The high school had an entrance examination in those days. Most farm boys avoided that by ending their schooling after eighth grade. All of Fred’s older brothers had quit school and were working full time on the farm by the time he entered school at the age of seven. Fred was one of the rare farm boys who chose to attend high school [Banting, p 23].
At the town high school, now named after him, he grew into a tall strong young man. He played on the school’s football and baseball teams. He dated a town girl, the daughter of a man who ran a bank in Alliston. Sometimes, he would ride his horse Betsy to school in the morning and give a girl a ride home after school.
His school grades were middling. He excelled in chemistry, but had trouble with Latin, French, and English Composition. He was simply horrible at spelling and that carried over to the subjects that were evaluated with words. He graduated from high school in 1910.
Unlike George Minot, Fred Banting did not have summer vacations. Summer was a time for working on the farm. But when Fred finished high school, his father bought him a train ticket to see western Canada as a gift. Fred spent two months traveling to Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, and Saskatoon. Although this ticket gave him the opportunity to travel, it wasn’t all a vacation. When he stopped at each town for any length of time, he would be working to earn money for room and board. In Calgary, he was planting flowers for a florist. In Saskatoon, he was working on a farm.
Fred had his first start at university in the fall of 1910. Michael Bliss, who wrote the authoritative biography on Fred Banting, says that only one or two percent of the rural kids who started school at that time would go on to university [ Banting, p 23]. In that sense, Fred was exceptional. But in comparison to other students at the university, he was usually average to below average. He started as a student at Victoria College, one of the colleges that make up the University of Toronto, but didn’t pass all of his first year coursework. French was his weak point once again. Since he hadn’t passed French, he wasn’t allowed to take the second year coursework.
He reentered Victoria College in the fall of 1911, trying to repeat and pass his first year courses. Midway through the school year, he decided to change direction and abandon the general arts degree from Victoria College to pursue a medical degree. The University of Toronto’s medical school, called the Faculty of Medicine at the time, required that students only pass the Junior Matriculation Examination, the equivalent of a high school diploma [Flexner report, p323]. He essentially failed out of university and decided to enter medical school as an alternative. Although that sounds strange today, at the time physicians were not the respected professionals they are today. Almost anyone could go to a medical school, if they had the money.