Monro, Dr. A.S. (1872-1932)

Dr. Alexander (Alec) Stewart Monro was the dominion immigration officer—acting  in place of Dr. R.E. McKechnie—who had to enforce Canada’s continuous journey regulation when it was first introduced in 1908. Monro was born in 1871 in Perthshire, Scotland, came to Toronto with his family as an infant, and spent his formative years in Winnipeg. He completed a medical degree at the University of Manitoba, where he was gold medalist in his final year. His first appointment after his internship was in Brandon, Manitoba and his second, in 1896, was as Canadian Pacific Railway surgeon at Kamloops, B.C. He opened his own office in Vancouver the next year and soon after agreed to go to Atlin in the far north of the  province as a volunteer doctor looking after impoverished Gold Rush miners in a tent hospital. The conditions were so stark and difficult that his own health suffered and he permanently lost the full use of one arm. In 1899 he was back in private practice in Vancouver and he served as medical inspector for the immigration department in Vancouver from 1906-20. In addition he was superintendent of the immigration office in Vancouver in early 1908, in the absence of  R.E. McKechnie and before the appointment of J.H. MacGill. That put him in charge in the spring of 1908 when he was told by his superiors to apply the continuous journey rule (for the first time) to 183 Punjabi passengers who arrived on the Monteagle, having embarked  from Calcutta and broken their journey at Hong Kong. A correspondent from the Times of London who watched him examine these passengers described him as a kindly man struggling painfuly between “his humane impulses and the orders he has received.”  Subsequently, in a long and distinguished medical career, Monro took post graduate courses in Montreal, Chicago, Rochester, New York, London, Berlin and Vienna, and served at various times as President of the Vancouver, the British Columbia, and the Canadian Medical Associations and the Pacific Coast Surgical Association. During the First World War, only months after the Komagata Maru left Vancouver, he organized a B.C. medical unit which he took, with the rank of major, to support a Franco-British occupation of Thessalonika in Greece. What he experienced there undermined his health for the rest of his life, but he lived a full active (married but childless) life until the age of sixty when he died unexpectedly in Saskatoon on his way home by rail after a visit to Montreal.

Sources: Canadian Medical Association Journal, Sept. 1932 and October, 1932; Times of London, 30 March 1908.