Osler archives home page

Search the archives

Browse the archives

Description of holdings

Hours and contact information

Information for archives users

Other special collections

Links to other archives

Web master

Detailed Record


Robert Bell Fonds

Robert Bell Fonds

Physical Description

39.5 cm of textual records.



Biographical Sketch / Administrative History

Robert Bell (1841-1917) was born in Toronto, Ontario. He was the son of Rev. Andrew Bell (an early pioneer in Canadian geology), and the older brother of John Bell 1845-1878 (fellow McGill graduate and friend/colleague of William Osler). In 1861, at the age of 19, Robert Bell graduated from McGill with a Bachelor of Science and went on to teach chemistry and natural science at Queen’s University from 1863-1867.

It was Bell’s connection with the Geological Survey of Canada, which he began in 1857, that dominated much of his professional life. Over the years, he was responsible for Canadian surveys covering northern Quebec and Ontario, northern Manitoba, Alberta, and the Northwest Territories. He also took part in early expeditions to Hudson’s Bay (1884, 1885 and 1897) and Baffinland (1897). Bell would go on to serve as Director of Survey from 1901 to 1906. Throughout his career, Bell was instrumental in naming more than 3000 geographical features such as hills, promontories, rivers, and places for possible habitation. The Geological Survey Board acknowledged his legacy by naming the Bell River in western Quebec after him, as well as naming Bell Island in Hudson Bay in his honour.

Bell was impressively known as a ‘doctor-explorer’, as he had returned to McGill and earned an MD in 1878 at the age of 37. Fifteen years later, he was given an LLD by Queen’s in 1893 and was made a DSc at McGill in 1901. His services to science were also recognized by Cambridge University in another doctorate of science (ScD) in1903. In that same year, he was awarded the Companionship of the Imperial Service Order (ISO) from the British government. Robert Bell’s professional honours included the Patron’s Medal of the Royal Geographical Society and the Cullum Gold Medal from the American Geographical Society.

Scope and Content

The fonds consists of Robert Bell’s student notebooks related to his medical studies in Surgery, Materia Medica, Practice of Medicine, Obstetrics, Physiology and Clinics at McGill University. The fonds also contains circular letters and medical advertisements. Inventory for acc.732 purchased from John Mappin in 1979 also included in fonds.

Finding Aids

Inventory list is available.

Custodial History

Purchased at Montreal Book Auctions Ltd., sale 112, 12 October 1978 and from John Mappin in 1979. Old accession numbers 612, 732, 736, 742, 746 and 747. Inventory for acc. 732 purchased from John Mappin in 1979 also included in the finding aid.


The documents are in English.

Source of Supplied Title Proper

Title based on the contents of the fonds.

Retrieval Number



1. Miscellaneous

2. McGill University Notebooks, 1870-1878


Bell, Robert, 1841-1917
McGill University Medical Students and Student Notes