Authored by Dr George Sisler 2001

The Manitoba Medical College – the first in Western Canada – was established in 1883 adjacent to the Winnipeg General Hospital. In 1919 the College was incorporated within the University of Manitoba as its Faculty of Medicine. Psychiatry was included in the undergraduate curriculum from the earliest days of the Faculty. Prior to the establishment of the Department of Psychiatry, there was a 3rd Year lecture series on clinical syndromes and a four-week Fourth Year Clerkship. Teaching was carried out by practicing psychiatrists with part-time appointments in the Department of Medicine.

In 1954 a Department of Psychiatry was established with Dr. George Sisler as its founding head. Initially, the Department’s emphasis was on the development of a four-year residency program and a complement of full-time academic psychiatrists. This was accomplished mainly through establishing University positions from Manitoba graduates and others who had obtained their psychiatric training elsewhere, and providing opportunities for senior residents to obtain fellowship experiences in other centres, mainly in the USA, and to then return to faculty positions.

Rapid development occurred during the economic boom period of the 1950’s 60’s and early 70’s, which was associated with the biologic revolution in psychiatry and the introduction of the new classes of psychotropic drugs, refinements in the theory and practice of psychodynamic psychiatry, the development of psychiatric units in general hospitals, and increased acceptance of psychiatry by other professionals and the public. Teaching programs were developed in all years of the under-graduate curriculum. In the 1960’s medical clinical psychology was established as a section of the Department of Psychiatry and made a significant contribution to its development. In 1995 it attained the status of a separate department.

Since the late 70’s, under the headship of Drs. Harry Prosen, then of Dr. William Bebchuk and now of Dr. Samia Barakat, the Department has developed strong programs in psychiatric research and in many special fields including child and adolescent psychiatry, mood and anxiety disorders, psychopharmacology, geriatric psychiatry, and neuroimaging. The Department of Psychiatry has maintained a balanced approach to its field and has continued its early excellence in psychodynamic psychiatry. Drs. Prosen and Bebchuk each served as President of the Canadian Psychiatric Association and as Chair of the Royal College Committee in Psychiatry. They also served as Chairs of the Royal College Examining Board in Psychiatry as currently does Dr. Barakat who has been Department Head since 1996.

Dr. Sisler Circa 1945

Submitted by Dr. George Sisler 1923 – 2002

Webmaster’s notes: In 2001, Dr. Sisler wrote this history article for publication on this website. Sadly, Dr. Sisler passed away on January 30, 2002. He was the founding head of the University Department of Psychiatry in 1954, and held this position till 1975. He will always be remembered as a “gentleman-doctor”, and will be missed by many.   At the end of June 2006, Dr. Barakat completed her second term as Department Head, and was succeeded by Dr. Murray Enns. Dr. Enns  who was the Department head until he was succeeded by the current Department Head, Dr. Jitender Sareen, in 2016.