A storied past - a bright fututre

Orthopaedic surgery as a specialty in Halifax and at Dalhousie University began in the 1920s with the arrival of Drs. Tom and Jack Acker, who had completed their training in New York City and Boston.

Dr. Tom Acker established his orthopaedic surgery practice in Halifax in 1923; the following year he established the first orthopaedic clinic at the Dalhousie University Health Centre. His brother Jack soon joined him and they practised together in Halifax for many years. Their initial practice specialized in polio deformities. They treated people throughout the Atlantic Provinces, arriving in some communities by coastal boat. On many occasions, the scheduled departure of the coastal boat was delayed in order to accommodate the doctor who was running late with his clinic.

As World War II ended in the mid l940s, Dr. Bernard Miller joined the Acker brothers, having completed his orthopaedic training in Liverpool, England.  This further enhanced the orthopaedic presence on the Halifax medical scene.

Dr. Alvin J. Buhr arrived in Halifax after training in England and Toronto, in 1961.  Dr. Matt Erdogan closely followed, as well as Dr. Tony Trias. They brought further up-to-date concepts in the management of musculoskeletal diseases. Dr. Erdogan had completed fellowship training in Rochester, New York, and Dr. Trias in Oxford, England and Chicago, Illinois.

Dr. Albert Sinclair began practice in Halifax in the late 50s and restricted his practice to pediatric surgery at the Children’s Hospital in the early 1960s.  Dr. Sinclair had completed his orthopaedic training in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The modern era of orthopaedic surgery in Halifax and Dalhousie began in 1967 with the arrival of Dr. Reginald H. Yabsley. A native of Newfoundland, Dr. Yabsley was a Dalhousie Medical School graduate who completed his orthopaedic residency in Toronto and underwent further training in Europe.

In 1969, Dr. David Petrie commenced practising in Halifax at the Victoria General Hospital. Dr. Petrie had also completed his orthopaedic training in Toronto under Dr. George Pennal.

Under Dr. Yabsley’s direction as the first chief of the modern Division of Orthopaedic Surgery at Dalhousie and the Victoria General Hospital, the first training program in Orthopaedics, fully accredited by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, was established in l970. The first graduates of the program completed their training in l972. There were two graduates in the first year, Drs. Roy Englund and Herb Mitton, both of whom have had long and productive careers in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick respectively.

In 1975, Dr. William D. Stanish, another product of the Dalhousie Division of Orthopaedic Surgery Training Program, commenced his practice in Halifax. Dr. Stanish has become one of the leading sports medicine physicians and surgeons in North America and has represented Canada on two occasions as the Chief Physician of the Canadian Olympic Team.

The growth of pediatric orthopaedic surgery in Halifax and Dalhousie made terrific progress with the addition of Dr. J.C. Hyndman to Dr. Sinclair and Dr. Douglas Brown at the Children’s Hospital in 1975. Their expertise in the subspecialty of pediatric orthopaedic surgery has been a vital component of the Residency Training Program ever since.

The Training Program continued without interruption until the present.  Each year in November, all graduates of the Training Program return to Halifax for the annual meeting of the Dalhousie Orthopaedic Club, affectionately known as the Yabsley Club. The club has grown tremendously in numbers over the years and now attracts well over a hundred individuals at the annual dinner.

Dr. Yabsley’s longstanding term as the first Chief of Orthopaedic Surgery was completed in 1989. Dr. David Alexander, who led by example with his wisdom for a ten-year term, followed him in the position of Chief. In 1999, Dr. Gerald Reardon became the third Chief of Orthopaedic Surgery, following the amalgamation of the Halifax hospitals and the move into the new facility, the New Halifax Infirmary. Dr. David Amirault assumed the role of Chief in 2005 and continues to lead the Division.

Other highlights in the history of the Division of Orthopaedics were the hosting of the Canadian Orthopaedic Association Meeting in 1965. The Atlantic Provinces Orthopaedic Society was formed in l964, mainly to act as hosts of the meeting in conjunction with the Division of Orthopaedic Surgery. The Division hosted the Canadian Orthopaedic Association annual meeting in 1981, 1995 (the 50th anniversary meeting) and 2007.

In the l980s the Division of Orthopaedic Surgery worked in conjunction with Memorial University to oversee Memorial's training program, which allowed the Memorial residents to complete their last two years of training at Dalhousie and graduate as Dalhousie-trained Orthopaedic Surgeons. The Memorial program has since been repatriated back to Newfoundland.

Over the years the Division of Orthopaedic Surgery has grown significantly in many areas including the number of surgeons, the number of surgical cases performed per year, and the number of patient visits seen at the Institution.