Chiropractic + Naturopathic Doctor

The Impact of History

By James P. Laws   

Features Education Profession

Daniel David (D.D.) Palmer is the acknowledged founder of modern
chiropractic – this article tells the story of how we now have a plaque
that reaffirms this fact.  But the plaque, installed by the Historic
Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, also affirms the fact that the
profession and its founder not only have historical significance, but
are recognized as an integral and noteworthy part of Canadian society.

Daniel David (D.D.) Palmer is the acknowledged founder of modern chiropractic – this article tells the story of how we now have a plaque that reaffirms this fact.  But the plaque, installed by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, also affirms the fact that the profession and its founder not only have historical significance, but are recognized as an integral and noteworthy part of Canadian society.  Every chiropractor in Canada can take pride in the connection between Port Perry, Ontario, Canada – where the founder was raised – and the discovery of chiropractic, on September 18, 1895,  in Davenport, Iowa.

Unveiling the plaque honouring D.D. Palmer.  Left to right: Dr. Robert Haig, executive director, OCA; Hon. Bev Oda, MP, Durham Region, federal Minister for International Cooperation;  Marilyn Pearce, mayor, Township of Scugog.


On that fateful day, Palmer tested one of his theories – that by realigning the bones of the spine with his hands, he could restore health.  He delivered the first chiropractic adjustment to the first chiropractic patient, a deaf gentleman named Harvey Lillard.  He restored Lillard’s hearing with that adjustment.  D.D. Palmer went on to theorize that by adjusting the bones to remove interference to the flow of nerve energy, health could be restored.  He further concluded that the brain and nervous system were the command and control systems that regulated the function of all the other systems in the body.  He established the chiropractic principle that if interference to the flow of nerve impulses is removed, the body will be self-regulating.  Therefore, the body has the power to heal itself and chiropractic can help to maintain this power at an optimum level. 

D.D. Palmer’s discovery and accompanying theories occurred at a time when Andrew Taylor Still, the discoverer of the American school of osteopathy, developed the “rule of the artery” and theorized that the circulatory system, powered by the heart, was the dominant system that controlled all other systems in the body.  This was also at a time when conventional medicine used bloodletting and leeches along with various proprietary medicines to treat illness and disease.

In our postmodern era, science and especially neurophysiology, would tell us that it is the brain and nervous system that regulate the function of all other systems in the body.  Science and innovation has verified, and enabled the chiropractic profession to build upon, the early theories of D.D. Palmer.

Although D.D. Palmer was actually born in what is now part of Ajax, Ontario, he was raised in Port Perry and worked there until he left for Iowa in 1865.

On September 19, 2009, the day after the 114th anniversary of the first chiropractic adjustment, an unveiling ceremony took place in Palmer Park, Port Perry. More than 100 people attended the event and celebrated the official designation of Daniel David Palmer (March 7, 1845-October 20, 1913) as a person of national historical interest by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. The plaque reads, in part, “Palmer is recognized as the founder of chiropractic for his crucial role in creating and popularizing this alternative medical care in North America.”

The event was chaired by Julie Dompierre, executive secretary for the Board. Featured speakers included Dr. Robert Haig, executive director of the Ontario Chiropractic Association (OCA), who spoke about the history of chiropractic and the growth of the modern profession. Marilyn Pearce, mayor of the Township of Scugog – of which Port Perry is now a part – spoke about the value of a good community to the development of each of its members, and especially to the growth and development of school age children. Mayor Pearce spoke of how proud Port Perry was that its community had provided the nurturing environment in which D.D. Palmer was raised.

Many other chiropractors and dignitaries from Port Perry were in attendance at the ceremony. They included Dr. Colin Carrie, MP for Oshawa, who is also a chiropractor and parliamentary secretary to the minister of health; the author of this article, who represented the College of Chiropractors of Ontario (CCO); Dr. Silvano Mior, who represented CMCC; and Dr. (and Mrs.) Douglas Brown, who were there on behalf of the CMCC Governor’s Club.

Those in attendance also included Dr. Helen Peel, who was born and raised in Port Perry and was a member of the first graduating class of CMCC in 1949. Dr. Peel, after 60 years as a chiropractor, continues to practise in her hometown along with her daughters, Dr. Reva Bathie, and Robin Lucas, RMT. All three were present along with some of Dr. Peel’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Four generations of this chiropractic family celebrated the recognition of Dr. D.D. Palmer, the profession’s founder, in their own hometown.

