Harold Burgess Sabean

HAROLD BURGESS “B” SABEAN (son of Harold Sabine and Nina Mullen) was born on 05 Apr 1924 in Riverdale, Digby Co, Nova Scotia. He died 26 Dec 2014. He married Jean Elizabeth Cornelius, daughter of Charles Cornelius and Annie Dauphinee on 19 May 1956. She was born abt. 1929 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She died on 20 Dec 2013 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Harold and Jean had no children.

Note About His Last Name

Through a clerical error, Harold’s last name became Sabean, instead of Sabine. It is believed that it was not just a simple error that could easily have been corrected. It was on a college, medical school, or military registration and transcript that would have been a major operation to revise, if possible at all. So, he just decided to go with it rather than fight or try to change it.

Resume & Biography

Colchester – East Hants Nominee for Senior Membership CMA

Medical Education:

  • MD, CM Dalhousie University 1956 (winner of Dalhousie Gold Medal in Medicine)
  • FRCP (C) in Radiology 1963

Hospital Appointments:

  • 1956 – 1957 – Mountain Sanatorium (Hamilton, Ontario) – Active Medical Staff & Interpreter
  • 1957 – 1959 – St. Luke’s Hospital (Pangnirtung, Baffin Island) – Medical Officer for the Hospital and Eastern Arctic
  • 1959 – 1963 – Radiology Residency (Halifax Teaching Hospitals), Dalhousie University Residency Training program
  • 1963 – 1974 – Active Medical Staff (Radiologist), Halifax Infirmary (Halifax, Nova Scotia)
  • 1974 – 1987 – Active Medical Staff (Radiologist), Colchester Regional Hospital (Truro, Nova Scotia)

Medical Committees:

  • 1965 – 1974: Standards Committee Halifax Infirmary (Halifax, Nova Scotia)
  • 1965 – 1970: Chairman, Audio – Visual Committee Halifax Infirmary (Halifax, Nova Scotia)
  • 1969 – 1974: Head – Dept. of Diagnostic Radiology Halifax Infirmary (Halifax, Nova Scotia)
  • 1969 – 1974: Medical Advisory Committee Halifax Infirmary (Halifax, Nova Scotia)
  • 1969 – 1974: Management Committee Halifax Infirmary (Halifax, Nova Scotia) various years: Dalhousie University Medical Library Committee
  • 1987 – current: Cansurmount – Truro Branch

Teaching Experience (Medical)

1969 – 1974: Associate Professor of Radiology Dalhousie University (Halifax, Nova Scotia) teaching Radiology to undergraduate medical classes; as well as teaching Radiology to Clinical Clerks, Interns and Residents teaching Radiology and Medical Physics to Radiology Residents

“B” Sabean  – Medical Officer and friend of the Inuit of the Eastern Arctic

“B” has contributed greatly to clinical medicine and medical education. He is highly respected by his colleagues, who value his depth of knowledge and sound judgement.

The attached biography describes his career in greater, and, more interesting detail than the above list of facts. However, it leaves out some facets of his experiences in the North which we feel his Nova Scotia colleagues would also be interested to hear.

When “B” went North (Cape Hopes Advance) as a young Communications Officer with the Eastern Arctic Patrol in 1943, he found himself, together with 4 other English-speaking communications personnel in a frozen land, surrounded by the native Inuit, with no means of conversing with them. By 1947 “B” had written a 104 page “English – Inuit” grammar; comprising a vocabulary of 717 Inuit words, their syllabics / symbols, their pronunciation, and the rules of grammar. (He even made “copies” of the “English – Inuit Grammar” on the site by the painstaking gelatin transfer process.)

By the end of his time in the Arctic, he could converse comfortably with the Inuit; and, he had been taught survival skills. He was used to travel by sled and dog-team and had been taught how to build a “snow house” (igloo); as these were used by the Inuit, in much the same way, we might set up a tent when staying over night while out on the trail.

His in depth knowledge of the Inuit language was found to be useful quite quickly in his Medical career. Firstly, he was able to act as Interpreter and Liason with the Inuit patients at the Mountain Sanatorium in Hamilton, Ontario. (This Hospital housed the largest Inuit group in Canada; and very few of the patients spoke any English).

However, it was when he went to the Inuit settlement of Pangnirtung, to act as the sole Medical Officer at St. Luke’s Hospital (run by the Anglican mission); as well as Medical Officer for the eastern Arctic around Cumberland Sound that his earlier experience and knowledge really came to the fore.

