Memorable Manitobans: Ernest Samuel Rutherford Moorhead (1876-1957)
Born in Dalkey, County Dublin, Ireland on 29 July 1876, son of Thomas Hamilton Moorhead (1847-1916), a doctor who practised most of his life in Cootehill, County Monaghan, and Mary Ann Glossop (1850-1918), his brother and at least one of their father’s uncles were doctors. After attending Drogheda Grammar School, he studied medicine at Trinity College, Dublin, where he was on the university rowing team. He interned and practised at Richmond Hospital in Dublin but found the prospects for setting up a private practice were poor. After considering Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, he emigrated to Canada in 1901, intending to practise in British Columbia. Advised in Montreal that the gold boom in BC had gone flat, he changed his ticket and settled in Winnipeg.
After a slow start, he took over the busy general practice of a doctor whose office was above Gordon’s drugstore next to the Canadian Pacific Railway Station. Soon after, he became company doctor for the CPR, a position he held for 35 years. On 9 June 1906, at All Saints Anglican Church, he married Elizabeth Maud Martha Ruckley (1870-1968) of Coolraine, Ireland. She had been a teacher of the deaf in Montreal for a year before coming to Winnipeg. They were already engaged before he left Ireland. They rented and later bought a house at 324 Alfred Avenue, where all their children were born. In 1919, after his service in Britain and France with the Royal Army Medical Corps, they bought a house at 73 Carlton Street, and in 1944 they moved to 230 Elm Street.
The Moorheads had four children: Norah Hamilton Moorhead (1908-2008) taught high school in Quebec, Ernest John “Jack” Moorhead (1910-2004) married Iris Gertrude de Wet of Winnipeg and was an insurance executive in the United States, Adele Mary Moorhead (1910-2000) married Harold Patrick Henry Moore of Winnipeg, a department supervisor at the Great-West Life Assurance Company, and raised Norwegian Elkhound dogs, and Peter Roe Moorhead (1915-1923) died in childhood.
He served on the staff of the Winnipeg Children’s Hospital and was associate professor of medicine at the Manitoba Medical College. He was also President of the Winnipeg Medical Society (1923) and served on the honorary staff of the Winnipeg General Hospital for many years. In 1932, the Winnipeg Medical Society appointed him to seek better health care for poor people through Winnipeg’s welfare system. He led the doctors on a brief strike in 1934 which won medical benefits, under his supervision, for city welfare recipients. In 1939, when the Winnipeg firefighters’ union asked for an insurance scheme that would pay their members’ doctor bills, he persuaded the Manitoba Medical Association to offer them a plan in which he received the claims from doctors, accepted some of them and paid them so far as the premium income from firefighters permitted. The firefighters’ plan was expanded in October 1944 to become the Manitoba Medical Service, with Moorhead as secretary and medical director, providing medical benefits for large groups of employees. The MMS soon merged with the Blue Cross hospital services plan. He retired in 1948.
He died at his Winnipeg home, 230 Elm Street, on 22 December 1957. He was buried in the St. John’s Cathedral Cemetery. Details of his private life are recorded in an unpublished memoir that he addressed to his children about 1943.
Birth registrations, Manitoba Vital Statistics.
Who’s Who in Western Canada: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Men and Women of Western Canada, Volume 1, edited by C. W. Parker, Vancouver: Canadian Press Association, 1911.
“Blue Cross founder, Dr. E. S. Moorhead dies,” Winnipeg Free Press, 23 December 1957,
“Canada’s first doctors’ strike: Medical relief in Winnipeg, 1932-34” by C. David Naylor, Canadian Historical Review, LXVII, 2, 1986, pages 151 to 180.
Executive Minutes, Manitoba Medical Association, Manitoba Medical Service, Blue Cross.
This page was prepared by Terence Moore, Michael Moore, and Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 10 February 2019