Dr. James Henry Duncan was born in Warkworth, Northumberland, England, to Reverend James Duncan and the former Annie Jobson on the 8th of June, 1850. According to the 1851 Warkworth England Census, Dr. Duncan had 2 older brothers, William and John and 2 older sisters, Mary and Anna. His father was a United Presbyterian Minister. Another sister named Rachel was born in England before the Duncan family immigrated to Canada in 1854. They settled on a farm on the Bronson Line in Huron County, Ontario and his father continued to minister in Huron County. After they moved to Canada, 3 more siblings joined the family; Jane,Georgianna and Edward. His parents home-schooled their children. Dr. Duncan worked on the family farm until he was 28 years old. At that time his mother became sick and before she died he promised her, that he would study medicine.
Dr. Duncan wrote the entrance exams shortly after his mothers death, but with little formal education he failed the exams. Dr. Duncan persevered and re-wrote the exams within a year and passed his lower school and matriculation testing. He studied medicine at The University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine from 1877 to 1881. He graduated M.B. at the top of his class in 1881. During his final year of training, he studied under the prominent physician, Dr. Janeway in New York. According to the 1882 Ontario Medical Register, Dr. Duncan joined the College of Physicians and Surgeons on the 30th of April, 1881.
After graduation he settled in Thamesville and took over the practice of Dr. George Archer Tye. (Dr. Tye had moved to Chatham around 1880). Dr. Duncan appeared in the 1885 Ontario Business Directory as practicing in Thamesville. That is the same year that Dr. John Everitt Pickard joined Dr. Duncan in his practice. Dr. Duncan made trips to clinics in Vienna and Strasbourg in 1885, 1886 and 1887.
Dr. Duncan married Margaret Helen “Maggie” Ferguson in Thamesville, at the home of her parents on the 6th of June 1888. She was born on the 9th of February, 1865, the daughter of James Ferguson and Jane Renwick. She had 2 younger sisters, Sarah and Elizabeth and her parents were farmers.
Dr. Duncan moved his practice to Chatham in 1888 and became a partner with Dr. George Archer Tye, the same doctor whose practice who assumed in Thamesville. (Dr. Tye died in 1891). Dr. Duncan devoted himself to family medicine and anesthesia. According to the 1896 Chatham City Directory, Dr. Duncan’s practice was located at the corner of King and Third Street. For 40 years, Dr. Duncan was the physician to the Ursuline Academy of Chatham. He also submitted papers to medical journals, including the Ontario Medical Association, on malaria and pneumonia, both topical subjects of the day.
Dr. and Mrs. Duncan had three children. Their son, Ferguson James Duncan was born on the 19th of February, 1890 and he died on the 21st of July 1907 in Chatham. Edward Ross Duncan was born on the 1st of February, 1892 and died on the 3rd of November, 1911 also in Chatham. Both boys had been excellent students. Their daughter Jean Renwick Duncan was born on the 16th of September, 1895.
Dr. Duncan prepared a paper on the prevention of tuberculosis in schools and forwarded it to the Minister of Education for consideration.
Dr. Duncan was an elder and a member of the board of trustee’s of St. Andrew’s Church in Chatham. He was elected as one of the original members of the Chatham Board of Education. His name appears in the 1909 Farrell’s City of Chatham Business Directory under the Board of Education members.
Dr. Duncan was listed in the 1913 Bell Telephone Directory. His office and his residence were listed as 274 King Street West. His home phone number was 131a and his office phone number was 131b.
Dr. Duncan died from complications of influenza, at his residence located at 274 King Street West in Chatham on September 22, 1928. His wife Maggie died on the 30th of July 1935. At the time of her death, she resided at 8 Third Street in Chatham. Dr. and Mrs. Duncan and their 2 sons are buried at Maple Leaf Cemetery in Chatham.
*His daughter Jean Renwick Duncan graduated from the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine in 1926. She joined her father’s medical practice in Chatham and practiced for many years in Chatham-Kent. She eventually moved to California and married Geoffrey Morris Purcell. She also appears on the Chatham-Kent Physician Tribute website.
**Dr. George Archer Tye and Dr. John Everitt Pickard also appear on the Chatham-Kent Physician Tribute website.