The Hospital had 20 beds (the lights were powered by batteries; with a back-up diesel to run the xray machine). There were 2 nurses and a nursing assistant. Patients were brought in by dog-sled, for treatment of : pneumonia, infections, fractures, lacerations etc. Support facilities were limited. Anaesthesia was limited to local and spinal blocks; though surgery, of necessity sometimes included appendectomies, amputation for frostbite etc.

There was a portable xray machine, which he used to take with him on his Medical Patrol boat in summer as he went from one settlement to another immunizing patients, doing screening xrays for TB and treating whatever ailments were encountered en route.

During the winter, he would sometimes set out with an Inuit guide, and dog-sled (with 12 – 14 dogs pulling up to a ton of medical & food supplies) and visit smaller Inuit settlements. When it was necessary to stay over-night on the trail, he helped build the “Snow House” that would be their shelter for the night.

B’s interest in, and knowledge of their language and culture; and, his interest in their well-being which he showed as their physician had a lasting impact on the Inuit of Pangnirtung and Cumberland Sound. He still speaks Inuit, and, still hears from many of his old Inuit friends.

There are probably very few of us who would have had the courage and endurance it must have taken to provide these much needed medical services under these very grueling circumstances. And, although the Inuit don’t live in “Snow Houses” any more, and, doctors certainly don’t make housecalls by dog-sled; it is still very cold and isolated in the North. “B” and other physicians, nurses and medical professionals who have provided (and, in some cases continue to provide) vital medical services to the isolated communities in the North must be highly commended.

Article from the Nova Scotia Medical Journal – December 1990

Now retired and living in Truro, Nova Scotia, Dr. Harold Burgess Sabean (better known as “B” to his friends and colleagues) can look back on a career as a member of an elite corps of Canadian pioneers — those medical professionals who had the vision, courage, and endurance to provide the medical services so vital in the 50’s to Canada’s isolated northern communities.

Born in Digby, Nova Scotia in 1924, Dr. Sabean received his early education in Riverdale, as well as the communities of New Tusket and Weymouth. His first foray into the world was as a school teacher on Seal Island, where he developed an interest in marine communications. He subsequently joined the Radio Division of the Department of Transport, working in communications and spending four of the next six years in isolated outposts of the Hudson’s Bay Strait area.

An interest in the health problems of the Inuits led him to enroll in Dalhousie University’s medical program in the fall of 1949, from whence be graduated in 1956 with Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery degrees, as well as the University Gold Medal of Medicine. He accepted a posting as a medical officer with the Department of Health and Welfare, spending one winter on the active medical staff of Hamilton’s Mountain Sanatorium (home of the largest single Inuit community in Eastern Canada) and two years as resident physician and medical officer for the Eastern Arctic at Pangninung’s St Luke’s Hospital, Baffin Island. Usually travelling by dog team, boat or airplane, he visited all of the Eastern Arctic communities, immunizing inhabitants, providing general health care treatments, and giving physical and radiological examinations.

Dr. Sabean returned to Halifax in 1959 to pursue post-graduate studies in diagnostic radiology at the Victoria General Hospital. From there, he went to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, D.C. for a year of further study. He returned to Canada in 1963 to join the medical staff at the Halifax Infirmary, accepting a simultaneous teaching appointment with the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie University where, in 1967, he was head Head of the Department of Diagnostic Radiology. By 1974 Dr. Sabean was on the move again, this time joining the active medical staff at Colchester Regional Hospital in Truro.

With retirement from active practice in 1987, Dr. Sabean turned his attention to his many hobbies—amateur radio, reading, photography and computers — and his volunteer work with the Canadian Cancer Society’s CANSUR-MOUNT program. He still speaks Inuit–he put together an Inuit/English grammar during his early northern communications posting — and still hears from many of his Inuit friends.

Article from Makivik Magazine – Fall 2005

The following excerpt about Harold Burgess Sabean was written by Ronald Brooman and is extracted from an article recounting a reunion in which Harold and Jean attended.

“Mr. Sabean was an interesting fellow with lots of stories to tell. He had been a wireless operator at Cape Hopes Advance in the early 1940’s during the war. He served two postings to the station. Later he was posted as the wireless operator on the government ship the C.D. Howe that served the northern villages. He then went back to Nova Scotia and went to University to become a doctor. After graduating from medicine he went again on the C.D. Howe to serve as the medical officer. He was now 81 years old.”