Bethune Memorial House

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Bethune Memorial House, a National Historic Site of Canada in Gravenhurst, Ontario. commemorates the life and achievements of Dr. Henry Norman Bethune.

Henry Norman Bethune (March 4, 1890 – November 12, 1939) was a Canadian physician and medical innovator. Bethune is best known for his service in war time medical units during the Spanish Civil War and with the Communist Eighth Route Army (Ba Lu Jun) during the Second Sino-Japanese War. He developed the first mobile blood-transfusion service in Spain in 1936. A Communist, he wrote that wars were motivated by profits, not principles.

Impatient and restless, he was inspired by a sense of duty to others and a love of the outdoors. In Bethune, these characteristics were the seeds of a battlefront surgeon, activist, humanitarian, inventor, teacher and artist. The historic site explores the roots and examines the legacy of this international hero. Dr. Bethune is most famous for the last two years of his life, which were spent in China, serving as a surgeon and teacher. Generations after his death, his name is still warmly remembered, as his story continues to be taught as an example to millions of Chinese students.

The house was built in 1880 to serve as the manse of Knox Presbyterian Church. Malcolm Bethune became the minister of Knox Church in 1889 and, a year later, his son Norman was born in the manse. The Bethune family remained in Gravenhurst until 1893 when they moved to Beaverton, Ontario. Thereafter, the house was occupied by a succession of ministers.

In 1973 the house was purchased by the federal government’s Department of External Affairs. Restoration of the building was subsequently undertaken by Parks Canada, which is now responsible for its operation.

In August 2002, then-Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, who is of Chinese birth, visited the house and unveiled a bronze statue of Dr. Bethune erected by the Town of Gravenhurst. It is located on the main street alongside the notable Opera House.

Virtually unknown in his homeland during his lifetime, Bethune received international recognition when Chairman Mao Zedong of the People’s Republic of China published his essay entitled In Memory of Norman Bethune (in Chinese: 紀念白求恩), which documented the final months of the doctor’s life in China. Almost the entire Chinese population knew about the essay which had become required reading in China’s elementary schools during the 1960s. Grateful of Bethune’s altruistic help to China, the nation’s normal elementary school text book still has the essay today:

“Comrade Bethune’s spirit, his utter devotion to others without any thought of self, was shown in his great sense of responsibility in his work and his great warm-heartedness towards all comrades and the people … We must all learn the spirit of absolute selflessness from him. With this spirit everyone can be very useful to the people. A man’s ability may be great or small, but if he has this spirit, he is already noble-minded and pure, a man of moral integrity and above vulgar interests, a man who is of value to the people (In Memory of Bethune, Mao 1939, pp. 337–338)”

Bethune is one of the few Westerners to whom China has dedicated statues, of which many have been erected in his honour throughout the country. He is buried in the Revolutionary Martyrs’ Cemetery, Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, China

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