Hon. Bev Oda, MP for Durham Region and the federal Minister for International Cooperation, was also present and spoke of the remarkable accomplishment of discovering and then playing such a crucial role in the popularization of a health-care profession. Minister Oda spoke of how chiropractic has grown in reputation and is being perceived, more and more, as part of mainstream health care in Canada, the United States and many other countries around the world. Minister Oda compared the significance of the founder of chiropractic to the contributions of other great Canadian health-care pioneers, including Norman Bethune, a pioneer in the treatment of tuberculosis and emergency blood transfusion, who is best known as a national hero in China for his devotion to the Chinese people. (Bethune was born in Gravenhurst, Ontario.) She also named Sir William Osler, the great medical educator and diagnostician. As well, she identified Drs. Banting and Best, who discovered insulin.

It is clear that D.D. Palmer now joins this esteemed company of health-care professionals who are honoured as Canadians of national historical interest.

There are some very interesting connections that weave a common thread through the history of Port Perry and that of the chiropractic profession.

Consider that:

  • on March 7, 1845, D.D. Palmer was born very close to Port Perry, and was then raised in Port Perry;
  • 50 years later, on September 18, 1895, Palmer delivered the first chiropractic adjustment in Davenport, Iowa;
  • in 1938, on the 25th anniversary of Palmer’s death, the National Chiropractic Association held a special commemorative ceremony in Palmer Park that was attended by Kent Farndale, a Port Perry resident then aged 9, who was present again in 2009 to receive flowers on behalf of the township of Scugog from relatives of D.D. Palmer;
  • in 1945, on the 50th anniversary of the first chiropractic adjustment, and the 100th anniversary of the birth of D.D. Palmer, the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College (CMCC) – a memorial to D.D. Palmer – enrolled its first class of students, many of whom were Second World War veterans who had been helped by chiropractic care;
  • in August 1946, the National Chiropractic Association unveiled a monument to the memory of D.D. Palmer in Port Perry;
  • in 1995, chiropractic’s centennial year, there was a restoration and rededication of the D.D. Palmer statue, and the release of a commemorative stamp by Canada Post in Port Perry, to recognize the occasion; and
  • since 1945, there has been a tradition of making an annual trip to Port Perry as part of the orientation activities for students of CMCC.

Since the first chiropractic adjustment in 1895, the profession has grown from one chiropractor to more than 100,000 DCs worldwide.1 Dr. D.D. Palmer, Port Perry and the history of chiropractic are woven together in the fabric of time.

The acknowledgment by the government of Canada of D.D. Palmer as a nationally significant figure is a tribute to the Port Perry community, but is also a frank recognition of the chiropractic profession. For chiropractic, the magnitude of this action cannot be overlooked or overstated.  Chiropractors can be proud of the fact that the dedication of the D.D. Palmer plaque, the ceremony that accompanied it, and the inclusion of D.D. and the profession in the list of Canada’s great health- care pioneers and achievements, is an acknowledgment that the profession offers value to our society and its health care.

The profession owes its gratitude to the Township of Scugog and the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, as well as the federal dignitaries who attended the Palmer ceremony. More importantly, it owes its continued dedication and service to the people  of the nation’s communities – it was, after all, a member of one such community who discovered the power of a chiropractic adjustment. •


  1. This figure quoted by the World Federation of Chiropractic (WFC).  DC counts are from the 85 current WFC member countries.

James P. Laws, BA, CA.T.(C), DC, FCCSS(C)(Hon)
Dr. James P. Laws is a 1979 graduate of CMCC, and graduated from York University in 1973.  He has taught at CMCC, York University and McMaster University and is the author of a textbook on the chiropractic treatment of the lower limb.  Dr. Laws has a special interest in the management of extremity joints and all sports-related health care, as well as an ongoing interest in the history and development of chiropractic and other health-care professions. Dr. Laws is in private practice at the Athletic Therapy and Chiropractic Clinic in downtown Toronto. He can be contacted at 416-961-5400.

Print this page


Stories continue below