Medical History Vignette

Dr. Alfred Waddell, 1896-1953
by Dr. Ron Milne (grandson of Dr. Waddell)

Born in Tunapuna, Trinidad in 1896, Dr. Waddell excelled in cricket, chess, and the classics. He married Emilia Henandez Castillo, moved to Harlem, and studied at Columbia University. After encountering much personal racism in Halifax and at Dalhousie University, he achieved his M.D. in 1933.

From his office on Brunswick Street, he treated many Black and Chinese patients. He made house calls in the Black communities of Hammonds Plains, Preston, Beechville and Africville. He advocated for better living conditions and treated the residents, often free of charge.

Dr. Alfred Waddell at his Brunswick Street office
(Photo courtesy of Dr. Ron Milne)

Physician Advocate

Dr. Waddell assisted Viola Desmond after her 1946 arrest at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow. He treated her injuries and petitioned the provincial and federal governments on her behalf to have her conviction overturned.

A segregated swimming pool on the Halifax Commons was integrated for use by children of all races due to the efforts of Dr. and Mrs. Waddell.

When Cab Calloway, a famous Black singer, was refused lodging in segregated Halifax, Dr. Waddell opened his home to the entertainer.

Dr. Waddell’s legacy as a champion for minorities and the underprivileged remains to this day. 

A public health advocate, Dr. Waddell immunized communities during a polio outbreak and often took water samples from wells in Africville to be analyzed for contamination as the residents did not enjoy the same benefits of clean water as other tax-paying residents of Halifax.

An accomplished chess player, he was secretary of the Halifax Chess Club and once played a Russian master to a draw.

His four children all received post-graduate degrees and were successful professionals. His wife Emilia was a successful businesswoman and generous donor to many charities.

Alfred Waddell died at age 56. His legacy as a champion for minorities and the underprivileged remains to this day. He was named a Dalhousie Original and has been honoured in Trinidad, Ottawa, Nova Scotia, and the United States. Vision TV made a film about his life in 2000.

Dr. Waddell was a co-founder, supporter, and contributor to two newspapers: the Clarion and the Negro Citizen. Both publications reported on social events and advocated for African Nova Scotians.

The Clarion, Vol. 1, No. 1, Truro, NS, February 15, 1947


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