Delegates help open new Bethune House
GUEST BOOK SIGNING
Photo by Louis Tam
Dignitaries from China were among the first to sign the guest book of the Bethune House visitor centre, which officially opened on Wednesday, July 11.
GRAVENHURST - Visitors from halfway around the world flew into Gravenhurst mid-week to commemorate a local hero whose medical legacy spans two cultures.
Dignitaries from China shared the podium with Muskoka’s political leaders at the historical Bethune House on Wednesday, July 11, in a ceremony that marked the opening of a new $2.5-million, 3,500-square-foot visitor centre. The opening was part of Bethune Day — an annual event in Gravenhurst that commemorates the legacy of Canadian war surgeon Dr. Norman Bethune.
A standing-room-only crowd of local residents, media and ethnic media from areas as far away as Toronto watched as the keynote speakers arrived by rickshaw. The centre was officially opened as dignitaries cut a ribbon made of surgical gauze.
“Dr. Norman Bethune is a hero both for China and Canada. Here we are in the birthplace of a hero,” said Fang Li, the consul general for the Consulate General of China in Toronto. “Dr. Norman Bethune is a symbol of China and Canada’s friendship.”
His sentiments were echoed by Gravenhurst Mayor Paisley Donaldson, who praised the event as an important building block of friendship between the two countries.
“We want to continue to encourage and promote economic and trade relationships, and enhance the experience of all Chinese visitors and visitors from all nations, who travel to the town of Gravenhurst to experience the Bethune spirit,” she said.
Funding for the facility came from a federal government grant and is intended to help boost tourism to Gravenhurst. The visitor centre features a common room that can be used for community events and will include two statues. One is funded by supporters in China, while the other is funded by local and Ontario-based supporters.
Though he differs from Bethune’s political views, Parry Sound-Muskoka MP Tony Clement said he admired the doctor’s commitment to human life.
“What I see in Dr. Bethune is his spirit of humanitarianism, his value of humanism and also his innovation both in the field and in the creation of medical instruments,” he said.
Born at the modest, two-storey home at John Street North and Hughson Street in 1890, Bethune developed mobile medical units for transporting blood to battlefields for transfusions.
He is also remembered for inventing surgical instruments for lung surgery.
Lending his services to China during the Sino-Japanese War, he died in Tang County, Hebei Province, in China due to blood poisoning from operating on a soldier in 1939.
Three visitors during the opening festivities this week were dignitaries from the same county. They included economic development officer Yan Wang, Bethune Memorial Hall curator Yu’en Chen and officer and translator Huimin Sun. Gravenhurst is also twinned with Tang County and the Bethune Memorial Hall in China is twinned with Bethune House.
Other visitors from China included Li Shenqing, vice-secretary general of the Bethune Spirit Research Association, and Wu Guangli, president of the Bethune International Peace Hospital. The hospital donated $16,000 for one of the statues that will be displayed at the visitor centre.