A museologist among us: Karine Raynor highlights the hospital's heritage

Maybe you’ve already passed her in the hallway. Maybe she’s come knocking at your door. Her name is Karine Raynor; she’s a museologist and art historian employed by the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC). If this seems strange to you, it shouldn’t. You’d be surprised to discover that the buildings that make up the MUHC are a treasure trove of items and objects that tell the history of these institutions.


Karine catalogues artwork, archives, photos, audiovisual documents, medical antiquities, furniture, and textiles which have particular artistic or historical value. The goal is that these objects will eventually become part of an initiative to highlight the hospitals’ heritage at the new MUHC—in a way that the community can benefit from it.


The objective of this work is in part to facilitate access to works and objects which make up the collections of the MUHC, in order to shed light on the history of the hospitals and medicine in Montreal from the 19th century to the present day. Another goal of the project is to improve the quality of the environments around the MUHC for employees, patients and visitors.


Surprising discoveries

The discoveries that Karine has made up to now are surprising. For example, at the Montreal General Hospital, there’s a canvas by the painter James Wilson Morrice. At the Montreal Children’s Hospital, there’s a work by Sir Frederic Grant Banting, the Canadian physician and scientist, who co-discovered insulin, and along with John MacLeod, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1923. He was also a friend of A.Y. Jackson of the Group of Seven. History would like us to believe that Banting was tempted to become a painter—good thing for people with diabetes that he decided to pursue a career in medicine instead! Even though many works are found inside the offices at the MUHC, certain works of art, such as the sculpture of Queen Victoria at the Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH), are actually on display.


Besides works of art, there are objects that trace the evolution of medicine in Montreal. One example is the prototype of a stainless steel dialysis machine from the 1950s, located at the RVH, which measures nearly five feet long and originally had a wooden drum. At the time, this device was used every two days for seven hours at a time! At the Montreal Chest Hospital, there are also photos taken during a tuberculosis epidemic.


Preparing the collection

The work that Karine has done since 2008 involves going from office to office and responding to requests from people who believe they might be sitting on something valuable from an artistic or heritage perspective. “Sometimes, people think they should preserve certain objects—and it’s thanks to them that we have these finds and they can now be part of the collection.” It’s easy to see that Karine takes a certain pleasure in unravelling all of this!


Once Karine is able to catalogue all the items according to a classification system used in museology, the items will be put on display. Even though there is not yet an exhibition plan or a definitive program in place, the idea is that the works and objects can be exhibited in rotation in various areas of the hospitals such as hallways, waiting areas, and care units so that as many people as possible can enjoy the collection. Until that time, if you think you might have something in your possession that should be part of our recorded history, don’t hesitate to contact Karine by email at karine.raynor@muhc.mcgill.ca.