Commemorative Cigarette Box (1940)
In 1940 Toronto became the first city in the world with a population over 500,000 to go through a year without a single case of diphtheria. The Health League of Canada commemorated the occasion with a testimonial dinner for Gordon Jackson (1885-1951), Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health. Jackson, was a medical graduate of the University of Toronto, who had served in the Canadian Army Medical Corps in the First World War. At the celebration dinner, he was given a silver cigarette box bearing this inscription:
Presented to Dr. GORDON PARK JACKSON, MEDICAL OFFICER OF HEALTH, TORONTO by the TORONTO DIPHTHERIA COMMITTEE OF THE HEALTH LEAGUE OF CANADA to mark the year 1940 when for the first time in its history there were no cases of Diphtheria in this City
Toronto’s accomplishment captured international attention. Jackson’s role, however, had been controversial. Citing cost concerns and fearing medical complications, he had delayed restarting the diphtheria toxoid program, which had been implemented by his predecessor, but whose trial period had expired at the beginning of Jackson’s term in 1929. Following a public dispute with Toronto physicians over their fee demands as well as his own hesitation to include preschoolers in the inoculation program, the clinics were restarted in 1931.
This lovely object, celebrating the end of one public health challenge, ominously embodies another, then still hidden to all but a handful of researchers. The extent of the lung cancer epidemic would become widely acknowledged as a public health issue in future decades.
Discovered in an antique shop in Forest Hill Village in 1986, the cigarette box was purchased by Dr. Arthur Gryfe, with the expectation that it would be donated to the Museum of the Academy of Medicine, Toronto. Dr. Gryfe was a pathologist who had extensively studied the history of diphtheria eradication in Canada. At the time he purchased the box, the Academy’s membership support was declining, and with uncertain prospects for the Museum, the box was never gifted.