Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Banting House: London's Hidden Gem

Ahhh, reading week... What's a grad student to do for a whole seven days to entertain her 16 year old brother? Drag him to local museums in search of an internship? Sounds like a good plan to me!

Today, my brother and I braved the bitter Canadian cold to venture across London and check out the birthplace of insulin. It seemed like an important place to see while I'm here, and as a National Historic Site, why not see if there was some work for me there?

Admittedly, the Banting House was not something I knew about before I moved to London - and even worse, the discovery of insulin was not something I've recognized as a Canadian triumph. But then again, why would I? I feel so very cheated sometimes with the version of history I've been brought up on in the American high school... I suppose that's why I'm here.

Tucked away on the not-so-scenic corner of Adelaide and Queen, stands a modest home with a extensive courtyard that distinguishes the Banting House from the rest of the buildings on the street. In particular, the Flame of Hope that burns next to the property is not only eye-catching, but captivating (not to mention, it commemorates the visit of the Queen to the site). One can't help but wonder - what is the story here?

And quite a story it is! The museum is a prime example of a pilgrimage destination that can really have a life-long effect on visitors. The museum director mentioned that there are three types of people who typically come into the museum: the cultural tourist, the academic/scientific researcher, and the people whose lives have been affected by diabetes. Even though each visitor is there for a different reason, they all seem to mention a particular aura, especially in the bedroom of Banting's house, where he awoke in the middle of the night to scrawl out his idea to fight diabetes. It can be quite an emotional experience. Even my brother (who isn't a fan of museums, school, or learning in general) said that this was the only museum he's ever been to that's managed to hold his interest.

The museum not only interprets the discovery of insulin and the fascinating life of Frederick Banting, but serves as a symbol for the on-going struggle against diabetes, people living with (and not dying from) the disease, and the hope that something better than insulin will soon be discovered.

With a mission like that, who wouldn't want to be a part of this museum?! If you haven't visited this site yet, I would highly recommend it - I tried not to give too much away here. The place is full of surprises and WOW-factor. Perhaps if you wander in during the summer months, I shall be enthusiastic intern who greets you at the door (which is quite stubborn to open and close, might I observe)!

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