A Walk Around Town – Walk K- Doctor! Doctor!

Excerpts from “Walk K” in “St. Catharines A-Z” by Junius, originally published in the St. Catharines Journal on July 17th, 1856.

“Behold…! Our friend is sick; this Medical gentleman is sent for in hot haste; the messenger speeds his way to his residence; rap! rap! rap! or tingle! tingle! tingle! sounds the knocker or the door-bell; the servant answers your call; is the Doctor in? Yes! No! Please come in, and I will see; she hastens to his Laboratory, and loudly calls, Doctor! Doctor! You are wanted; he approaches you, and with hurried speech you tell him of the sudden and severe illness of your friend, and bid him hasten to that friends bed-side, and to his relief; he does so, and finds him in great agony and severe pain; which if not soon removed, will terminate fatally: he administers the proper pill or the desired dose. This skillful Physician watches intently, the precise effect of his prescription in your friend, and on his insidious disease; presently your friend is easier, and ere long, he is fully restored, and moving about as heretofore, pursuing his ordinary avocations. You are pleased. He is well. The Physician has succeeded. Is mere money just compensation for such services? No! gratitude can only repay such a debt, where money fails so to do!”

It’s hard to imagine a time when doctors visited private homes to care for their patients.

Dr. Mack of St. Catharines, taken by Edwin Poole c. 1876. StCMuseum 2006.77.1367

Now-a-days with the long waits in the doctor’s offices for often very…very short visits, it sounds like a luxurious concept! Of course the health care system has grown leaps and bounds since this little anecdote was written by Junius in 1856, so I mustn’t complain or digress from the matter of fact fact that we are lucky as Canadians to have government funded health care at our disposal for any malady that may afflict us.

In this walk Junius tells readers all about the doctors in St. Catharines and where they were trained. He discusses the profession and its pros and cons for citizens. Once again Junius, your writing is very relevant today, especially in observing American politics with its back and forth on health care policy, which is reminiscent of Canadian political squabbles…many years ago.

The history of publicly funded health care in Canada is very complex. Countless events, political agendas, disease epidemics, just to name a few, impacted the changes that were put into place that resulted in our current health care policies.

The British North American Act of 1867 stated that Provincial Governments were responsible for hospitals and asylums etc., while care for aboriginal people, servicemen and control of narcotics was in the hands of the Federal Government. This division led to many problems and a call for consistent health care was made by various committees and individuals alike.

In 1914 several political parties supported the concept of public health care that would improve access to medical services for all people of Canada. However, just like some current governments, many parties still felt that individual families should be responsible for their own health care by either their own means or private insurance.

In 1917 military conscription was introduced by Robert Borden and the conservative party. This was a very controversial issue which led parties to focus on social welfare issues, including federal health care.

Over time, many changes were made, hospitals built, as well as schools for people to study to become doctors and nurses. Canada often seemed to follow the lead of many European countries.

Two World Wars, disease, poor facilities and the Great Depression were just a few issues that made the cry for better health care even stronger. There was also an issue of people providing health care who did not have any training as a doctor, nurse or pharmacist. Junius referred to such individuals in this walk: “…much mischief and many lives destroyed by malpractice is equally true…A deep criminality rests on such imposters, and their motto should be three duck heads; and underneath, legibly inscribed, quack! quack! quack! So that the thoughtless, simple and unwary, might read as they run, and beware!”

Dr. Jeffs was added to the staff of a local school in 1937. He provided physical exams and administered vaccinations. St. Catharines Standard Collection. StCMuseum, S1937.85.2.1.

At the time this article was written, Junius names 9 regular practicing licensed physicians in St. Catharines. He also names two “irregular” practicing doctors, one “colored” doctor, a homoeopathist and multiple apothecaries. In 1865 the St. Catharines General and Marine Hospital opened and the Mack Training School for Nurses was founded in 1873, both of which were initiated by Dr. Theophilus Mack. Schools in St. Catharines took steps to have doctors available to students and wartime housing departments also created clinics for mothers to bring their children to.

Although there are still concerns about things such as waiting lists and privatization of services, it is easy to see how far health care in Canada and St. Catharines has come over the past 150 years. From knocking on your Doctors front door and hoping someone who is unlicensed does not try to provide you with health care, to government funded walk-in clinics, specialists and a new state of the art Niagara Health Systems facility, I think it is safe to say that there has definitely been significant progress!

For more excellent information on the history of the Medical System in Canada, visit: http://www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/hist/medicare/medic00e.shtml

“Making Medicare – The History of Health Care in Canada 1914-2007”

Alicia Floyd is the Archival Collections Technician at the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre.

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