Michael Lavell

Michael Lavell, MD
1825 - 1901
Obstetrics & Gynaecology 1860 - 1885

MICHAEL LAVELL was borne December 29, 1825, in Quebec City. Soon thereafter his family moved to Toronto. Two older brothers became ministers of the Methodist Church and Michael was a staunch member of the church. For a number of years, he worked in the office of the Christian Guardian under the well known Methodist minister and educator, Rev. Dr Ryerson. He was also superintendent of the Sunday school at the Adelaide St. Church in Toronto.

Lavell received his medical education in Toronto, graduating in 1853 at the age of 27. Following a brief visit to Philadelphia, he established a general practice in Peterborough. He moved five years later to Kingston where he specialized in midwifery and the diseases of women and children. His ability and congenial personality quickly came to the attention of his medical colleagues.

Dr Lavell, characteristic of the nineteenth century physicians, played an active role in the community. He continued his activities in the Methodist Church serving as superintendent of the Sunday school in the Sydenham St. Church and subsequently as recording steward at the Queen St. Church, and for 30 years was the local representative to the annual general conferences of the Methodist Church.

In 1861, Dr Lavell seconded the nomination of John A. Macdonald as candidate for the conservative party earning him the title "second bottle holder for John A." from his less reverent colleague, Dr Stewart. But, astute politicians recognized how physicians were highly regarded in the community and Dr Lavell, remaining a loyal supporter of John A. Macdonald, benefited from the patronage which was characteristic of the politics of the day. On the advice of John A. Macdonald, minister of militia, Lavell was appointed surgeon for the 1st Battalion Frontenac Militia, a valuable entre for a young physician aspiring to the upper classes of the Kingston community. Subsequently Dr Lavell requested and received through John A. Macdonald an appointment as surgeon for the Kingston Penitentiary at an annual salary of $1200 in 1872.

Dr Lavell's association with Queen's began in 1860 at age 34. The board of trustees, recognizing Dr Lavell's ability, appointed him as professor of midwifery and the diseases of women and children, and the following year he was appointed surgeon at the General Hospital. Dr Lavell's fortunes progressed until he was recognized as Kingston's leading obstetrician, gynaecologist, and paediatrician. He was a member of the Ontario Medical Council from 1866 to 1885, serving as a medical examiner in 1873-74 and as president of the council in 1874.

Dr Lavell played an important role in medical affairs. When the university closed the medical department, he was one of eight founding incorporators of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, Kingston, established August 15, 1866. He served as registrar of the college. In this role, Dr Lavell was a champion of medical coeducation at the Royal College and Queen's. His efforts to provide medical education for women is documented in correspondence with a 'Miss Smith' in 1879. Women were not permitted to take classes with the men but the faculty would not provide two series of classes. The compromise was a summer program beginning in 1880 when the classrooms were available and the hospital wards were free for teaching. Subsequently Kingston's Women's Medical College was established in June 1883 with Dr Lavell, the first president, dean and professor of obstetrics.

Dr Lavell resigned from Queen's, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Kingston Women's Medical College in 1885 at the age of 59 when again benefiting from John A. Macdonald's patronage, he was appointed warden of Kingston Penitentiary at the handsome annual salary of $2600. He continued in this post until his retirement in 1894.

In 1866 Dr Lavell contributed to Canadian history: John A. Macdonald asked him and Dr Valade of Montreal for a medical opinion on whether Louis Riel 'was so bereft of his reason as to not know right from wrong and was not an accountable being'. Riel had been found guilty of high treason and had unsuccessfully appealed this conviction to the Manitoba Court of Queen's bench and to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London. Macdonald wanted to follow the letter of the law in this politically sensitive ‘Riel Affair'. Dr Valade and Dr Lavell went to Regina, interviewed Riel and the substance of their reports was contained in their first telegram to Macdonald:

I am of the opinion that ‘Riel' although holding foolish and peculiar views concerning visions as to prophecy and General Government is an accountable being and knows right from wrong.

Dr Lavell retired from professional life in 1894, at age 69, full of honour and deeply respected by colleagues, students and patients. The Queen's journal in February 1899 reported that students in final year had the pleasure of listening to two clear and interesting lectures from Dr Lavell at the request of Dr Garrett. Dr Lavell lived for a time with a son in Toronto but returned to Kingston in 1901 where he died February 18, at the age of 75.

Dr Lavell married a Miss Reeve of Toronto in 1853, and together they had twelve children - ten sons and two daughters. This extensive family included two physicians, two judges, a dean of education at Queen's, and a minister who gained fame for inventing Queen's famous Gaelic yell.