John Charles Boileau Grant

JCB Grant

Dr. John Charles Boileau Grant, a world-renowned Canadian anatomist passed away in 1973 of cancer (a tumor in his larynx) in his 87th year. Through his textbooks, he made an indelible impression on the teaching of anatomy throughout the world. In their eulogy, Drs. Ross MacKenzie and James S. Thompson said:
“Dr. Grant’s knowledge of anatomical facts was encyclopedic, and he enjoyed nothing better than sharing his knowledge with others, whether they were junior students or senior staff. While somewhat strict as a teacher, his quiet wit and boundless humanity never failed to impress. He was, in the very finest sense, a scholar and a gentleman”.  

Grant was born on February 6, 1886 in the parish of Lasswade in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he grew up and received his early education. His higher education was received at the University of Edinburgh from 1903 to 1908. His skill as a dissector in the laboratory of a renowned anatomist was recognized by Dr. Daniel John Cunningham. Grant’s dissections earned him several awards. After graduation, Grant was appointed the resident house officer at the Infirmary in Witehaven, Cumberland. From 1909 to 1911, he was Demonstrator of Anatomy in the Faculty of Medicine in the University of Edinburgh. He then taught two years at the University of Durham at Newcastle-on-Tyne in England in the laboratory of Professor Robert Howden, the editor of several editions of Gray’s Anatomy.

When the World War l began in 1914, Dr. Grant joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and served with distinction. He was mentioned in dispatches in September 1916 and received the Military Cross in 1917 for “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during attack”. He received a bar to the Military Cross in August 1918. When he was released from the army in 1919, he accepted the position of Professor and Head of Anatomy at Medical School at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He was recommended for the position by his classmate when they were at the University of Edinburgh; he was Head of the Department of Pathology in the University of Manitoba. Dr. Grant met Catriona Christie when he was invited to his friend’s house for dinner. Dr. Grant married Catriona in 1922.    

With the frontline medical practitioner in mind, he endeavored to (in Grant’s words) “bring up a generation of surgeons who knew exactly what they were doing once an operation had begun”. He was elected to membership of AAA in 1920 and retained his membership until 1973 (the year he died). He began to write his first anatomy book, “A Method of Anatomy, Descriptive and Deductive”, when he was at the University of Manitoba; the book was published in 1937 when he was at the University of Toronto. His book relied heavily on clinical significance as the major justification for the inclusion or exclusion of details. Grant’s Method was the basis for clinical practice. It relied on logic, explanation, and rational thought to lead the reader to the learning and retention of principles.

In the first edition of his book, he said:
     “The study of human anatomy may be attempted in either of two ways. One consists in collecting facts and memorizing them. This demands a memory which is wax to receive impressions and marble to retain them. The other way consists in correlating facts, that is, studying them in their mutual relationships. This leads inevitably to the apprehending of the underlying principles involved, and the raison d’être of such relationships”.

In 1930, Dr. Grant accepted the position of Chair of Anatomy at the University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He stressed the value of a “clean dissection”, with the structures well defined. He empathized that dissection requires the touch of a sharp scalpel, if not you will soon learn that a dull scalpel is an anathema (accursed thing). He also prepared instructive dissections in the Anatomy Museum, where students may review the dissections.

The specimens Dr. Grant and his assistants prepared in the early 1940’s are still in the museum and are in good condition. Many of the illustrations of the actual dissections are included in Grant’s Atlas of Anatomy, 13th edition. The classic illustrations represent actual dissections which can be compared with the specimens in the museum. Dr. Grant carefully examined every illustration after it was prepared to ensure that it was exactly the same as the dissected specimen. If there were variations, they were shown in the illustrations.

Dr. Grant published his Anatomy Dissector in 1940; this book is in its 14th edition and is now called Grant’s Dissector. During World War ll, he was unable to acquire European Anatomy Atlases for his students. Therefore, he decided to prepare an atlas; it was published in 1943 and it was very successful. It was the first anatomical atlas to be published in North America; it is now called Grant’s Atlas and is in its 13thedition. Grant served as Second Vice President of AAA from 1950-1952. He remained at the University of Toronto until his retirement in 1956. He then became Curator of the Anatomy Museum (now called Grant’s Museum) in the Department of Anatomy.

In 1962, Dr. Carmine D. Clemente invited Dr. Grant to be a Visiting Professor of Anatomy at the University of California at Los Angeles for four months every year. He gladly came for almost 10 years. Carmine said, “The medical students loved Dr. Grant and he would go to all lengths in explaining his answers to student’s questions. He was gracious, kind, and so full of knowledge”. Carmine also said that Dr. Grant’s lectures were always preceded by an outline on the blackboard describing the various topics of that day’s anatomy lesson. He never went overtime on his lectures and he always stayed in the dissection hall the full time of the laboratory period. This is amazing for a man in his late 80’s. Thanks Carmine for sharing your memories of Dr. Grant’s teaching at UCLA.

Written by Keith L. Moore, Professor Emeritus, Division of Anatomy, Department of Surgery, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Canada.

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