Dr. Douglas Salmon
Dr. Douglas Salmon, who passed away in 2005, was the first black surgeon in Canada. (Photo: Courtesy Salmon Family.)

From humble beginnings, Dr. Douglas Salmon accomplished great things.

Canada's first black surgeon, Dr. Salmon earned an Honours BA in physiology and biochemistry in 1951 from the University of Toronto, graduated from its School of Medicine in 1955 and, after interning at Toronto Western Hospital, joined the Scarborough Centenary Hospital's general surgical staff in 1967.

Dr. Salmon, who passed away in 2005, later became president of Centenary's medical staff and was appointed chief of general surgery – the first black person in Canada to hold such positions.

The youngest of six children, John Douglas Graham Roy Salmon, known as Douglas, was born in Toronto in 1923 to Jamaican immigrants. His mother and father died when he was still a child and his widowed aunt took in all the children. It was the Great Depression.

"(His aunt) had been trained as a nurse but because of racism at that time was unable to work as one," Dr. Salmon's widow, Bev Salmon, Toronto's first black female councillor, told U of T Magazine in 2012 at the creation of the Dr. J. Douglas Salmon Award for Black Medical Students. "They had very little money."

One of only four Black students in medical school

In high school, Douglas was steered towards what were considered "commercial" courses. He graduated at the top of his class but knew he wanted to become a doctor which meant university. He worked days and upgraded his secondary schooling at night for two years to get the necessary subjects.

While attending the University of Toronto Douglas was one of only four black students in his medical school class.  Although he did receive a scholarship he still had to work part-time in order to cover his expenses.  By his second year, Douglas was voted class president. 

Douglas was an accomplished pianist and had formed a musical group, "Doug Salmon & his Orchestra," which entertained at various functions in and around Toronto. Douglas also became a protest leader on the Race Discrimination Committee, which battled for the rights of blacks to enter Toronto's Palais Royale to see jazz greats such as Duke Ellington.

In 1954, Douglas's sister introduced him to Beverley Bell, a young Victorian Order nurse, and they married in 1956.  They had four children: J. Douglas Jr., Warren, Heather and Leslie.

After retiring from Centenary Hospital in 1995, Dr. Salmon joined the Rudd Clinic in downtown Toronto and later retired from practice in 1997.

Dr. Salmon was a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and a fellow of the American College of Surgeons. In recognition of his outstanding stature and service to the community, he was awarded the Canadian Black Achievement Award, Medicine.​


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Remaining Black History Month Events​

I: International African Medical Innovators Exhibit of the Canadian Multicultural Inventors Museum

Today: 12:00-1:30 p.m. – Lobby, Toronto Rehab Institute, University C​entre

II​: Closing Ceremony:

Tomorrow: 12:00-1:30 p.m. – Atrium 7th Floor, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre

Keynote: Dr. Kwame McKenzie-Director, Canadian Association of Mental Health (CAMH)​​

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