This Week in History


The Father of Canadian Biochemistry is Born!

For the week of Monday April 3, 2006

On April 7, 1858, Archibald Macallum was born on a farm in Belmont, Canada West. Until he attended a rural elementary school, Macallum spoke only Gaelic. When he applied to the University of Toronto, he added his middle name in recognition of his favourite poet – Byron. A tireless worker with a keen intellect, he obtained his degree in Natural Sciences in 1880, his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University in 1888, followed by his M.B. at Toronto in 1890. Later, he received honourary degrees from Aberdeen, McGill, Yale and Dublin.

Archibald Byron Macallum
©University of Toronto Dept. of Biochemistry
Although he is most remembered for his creation at the University of Toronto of the first biochemistry department in Canada, his major influence was to establish research and scholarship as essential functions of the university that, up to his time, had been largely focused on teaching.

Macallum was Professor and Chair of the Department of Physiology at the University of Toronto for 18 years before he set up the Department of Biochemistry in 1907-08. It was one of the first in the world! Macallum’s research gained international attention as he developed methods to localize the elements calcium, potassium, chlorine, phosphorus and iron in plant and animal tissues and linked the concentrations of these elements in sea water to those in the body fluids of many animals. He also reported the discovery of the origin of hemoglobin in embryonic red blood cells.

In 1916, Macallum was appointed as the Chairman of the Advisory Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and guided it through the war years. This advisory council was the precursor of the National Research Council. In 1920 he returned to a post-secondary setting as Professor of Biochemistry at McGill University in Montréal and became an outspoken campaigner for reform in the public education system.

A.B. Macallum contemplating a problem
© University of Toronto Dept. of Biochemistry
Macallum’s research was recognized in many ways. He was elected as a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of the Sciences and Humanities in 1900 and Fellow of the Royal Society of England in 1906. After retirement in 1928, he had a small office and laboratory at the University of Western Ontario where his son, Bruce, was the Dean of Medicine. There, he aided students with their research problems until his death on April 4, 1934 in London, Ontario. During his career he was also a trustee of the Toronto General Hospital, treasurer of the Ontario Public Library Association and honorary trustee of the Folklore Society.

Archibald Byron Macallum was also designated as a National Historic Person in 1938. For more information, please visit the Department of Biochemisty at the University of Toronto.

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