Drummond, William Henry (1854–1907), poet and physician, was born 13 April 1854 in Currawn House, Mohill, Co. Leitrim, eldest of four sons of George Drumm (1812–65), officer in the Irish Constabulary, and Elizabeth Morris Drumm (née Soden). He was educated at Tawley national school, Co. Leitrim. In 1864 the family emigrated to Montreal, Canada, where George Drumm's death in the following year left them impoverished. Aged 15, Drummond left school to help with the family finances. He became a telegrapher in Quebec province, where he first encountered habitants (French-Canadian farmers), whose way of life, their patois and their tales, became the inspiration for his poetry. In 1875 he changed his name to Drummond, believing that to have been his original family name. Having saved sufficient money, he resumed his education in Montreal at High School (1876) and McGill University, before graduating MD (1884) from the Medical College (based in Montreal) of Bishop's University, Lennoxville. After four years in country practices at Stornoway and Knowlton, Brome county, Quebec, he established a successful practice in Montreal (1888) and was appointed professor of medical jurisprudence (1895–1905) at Bishop's University, where he was awarded an hon. DCL (1905) on its amalgamation with McGill.
Writing poetry for the entertainment of his family and friends, he published his first collection, The habitant and other French-Canadian poems (1897), at the insistence of his family. With illustrations by his friend F. S. Coburn (1871–1960), and an introduction by Louis Fréchette (1839–1908), the Canadian poet laureate, it was an immediate success and 66,000 copies were sold within a decade. In the preface, Drummond expressed his love and admiration for the French-Canadian people and emphasised that he had not written his verses ‘as an example of a dialect, or with any thought of ridicule’ but because he wished his friends to ‘tell their own tales in their own way’ (The habitant, p. xi). In so doing he created a distinctive literary language and was described by Fréchette as ‘the pathfinder of a new land of song’ (ibid., p. v), a phrase first used by the poet Longfellow to describe Fréchette.
He became an established literary figure, lecturing and reciting his poems in Canada and the USA, and published several collections, including Johnnie Courteau and other poems (1901) and The voyageur and other poems (1905). The great fight: poems and sketches (1908), was edited by his wife and includes her memoir of Drummond, in which she writes of his whole-hearted desire to create greater sympathy between French- and English-speaking Canadians. The poetical works of William Henry Drummond (1912) contains all his poems, including non-dialect poems and poems of Ireland; ‘He was above all an Irishman, warm-hearted . . . with an impulsive love of all things Irish’ (The great fight, p. xiv). His last composition, ‘We're Irish yet’, he read at the annual St Patrick's Day Society dinner (1907) in Montreal. He also wrote historical articles on Montreal and on the history of medicine: ‘Pioneers of medicine in the province of Quebec’ (Montreal Medical Journal, xxvii (1898), 645–53). Elected fellow of the (British) Royal Society of Literature (1899) and of the Royal Society of Canada (1899), he was awarded an hon. LLD (1902) from the University of Toronto.
In 1905 Drummond retired from medical practice to superintend the silver mines at Cobalt, Ontario, which had been bought by his brothers, and was appointed vice-president. A big rugged man, he revelled in the countryside, excelled in snowshoeing and hammer throwing and was an amateur champion in fast walking. A dog breeder specialising in Irish terriers, and a keen fisherman, he disliked hunting, and as a member of the Fish and Game Protection Society helped to organise a system of protective laws for Canadian wild life. His brothers John James Drummond (1856–1917), George Edward Drummond (1858–1919), and Thomas Joseph Drummond (1860–1916) were all successful businessmen, two of them becoming millionaires.
A dedicated doctor, on hearing of an outbreak of smallpox in the mining camp he interrupted his holiday in Montreal and returned to Cobalt, where he died 6 April 1907 of cerebral haemorrhage. He was buried in Mont Royal cemetery, Montreal; his tombstone bears an inscription by A. N. S. Skrine (qv) (‘Moira O'Neill’). A portrait plaque by R. T. McKenzie (1867–1938) was mounted (1911) in Western Hospital, Montreal, and a memorial to him was unveiled (1989) at Cobalt. Drummond memorabilia are preserved by the Brome County Historical Society at Knowlton, and his papers, which include an unpublished biography of him by his wife, are in McGill University's Osler Library.
Drummond married (1894) May Isobel Harvey, who as ‘May Harvey Drummond’ published The story of Quamin: a tale of the tropics (New York, 1911) and other works. Two of their three sons died in infancy; their only daughter, Moira Drummond (1904–66), became an artist and short-story writer and married David Craig, an Irish dentist.