The Story of Tommy Douglas and Hospital Insurance

Tommy Douglas was born in 1904 in Falkirk, Scotland. He and his family immigrated to Canada in 1911. After arriving in Canada, he settled in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In 1930 he married Irma Dempsey with whom he had two daughters.

Tommy Douglas

Strongly interested in sociology, Tommy Douglas started his Ph.D. in Sociology at the University of Chicago, but did not finish it and ended up completing his masters in Sociology at Macmaster University. He was not fond of how American socialists seemed to care more about socialist ideas than direct action to better people’s lives. Thanks to the fact that he felt differently, it inspired him to pursue a career in public service.

In 1944, he was elected as the Premier of Saskatchewan and would hold this position for the next seventeen years. As Premier of Saskatchewan, he significantly impacted the healthcare system by creating government-funded health insurance. Tommy Douglas implemented the Hospital Services Plan, making hospital services free and available to all. It was the first healthcare plan of its kind in Canada. This plan inspired the federal government to create one that helped fund hospital-operating costs and diagnostic services throughout Canada.

Commemorative postage stamps–Museum of Health Care 017020009

Tommy Douglas’s legacy still lives on today following his death in 1986. In addition to the creation of health insurance, he introduced many other social programs, including a pension plan for all of Canada, bargaining rights for civil servants and Medicare, all of which have greatly benefited Canadians’ well-being.

Click the button below to learn more blog posts about Canada’s health care history.

Maddy Duras (History Intern 2022)

Madeleine Duras is presently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts majoring in History and minoring in French at Queen’s University. She is in her second year of post-secondary studies, and is looking forward to using her research and written-communication skills to learn more about the
fascinating medical history of Canada through her authoring of the Tell me a Story Tuesday posts.


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