Art History Students Discover Medical History At The Museum Of Healthcare

Published by Iris Russak

Last week, we ventured out on our first exciting visit to the Museum of Healthcare. For those who have not visited this museum yet, we highly encourage all of you to check it out!

Nursing students room at a residence

The museum is located in the Ann Baillie Building National Historic Site, which is the former residence of nursing students since 1904. As we entered the museum, the first room on the right-hand side is a model of a student’s residence. Being students ourselves we found this most interesting! This room looks similar to our first-year residence; however, the black-and-white photograph and medical bottles on the table reminded us that it was a typical 1930’s student bedroom. During that time, the nursing program at Queen’s University was a 2-3 year program and the student nurses worked up to twelve-hour shifts virtually seven days a week. Compared to us, it surely was much harder for them to participate in Queen’s social life with such limited free time!

In the next room, we saw some student uniforms, nursing caps and medals, which were symbols of the profession at the time. These Gold and Silver medals were presented to the leading students from each graduating class.

Graduating classes of nurses in the past

We were wondering where the students would find employment once they received their degrees. Most of the early graduate students became private nurses that worked in people’s homes, others taught in hospitals, and most surprisingly, some of them served in battlefield hospitals during the two World Wars.

Then we came into the late 1920s to early 1930s physician’s office. Since X-rays were invented in 1895, physicians used them for the diagnoses and treatment of various ailments ranging from acne to tuberculosis. There is a lot of advanced medical equipment in this office, including the X-ray tubes, surgical power tools and devices to administer electrotherapy. This office is set up for a special surgery called tonsillectomy, which is the removal of tonsils. At the time, a standard tool for the operation was a tonsillotome that could quickly cut the tonsil through a spring-loaded blade or a manual push. Afterwards, the physician would use electrical cauterizers to avoid bleeding or infections.

We truly enjoyed the wartime collections in the museum, which told us the story of how new technologies were being used in World Wars and completely changed people’s lives. Poisonous gas was one of the scariest chemical weapons during the war since it caused numerous soldiers to die rapidly and unexpectedly; therefore, gas masks were invented to protect soldiers from being poisoned. Although gas masks were being used widely, they could not block all kinds of gases. For instance, the displayed Clark “D” Gas Bottle contained DA gas, which was a vomiting agent that could penetrate gas masks.

An ‘inviting’ war time dentist’s chair.

Moreover, wartime environments resulted in malnutrition and infections. Many soldiers living in trenches developed a painful infection named “Trench Mouth”, and the Canadian Dental Corps had performed 2,225,422 dental operations by the end of the war.

We had so much fun having a “conversation” with two physicians from the 1800s and 1900s on touch screens. It scared us a little bit when the 1800s physician recommended “bloodletting at least once a season”. In contrast, the physician from the 1900s had more understanding of the use of X-rays, medical equipment, and he strongly opposed the treatment of bloodletting. This installation taught us the advancements in medical technology within a century, and we are looking forward to witnessing more scientific progress in the late twenty-first century!


Finally, we walked into the Children’s Gallery — it is a place of fun games and workshops that would help children to learn about their own bodies and how to take care of their health.

After walking through the whole exhibition we learned so much about the history of health and healthcare in Canada. As art history students, the medical aspect of world history was very new to us but very inspiring. We also learned that the museum holds educational programs and special events throughout the year. They would certainly bring us back!

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