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TimeLinks: Dr. David Alexander Stewart

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Portrait of Dr. Stewart David Alexander Stewart was a pioneer in the development of institutional health care in Manitoba, and between 1910 and 1935, as founding Medical Superintendent of the Manitoba Sanatorium at Ninette, was the leading figure in the battle against tuberculosis in Western Canada.

Stewart came to the practice of medicine as a third career. He was born in Upper Canada in 1874 and immigrated from Ontario with his parents at the age of seventeen. In 1892, he entered normal school and taught briefly in Morden. Two years later he left teaching to study theology at Manitoba College. His ambitions to become a Presbyterian minister were thwarted, however, by a throat ailment which precluded public speaking, and in 1902, he entered the Manitoba Medical College.

While in medical school, Stewart witnessed the prevalence of typhoid fever and tuberculosis, diseases which thrived in the squalor and overcrowded conditions of the slums of Winnipeg. This interest was reinforced in 1909, when he was himself struck down with TB. In his own struggle with the disease, Stewart went to the Trudeau Sanatorium in New York where he learned first-hand the principles of the rest cure - a regimen of fresh air, good food and complete rest that allowed the patient to fight the ravages of the disease.

In 1910, fresh from his own experience with the rest cure, Stewart assumed became the first Medical Superintendent of the Manitoba Sanatorium. Over the next twenty-seven years, he played a central role in establishing Ninette as a centre of communicable disease control and prevention.

Throughout his career, Stewart stressed prevention and education as critical to the eventual elimination of tuberculosis. Although the outreach work, travelling clinics, and preventive work in the aboriginal community for which he was to become famous began only in the mid-1920s, from the beginning, prevention was stressed at Ninette. From the earliest days, patients at the Sanatorium were compelled to take courses in sanitation, nutrition and disease prevention.

Page revised: 27 August 2009

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