Peasant Paintings from Huhsien County. Compiled by the Fine Arts Collection Section of the Cultural Group under the State Council of the People’s Republic of China. Peking: People’s Fine Arts Publishing House.

– Shephard, David A.E. & Andrée Lévesque. 1982. Norman Bethune: his times and his legacy = Norman Bethune: son époque et son message. Ottawa: Canadian Public Health Association.

– Smith, Mary Larrett. 1976. Prologue to Norman: the Canadian Bethunes. Oakville, ON: Mosaic Press.

– Snow, Lois Wheeler. 1981. Edgar Snow’s China: a Personal Account of the Chinese Revolution compiled from the writings of Edgar Snow. New York: Random House. (Some references to Norman Bethune.)

– Stewart, Roderick. 1973. Bethune. Don Mills, ON: Paperjacks.

– Stewart, Roderick. 1975. Norman Bethune. Longueuil, QC: Pub. Julienne.
– Stewart, Roderick. 1976. Bethune. Trans. Jacques Gouin. Montréal : Éditions du Jour.- Stewart, Roderick. 1977. The Mind of Norman Bethune. Toronto: Fitzhenry & Whiteside.

– Weisbord, Merrily. 1983. The Strangest Dream, Canadian Communists, the Spy Trials, and the Cold War. Toronto: Lester & Orpen Denny’s.

– Zhou, Erfu. 1982. Doctor Norman Bethune. Bejing: Foreign Languages Press.

Ressources é (McGill: Osler Library of the History of Medicine) Canada /Parks Canada) (Bibliothèque et Archives Canada/Library and Archives Canada

Activities organized by La Fondation Aubin

In October La Fondation Aubin organized a conference on:



His commitment from a historical and current perspective

Click here to read a report on the conference and several of the speakers’ papers, most of which are in French.

Click here to see photos

• Exhibition of photographs of Bethune in China

From January 19 to February 8: The exhibition is on display at the Centre culturel et sportif, Collège Regina Assumpta, 1750 rue Sauriol Est (corner Papineau), in Montreal.
An exhibition of twelve large format photographs of Bethune in China, taken by his friend and official photographer of Mao Zedong’s army, Sha Fei, are available at La Fondation Aubin. The collection includes two explanatory panels (one in English and one in French) and a caption for each photo.

La Fondation Aubin will lend out the exhibition to be displayed free of charge in universities and schools, health institutions, cultural centres, libraries, etc. However, contributions will be appreciated to help cover transportation and handling charges.

La Fondation Aubin can also provide an educational kit of books, films and other items.

To reserve the collection of photographs or for further information, contact La Fondation Aubin: or

• Documentary on the Bethune events in Montreal
A film will be shot during the Bethune events in Montreal with a view to putting together the first co-production with Spain and China on Bethune. On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of Bethune’s death in November 2009, the co-production will celebrate a man whose capacity for action knew no boundaries.

• Pan-Canadian tour of exhibitions of photos, films, books
The end of the tribute year for Bethune in Montreal in November 2009 could serve to kick off a Pan-Canadian tour of exhibitions of photos, books and films of Bethune’s stays in Spain, China and Montreal. See proposal

• Fund-raising campaign

With the support of its partners–the City of Montreal, Concordia University, the Centre d’histoire de Montréal and the McCord Museum–La Fondation Aubin has started a fund-raising campaign for a documentary on the activities to honour Bethune in Montreal.

The private and public sectors are being solicited. Donations from individuals have been coming in, but many others are needed. La Fondation Aubin is a registered charitable organization and issues official receipts for donations of $10 and more.


In 2008

October 1: Lunchtime series at the Atwater Library
La Fondation Aubin organized a presentation on the life and work of Norman Bethune and the fall 2008 commemorative activities in Montreal.

October 4:  “Dr. Norman Bethune, Montrealer and Internationalist”
Our conference was the first in a series of ongoing activities for the year in tribute to Bethune (2008-2009). A historian, a sociologist and six doctors discussed among themselves and with the public some major topics in socialized medicine and Bethune’s relevance today.

October 1 to 18: Photo exhibition of Bethune in China at the Atwater Library.

October 14: Evening to open a Spanish exhibition entitled “Norman Bethune, Trail of Solidarity” at the McCord Museum. Presented in collaboration with La Fondation Aubin and the Fundación Canadá (Madrid), the evening was attended by former Governor-General of Canada Adrienne Clarkson and the curator of the exhibition, Jesús Majada.

October 18:

“Norman Bethune and Visual Cultures”, a symposium organized by Concordia University with La Fondation Aubin’s participation.
Click below to read two of the main presentations (in French) by:
Hélène Samson, curator of the Notman Photographic Archives at the McCord Museum: Norman Bethune et la couverture photographique de la guerre d’Espagne, jalon fondamental dans l’histoire du photo-journalisme.
Spanish exhibition curator Jesús Majada’s paper focused more particularly on a chapter during the Civil War comparable to the Guernica tragedy.

October 29 to November 15: Photo exhibition of Bethune in China at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

In 2009

January 19 to February 8: Photo exhibition of Bethune in China at Collège Regina Assumpta.

DR NORMAN BETHUNE, INTERNATIONALISTE MONTRÉALAIS Son engagement dans une perspective historique et actuelle

Son engagement dans une perspective historique et actuelle

medicale article

Textes de conférencierEs:

Dany Laferrière, écrivain, est le porte-parole de la conférence.

Cliquez ici pour lire sa communication.

Andrée Lévesque, professeure retraitée de l’Université McGill, spécialiste de l’histoire du mouvement ouvrier et auteure de plusieurs livres. Elle a coédité le livre Norman Bethune, son époque et son message, his times and his legacy (1979).

Cliquez ici pour lire sa communication.

Marc Renaud
, professeur de sociologie, Université de Montréal, où il a créé le Groupe de recherche sur les aspects sociaux de la santé et de la prévention (GRASP). Récemment, il a été conseiller auprès de l’UNESCO et du gouvernement du Portugal.

Cliquez ici pour lire sa communication.

Dr Vincent Echavé
, professeur de chirurgie à l’Université de Sherbrooke.  Il est membre de Médecins sans Frontières qui l’amène à s’intéresser à la chirurgie en contexte de guerre et l’aide médicale aux victimes traumatisées par la guerre.  Il est récipiendaire en 2008, du prix F-N-G-Starr de l’Association médicale canadienne.

Cliquez ici pour lire sa communication.
Dr Yona Likongo, médecin omnipraticien, il met sur pied un dispensaire de soins de santé primaires en pleine forêt équatoriale congolaise. En 1999 il est cofondateur de l’Association des médecins diplômés hors Canada et États-Unis vivant au Québec.

Cliquez ici pour lire sa communication.

Dr Vania Jimenez-Sigouin, professeure à l’Université McGill et directrice de l’unité de médecine familiale au CLSC Côte-des-Neiges.  Elle est aussi directrice des Services Professionnels au Centre de santé Inuultisivik, au Nunavik.

Cliquez ici pour lire sa communication (en anglais).
Dr. Zhang Lu-Wei, a été la directrice du Service de Médecine traditionnelle chinoise à l’hôpital n° 4 à Tian Jin, en Chine. Elle est la présidente de la Québec Medical Rehabilitation Society of Canada, la directrice de la China-Meridian Academy et membre de la World Traditional Chinese Medicine  Association.

Cliquez ici pour lire sa communication (en anglais).