The Story of Dr. Harold Tovell and His Love of Art and Medicine

Dr. Harold M. Tovell was born in 1887, and is considered one of Toronto’s pioneering radiologists. He was an arts and medical student at the University of Toronto, which was where he met his wife Ruth Lillian Massey through her cousin Vincent Massey, the first Canadian to hold the position of Governor General of Canada. Tovell and Massey were married in 1910 and lived first in New York and then in Munich, where Tovell trained under Dr. Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, the discoverer of x-rays.⁠

Dr. Harold M. Tovell

Dr. Tovell and his wife returned to Toronto at the outbreak of World War I in 1914, and soon established their home as a “salon” during the 1920s and 1930s for the exchange of ideas among Toronto’s up-and-coming artists. Among their friends were French artist Jacques Villon and members of the famous Group of Seven like Lawren Harris. Dr. Tovell was a great collector of art and served on the board of the Art Gallery of Toronto.⁠

Florence Flask – Museum of Health Care 1931.2.1
Compound Monocular Microscope – Museum of Health Care 1935.2.2

In addition to his involvement in the world of art, Dr. Tovell was an early member of the Toronto Medical Historical Club after its founding in 1924. Other notable members were Sir Frederick Banting and Dr. Jabez Henry Elliott. Tovell donated some medical artefacts from his own collection, including a compound molecular microscope and two Florence flasks, to the Academy of Medicine in Toronto. These artefacts were later brought to the Museum of Health Care when the Academy of Medicine was closed.⁠

Dr. Tovell passed away in Toronto after a brief illness on October 16th, 1947, at the age of 60, and is remembered for his contributions to both art and medicine.⁠

To learn about these artifacts and more, visit our online collection catalogue by clicking the button below.

Shaelyn Ryan <br>(Collections Technician/Assistant 2022)
Shaelyn Ryan
(Collections Technician/Assistant 2022)

Shaelyn Ryan is a recent graduate of Queen’s University, having completed her Bachelor’s degree in History in 2021, and is returning to Queen’s in the fall to pursue a Master’s degree in History. Either as a Summer Student or Work-Study Student through Queen’s University, Shaelyn has helped catalogue and research many of the museum’s collection of artefacts as a Collections Technician (since 2018). 

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