It was only a few years ago that Toronto physician and researcher Nav Persaud learned the names Alexander Augusta and Anderson Abbott.
The two pioneering 19th-century doctors — the first Black people licensed to practise medicine in Canada — were never mentioned when Persaud studied at the University of Toronto, despite their connections to the university and their long lists of accomplishments.
As he learned more about them, Persaud was shocked by their invisibility in Canadian history. Then he was angry. Then he set out to rectify the injustice of their absence and ensure future students knew their names.
His efforts on that front culminated on Thursday with the unveiling of commemorative plaques, celebrating Augusta’s and Abbott’s remarkable lives and contributions to Canadian medicine.
“I hope people will be inspired,” Persaud said, prior to Thursday’s event, which was held at the University of Toronto’s Seeley Hall and jointly presented by Heritage Toronto and U of T’s Faculty of Medicine as part of Black History Month.
The plaques, which will be installed in May, are meant to “take a step towards equity,” said Persaud, a family doctor and the Canada Research Chair in Health Justice.
Augusta, an American who came to Toronto when he was denied access to medical school in the U.S., became U of T’s first Black medical student and the first Black person in Canada to receive a medical licence.
Abbott, who worked under Augusta’s supervision, became the first Black Canadian to achieve those same feats.