Royal BC Museum Acquisition Marks 100 Years of Vaccine History


VICTORIA, BC – The Royal BC Museum has acquired a 100-year-old portrait of the Provincial Health Officer regarded as the Dr. Henry of his time.

The painting, by Mary Riter Hamilton, depicts Dr. Henry Esson Young, the Provincial Health Officer who led BC’s vaccination efforts against smallpox and tuberculosis in the 1920s.

In the 1920s, as in the 2020s, disease and public health measures to limit its spread were pressing issues for British Columbians, drawing many parallels between Dr. Henry Esson Young and Dr. Bonnie Henry.

“This acquisition bridges 100 years of healthcare history in British Columbia,” says Dr. India Young, curator of art and images at the Royal BC Museum. “These two Dr. Henrys share common interests in preventative medicine and faced similar challenges as proponents of vaccination.”

Mary Ritter Hamilton completed the portrait of Dr. Henry Esson Young in Victoria, BC, sometime between 1910 and 1915. After the armistice of November 11, 1918, Hamilton departed for Europe to paint WWI battlefield landscapes. She is best known today as Canada’s first wartime woman artist.

The portrait came to the attention of Dr. India Young because Hamilton has been a central focus of her research project, Recollecting Women Artists.

Once accessioned, the painting, titled Honorable Dr. Henry Esson Young, will be available online through the BC Archives database. It will also be available for further research and may appear in future exhibitions on provincial art history, women artists or healthcare (especially those examining vaccines and pandemics).

The Royal BC Museum thanks the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery for the gift of this historic work of art.

— 30 —

About the Royal BC Museum:  The Royal BC Museum explores the province’s human history and natural history, advances new knowledge and understanding of BC, and provides a dynamic forum for discussion and a place for reflection. The museum and archives celebrate culture and history, telling the stories of BC in ways that enlighten, stimulate and inspire. Located in Victoria on the traditional territory of the Lekwungen (Songhees and Xwsepsum Nations), we are a hub of community connections in BC–onsite, offsite and online–taking pride in our collective histories.

Image available:          

Get in Touch

Sam Rich
Corporate Communications Manager