Was the gas mask invented by a Canadian?
Yes and no.
Cluny Macpherson was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland on March 18, 1879. Attending McGill University, Macpherson punctuated his medical studies on an altruistic note by volunteering for the Royal National Mission for Deep Sea Fishermen, later known by the more manageable moniker of the International Grenfell Association.
He graduated with an MD in 1901 and subsequently studied at the Royal Infirmary in Scotland before returning to Newfoundland. He was sent to Labrador to deal with a smallpox epidemic after which he became chief medical officer at the Grenfell Hospital at Battle Harbour.
With the outbreak of the First World War in1914, Macpherson enlisted and busied himself organizing the Newfoundland Regiment’s Ambulance Brigade.
Macpherson was stationed overseas in March 1915 and became concerned as well as intrigued by the effect of poison gas being used by the Germans on Allied soldiers.
Quickly he devised a solution to this problem by taking a captured German helmet and fitting it with a fabric treated to absorb poisonous substances. Draped over the neck and shoulders, transparent eye pieces composed of mica allowed soldiers to survey their surroundings. Subsequent developments modified the gas mask into the canister-fitted device that became standard issue by 1916.
Macpherson’s contributions were recognized by a promotion to Chief Medical Officer for the Department of the Militia and by the time he was demobilized in 1919 he had attained the rank of Lt. Colonel. He was also a member of the British War Office’s Committee on Protection against Poisonous Gases and became Newfoundland’s director of medical services.
Macpherson went into private practice for the next four decades back in Newfoundland. An active member of the medical community, he was elected president of the Newfoundland Medical Association and was the second Newfoundlander to serve as the president of the Medical Council of Canada.
Other honors included being named a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, Fellow of the British Royal College of Surgeons, Knight of Justice of the Venerable Order of St. John of Jerusalem and honorary president of the Clan Macpherson Association of Canada.
In May, 1962 he was presented with an honorary doctor of science degree from Memorial University of Newfoundland.
Which leaves us with our original quandary. Was the gas mask invented by a Canadian?
Well, Newfoundlanders were British Citizens until 1949. So at the time he invented the gas mask, Macpherson would have been British. In 1949 he would have become a Canadian along with all his fellow Newfoundlanders.
So we can safely say the gas mask was invented by a Canadian, even if we might have to admit it was a retroactive feat.
Dr Cluny Macpherson – Wikipedia Public Domain
Thumbnail Of The Macpherson Gas Mask – Wikimedia Public Domain