New exhibit at MHP contains an intriguing assortment of medical instruments and remedies

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Main photo: Town staff, councillors and guests celebrated the opening of a new museum exhibit, Healthy Huntsville: A Brief History of Health Care in Huntsville, at Muskoka Heritage Place, including (front from left) Councillor Dione Schumacher, MHP collections coordinator Sara White, MHP manager Ron Gostlin, Town CAO Denise Corry, Town director of community services Kari Lambe; (back row from left) MP Tony Clement, Huntsville Hospital Auxiliary president David James, Deputy Mayor Karin Terziano, Huntsville Hospital Foundation executive director Katherine Craine, Mayor Scott Aitchison, Councillor Nancy Alcock, and Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare board chair Phil Matthews

Last night, Muskoka Heritage Place (MHP) unveiled its newest temporary exhibit at the Muskoka Museum.

This 1896 poster illustrates the adverse effects of smoking tobacco

This 1896 poster illustrates the adverse effects of smoking tobacco

Healthy Huntsville: A Brief History of Health Care in Huntsville contains an intriguing assortment of medical instruments and remedies, some dating back to Huntsville’s first physician, Dr. Francis L. Howland. Some have changed little through the decades; others have long since been abandoned for better technology or due to greater understanding of their effects.

There’s an examination chair, hand prostheses, and a blood pressure monitor, all crude but recognizable precursors to those used today. A shelf of remedies containing mostly herbs and other plants like yarrow, summer-savory, ladies slipper and poisonous mandrake root, however, you’re unlikely to find on present-day pharmacy shelves. An 1896 school room poster outlines the adverse effects of smoking tobacco.

Storyboards throughout the exhibit provide an overview of Huntsville’s health care history, from pre-settler Indigenous practices to knowledgeable early settlers who cared for their neighbours and the arrival of Huntsville’s first doctors, as well as the Town’s cycle of private and public hospitals.

Dr. Hart’s hospital was the second in Huntsville, following Dr. Howland’s, and the first in Canada to offer insurance as a “ticket hospital.” For $5, people could purchase a ticket that entitled them to whatever medical or surgical care they needed over the course of a year, along with board at the hospital. Anyone without a ticket paid $5 to $12 per week.

MHP’s collections coordinator, Sara White, says that the number of local residents who stepped up to help others by using their own homes for nursing their neighbours when there was no doctor in town surprised her. “They had over six different ones. I was surprised how many people were civic-minded enough to help essentially, and that started right at the beginning.”

And they were knowledgeable, too. White recounts a story about Mrs. Shay. She had been ministering to the community for many years and on one occasion, when both she and Dr. Howland were called to the same place, he arrived and said, ‘well, if I’d known she was going to be here I wouldn’t have come.’

The Victorian Order of Nurses, who were brought in by the Imperial Daughters of the Empire, were a helpful force in early healthcare, particularly for those who couldn’t afford the costs of a doctor or hospital. “They had a sliding scale for their fees,” says White, adding that if a patient couldn’t pay anything at all, they still received care.

It wasn’t until 1949 that Huntsville finally received and retained a permanent, public hospital—the Red Cross Hospital, which is now the site of Fairvern Nursing Home.

“Technology has made insane jumps forward since (the late 1800s), which again is why the hospital and the hospital foundation and the auxiliary really need support,” says White. “The building doesn’t do you any good if you don’t have the diagnostic equipment.”

Medical tools from the Muskoka Heritage Place collection

Displayed above are items used at the first Huntsville District Memorial Hospital (the current site of Fairvern Nursing Home): 5. haemaglobinometer, used to measure hemoglobin in the blood; 6. splints for the arm, ankle, forearm and finger, along with a cast cutter; 7. hypodermic needles, syringes and syringe opener; 8. suturing needles, thermometer and a reflex hammer; 9. pillar retractor and tonsil bed scraper used to retract the folds on either side of the tonsil and then clean the tonsil bed, and dental forceps for removing teeth; 10. speculum used with a light scope to examine the ears; 11. eyelid retractor; 12. nasal speculums used to spread the nostril for an examination; and 13. gynecological tools including a speculum used to examine the cervix, axis traction forceps used to guide a baby’s head through the birth canal, a Gomco clamp used for circumcising infants, and a breast pump.

Hand prostheses, one for daily use and a 'fancy' one

Hand prostheses, one for daily use (left) and a ‘fancy’ one

Blood pressure monitor

A Baumanometer, or blood pressure monitor

A doctor's examination chair ca. 1929

A doctor’s examination chair ca. 1929, next to assorted medical books and remedies

In addition to the artifacts on display, almost all of which are from the museum’s collection, there are also hands on activities for kids—or anyone—to participate in. There are stethoscopes that kids can use on their favourite stuffed toys, and a doctor’s questionnaire they can fill out with their findings. There’s both a medical model and a magnetic puzzle of a human musculoskeletal system to assemble.

Learn more about Huntsville’s health care past at the Muskoka Museum, at 88 Brunel Road. It’s open Monday-Friday until mid-May and then daily until mid-October. Admission to the museum is $2.60 per adult or senior, and $1.65 per child aged 3 to 12 years. One child under 3 years of age is free with each adult paid admission.

Health care workers receive complimentary admission to the Healthy Huntsville exhibit with their affiliated identification.

For more information, visit muskokaheritageplace.org.

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