Fred Banting: Birth and early schooling

Frederick Banting was born in 1891, six years after George Minot, in the family farmhouse about a mile and a half from the center of Alliston, Ontario.   He was the sixth, and last, child born to William and Maggie Banting.  He had three older brothers and one older sister.  A fourth brother born five years before Fredrick had died of whooping cough before he reached the age of one.

The farmhouse, where Fred would grow up, was a simple home.  It didn’t have indoor plumbing, until 1907, when it became one of the first in the area to install the modern innovation.  Where George Minot grew up and lived, in Boston’s Back Bay, all the homes were built with indoor plumbing and a modern sewage system beginning with the first houses being built there in the mid 1800’s. Fred’s hometown of Alliston is now known as New Tecumseth, and the street where his childhood home was located is now named after him.

Fred Banting’s father was born in Canada, but his paternal grandfather had been born in Northern Ireland.  They were both farmers.  All of his older brothers became farmers.  Fred’s mother worked as hard, if not harder, then her husband.  Unlike the Minot’s, no servants worked in this house.

Alliston was a small farming community about 40 miles north of Toronto.  Fred’s boyhood was typical of a farm boy from that era.  He would ride horses, swim in the nearby river, help with the farm chores, and play in the snow in the winter.

He was part of a large family.  But his closest sibling was a sister four years older and his closest brother was seven years older than him, so he was often alone.  He was remembered as a very shy, quiet boy.

Fred attended the public schools in the town of Allston. There was a difference at the school between the town kids, whose father might own the hardware store or the grocery or the mill, and the farm kids.  The parents of most of the farm kids had minimal education and only expected their children to have a minimal education.  The school had a 90 minute mid-day break, so the town kids could go home for lunch.  It was too far for the farm kids to go home, so they brought their lunch to school.

His school memories are not pleasant.  He recalled frequently being bullied, and being terrified of a teacher calling on him in class.  He was horrible at spelling, a trait that followed him throughout his life.  His defining trait seemed to be stubbornness, which was not well accepted by teachers in those days. He would at times attend school barefoot, which didn’t seem to raise any concern by his teachers.  He wasn’t always barefoot, but at one point his mother had given him hand-me-down boots from his sister, but he didn’t want to wear girl’s shoes.

Fred quit school once, when he was in fifth grade. A teacher called on him and he couldn’t answer the question.  The teacher verbally admonished him, causing Fred to be embarrassed.  He picked up his books and went home, announcing to his parents that he had quit school.  His father, who valued education more than most farmer parents, said, “Why that’s fine.  We’ll be needing an extra man and there is plenty of work.  It is too bad you can never be anything more useful in the world than a laborer, but a good honest worker is alright.  Think it over and in the meantime put on your overalls and clean out the henhouse.”  Fred hated cleaning out the henhouse.  He did as his father said, but went back to school the next day.