Looking Back: Days With No Doctor

April 3, 2019

In the early days of Maple Ridge, after the first settlers had laid claim, the railroad came through, business like Fuller Watson and the Bank of Montreal had come in, and thousands of people lived in Port Haney, Port Hammond, Whonnock, and Albion, but there was still no doctor.  Doctors in rural communities throughout Canada were a rarity in the 19th century and even into the early 20th.  If a doctor was needed one would have to travel by train into New Westminster or Vancouver, but more often than not, minor or sometimes even major medical issues would be taken care of at home with home remedies. 

Maple Ridge’s first doctor, Dr. Garnet Morse in his Masons regalia

Port Haney did eventually get its first doctor in 1912, and opened a clinic along the main drag. Dr. Garnet Morse served the people of Maple Ridge often traveling great distances in a day to see hurt or sick people.  He would even routinely travel out to the Allco camp to see the men logging there.

What most often served as a surrogate doctor in those early years before Dr. Morse was the Sears and Roebuck Catalog, where tinctures, compounds, and balms of all kind could be ordered.  Intense advertising campaigns would reach every corner of the country in those times, with “medications” advertising all sorts of curative claims.  Behind these campaigns where charismatic snake oil salesmen and quacks who sold their own “patented” mixtures that claimed to cure anything from colds to tuberculosis.   

Despite their name, these medicines were not patented.  They were often trademarked, but to patent their product they would have had to disclose its ingredients, where were usually not what they claimed to be.  Most of these patent medicines claimed to be made from herbs, vegetables, and “healthful” ingredients, but most often they contained high percentages of alcohol, opium, and sometimes cocaine.  Containing such highly addictive ingredients, it’s no surprise that these compounds were so popular. 

Without a doctor in town, there were plenty of ailments to be cured, and with no doctor to say otherwise, door to door salesmen would convince people in rural communities, like Maple Ridge, that one simple compound of herbs could cure anything they had. 

Patent medicines came to an end with the passing of Safe Food and Drug acts, passed by parliament in the late 1920’s.  After that, food and drug producers were required to register their ingredients and could no longer claim their product cured anything it had no proof of curing.