Albert Durrant Watson (1859–1926) was a doctor, astronomer, editor, poet, and psychical researcher.
Albert Durrant Watson was noted for his spirit communications received while in trance. Watson was born on January 8, 1859, in Dixie, Upper Canada. On September 23, 1885, he married Sarah Anne Grimshaw Clare in Toronto; they had seven children (two daughters and five sons). After studying at the Toronto Normal School, Watson taught school at Malton and Oakville. In 1883, he graduated as doctor of medicine from Victoria College, Cobourg.
In 1890, he received another medical degree from the University of Toronto to acknowledge his graduation as a Licentiate from the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in 1883. Watson practiced medicine for 40 years. A multitalented man, he was an amateur astronomer and published several papers in this field. He became a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada in 1892 and held several executive positions between 1910 and 1917.
He had musical talent as well: several of his poems were published in Methodist and Presbyterian hymnals and he composed alternate wording for the Canadian anthem, which received a positive response. In addition, he was a prolific poet and author of prose. In his Psychical Research, Watson was influenced by the cosmic consciousness expressed in the writings of Walt Whitman and Richard Maurice Bucke.
He investigated the psychic abilities discovered in his former Sunday school student, Louis Benjamin. In 1917, Benjamin, 30, had purchased a Ouija board (see TALKING BOARD) for the amusement of his son and gave a Demonstration to Watson. Benjamin’s psychic abilities opened, and he moved on to the delivery of spirit messages received through trance speech.
Between 1918 and 1920, Benjamin conducted Séances that were carefully documented. As the president of the Association for Psychical Research of Canada, Watson detailed the messages received from the dead, some of them famous, in The Twentieth Plane: A Psychic Revelation (1918) and Birth Through Death: The Ethics of the Twentieth Plane; A Revelation Received Through the Psychic Consciousness of Louis Benjamin (1920).
The books received mixed reviews. A public debate on The Twentieth Plane raged in various Toronto newspapers. Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of Anne of Green Gables, called the messages “absolute poppycock.” Although many people stood by Watson, his church requested him to avoid discussing psychical research with his Sunday school class. Watson resigned.
He also placed some distance between himself and Benjamin. Later, he questioned the extent to which the medium’s communications had been influenced by telepathy from the sitters. Watson joined the Baha’i faith, apparently in 1920. In 1923, he concluded his research into spiritual and psychic matters with the publication of Mediums and Mystics, co-written with Margaret Lawrence.
Watson concluded that there are genuine, though little-understood psychic phenomena worthy of serious study, but warned that related research should be undertaken only by qualified investigators. Watson died in Toronto on May 3, 1926.
- Barr, Debra, and Walter Meyer zu Erpen. “Albert Durrant Watson,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, volume XV. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press, 2005, pp. 1058–1059.
- McMullin, Stan. Anatomy of a Séance: A History of Spirit Communication in Central Canada. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004, pp. 107–128.