By Dr. Allan Marble
On May 7, 1910, Dr. John Stewart amputated Nova Scotia Premier George Murray’s left leg at the Victoria General Hospital in Halifax. This very little-known event was reported in a very brief statement in the Halifax Evening Mail on May 9, 1910, which read:
The amputation of Premier Murray’s left leg took place at the Victoria General Hospital on Saturday, above the knee, close to the joint. Yesterday Mr. Murray’s condition was reported as satisfactory, one of his physicians at the hospital stating it to be the best day he had spent since he entered the hospital. His temperature was normal, he was taking nourishment all day, and was cheerful. Mr. Murray’s chances of recovery are good and he will suffer comparatively little inconvenience from the loss of his leg, being able to walk with an artificial limb.
Nothing further appeared about Premier Murray’s condition until Sept. 27, 1910, when the Evening Mail reported that he had been fitted with an artificial limb in Chicago. The amputation had been necessary because of diminished blood circulation in his left leg which, if unattended, could have led to gangrene.
Premier Murray and Dr. Stewart were both born in Cape Breton; Murray in Grand Narrows in 1861 and Stewart in Black River in 1848. Murray studied law in Boston and Stewart studied medicine in Edinburgh. Eventually, both returned to Nova Scotia, where Murray entered politics and, as a Liberal, became Premier of Nova Scotia in 1896. Dr. Stewart established a practice of medicine in Halifax in 1896 and by 1910 was the senior surgeon at the Halifax Infirmary.
In Edinburgh, Stewart had studied under Lord Joseph Lister and had become very familiar with antiseptic surgery. Upon his return to Nova Scotia, he lectured on the subject throughout the province. He became recognized as the leading surgeon in Nova Scotia, so it is not surprising that Premier Murray selected him as the surgeon to perform the amputation. Although Dr. Stewart did not have an appointment to the surgical staff of the Victoria General Hospital, it was arranged that the operation would take place there. This was probably because that hospital had better facilities and support staff than did the Halifax Infirmary.
By 1910 George Murray had been Premier for 13 years and people may have expected that he would resign because of his infirmity following the amputation. According to political historian Dr. Murray Beck, “it grieved his friends to see a six-foot man of previously splendid physique hobbling about with the aid of a cane and an artificial limb.”
Like Franklin D. Roosevelt, however, Premier Murray adapted to his physical disability. He continued his political career for another 13 years, retiring in 1923. He served as premier for 23 years, the longest period for any premier of a Canadian province.