Memorable Manitobans: Allan MacDonald Torrie (1922-2005)
Born at Gibbs, Saskatchewan on 26 September 1922 to George MacDonald Torrie (1894-1981) and Ella Torrie (1907-1992), he enlisted in the Navy in 1941, and while stationed in Halifax, met Greta Welland. They married in 1944 and went on to have three children. Through the veterans educational program, he graduated from the University of Manitoba in 1951 as part of the first post-war medical class. He received his accreditation in Family Medicine when it became recognized in 1971, and in the 1980s began annual certification in the new American Society of Addiction Medicine.
At the Lake of the Woods District Hospital at Kenora (Ontario), he coordinated student placements in the 1980s from the University of Manitoba, McMaster University, Dundee University (Scotland), and in the 1990s the cross-cultural workshops with Health Sciences North for family medicine residents. His vocation as a family physician coincided with the beginnings of the self-help movement for alcohol addiction. This was also the period of increasing alcohol-related health and social problems of the Anishinaabe people.
Over time, his medical practice became focussed on emotional problems, psychiatric illnesses, and alcohol and drug addiction problems, as well as the delivery of health services in the community and province. From the mid 1960s, and contrary to the institutional approaches of the time, he fought for community-centered approaches to social problems. He directed an innovative pilot project of the Addiction Research Foundation targeting public drunkenness in Kenora with an approach that focussed on self-help. Through the involvement of the Anishinaabeg Nation, this evolved into the first Kenora Pow-Wow Club as a cultural approach to addictions. In the mid 1970s, he spearheaded an innovation, which has since become commonplace, to have the province fund an Anishinaabe healer as part of the hospital services for the Kenora area. Later he worked as Medical Advisor of a program treating chronic solvent abusers with traditional therapies, and was recognised as an Honorary Elder of Iskatewizaagegan and Wabaseemoon First Nations.
He was an early proponent of a team approach in health care, and balanced an old-style medical practice, that included surgery, office work, housecalls, emergency on-call, telephone consultation, and weekend work, with summers on the lake, cross-country skiing, gardening, travel, and later raising Highland cows. His commitment to the community was evident through his decades of volunteer work at the provincial, regional, and local levels. A member since 1951 of the Canadian Medical Association, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (Charter and Life Member), and the Ontario Medical Association (Life Member), he was recognized in 1992 with the Glenn Sawyer Award for over 23 years of active volunteer work for OMA, which ended with his work with the Northwestern Ontario Committee to study the implementation of the Graham Report on mental health services.
His service to the community included more than three decades of work as program developer for the Kenora Community Mental Health Program, work on local race relations committees, member and chair of the Keewatin Public School Board, and executive positions for the Kinsmen Club of Canada and the Keewatin Curling Club. He gave more than half a century of service to the Lake of the Woods District Hospital as a family physician, an anaesthetist, and as the founder of the regional psychiatric ward. He gave as many years as a Hospital volunteer, serving as Chief of Staff, President of the Medical Staff, member of the Advisory Committee, Medical Advisor to the Native Health Program, and Medical Advisor to the Native Healer Program (Solvent Abuse Treatment). He also acted as a Coroner for several decades.
After his retirement from active practice, he served as Medical Advisor to the Kenora Health Access Centre of the Association of Kenora Chiefs, to the Nimishomis-Nokomis Healing Group, as well as to the Migisi Treatment Centre. He also sat on the Mercury Disability Board. Although he was an active curler, who had played perhaps two or three hockey games in his life, he was inducted in 2005 into the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in recognition of his voluntary work as team physician to the Kenora Thistles Hockey Club from 1951 to 1960. His life with his family was built around his vocation as a physician, his strong commitment to the community, his love of the Lake of the Woods and the family summer home at “The Island,” and his passion for new ideas.
He died at Kenora, Ontario on 20 August 2005 and was buried in the Lake of the Woods Cemetery.
Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 23 August 2005.
“The Final Face-Off,” Manitoba Hockey Foundation Newsletter, Vol. 2, 2005.
George Torrie and I. S. Ella Torrie, FindAGrave Index, Ancestry.
This page was prepared by Lois Braun.
Page revised: 4 October 2022