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Museum acquires portrait of B.C. doctor who led vaccination efforts in 1920s

The Royal B.C. Museum has acquired a 100-year-old portrait of provincial health officer Dr. Henry Esson Young, regarded as the Dr. Bonnie Henry of his time.

The painting, by Mary Riter Hamilton, depicts Young, who led B.C.’s vaccination efforts against smallpox and tuberculosis in the 1920s.

The museum said that in the 1920s — as in the 2020s — disease and public health measures to limit spread were pressing issues for British Columbians, drawing parallels between the two doctors 100 years apart.

“This acquisition bridges 100 years of health-care history in British Columbia,” said Dr. India Young, curator of art and images at the museum. “These two Dr. Henrys share common interests in preventative medicine and faced similar challenges as proponents of vaccination.”

The artist completed the portrait of Dr. Henry Esson Young in Victoria between 1910 and 1915. After the armistice of Nov. 11, 1918, Hamilton left for Europe to paint First World War battlefield landscapes. She is best known today as Canada’s first wartime woman artist.

The portrait came to the attention of Young because Hamilton has been a central focus of her research project, Recollecting Women Artists.

The painting was given to the museum by the ­Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery.