Being charged with setting up a high-calibre national medical museum isn’t easy in the best of times. The new Canadian Museum of Health and Medicine’s curator Felicity Pope wants things done right in these recessionary times.
Now housed at The Toronto Hospital (TTH), the museum’s collection was relocated in 1992 after severe water damage, and the unsure future of the Academy of Medicine, Toronto jeopardized the artifacts in their previous location.
Rather than having the valuable collection collect dust, a major project began to create Canada’s first national medical museum. With AMS/Hannah Institute, Academy of Medicine, Toronto and TTH support, Pope is making detailed plans to ensure the museum is an educational success.
“The project is to create a major medical museum in Canada,” says Pope, who is working out of the public relations office at TTH. “I’m in the midst of a planning study and haven’t unpacked the collection yet because the storage rooms aren’t ready. I’m doing a market and visitor analysis to project how many visitors will come to see the collection.”
“We have guiding principles for the museum. We will have a completely new vision and mandate from before, with a new research and exposition policy. With the museum’s name there come many expectations.”
Pope says the museum will need to fundraise from corporations to be viable. And the elaborate plans will help convince potential donors of the museum’s worthiness.
Artifacts also abound at the University of Western Ontario
Medical history students should consider a trip to the Department of History of Medicine at the University of Western Ontario to see another unique collection of artifacts and documents from Canada’s medical past.
Once located in London’s University Hospital, the artifacts are now technically on loan to the university. Hannah Professor Paul Potter recently assumed responsibility for the collection when University Hospital closed the museum.
“The collection has been created over the ages,” says Professor Potter. “The museum started at University Hospital when it was built in the early 1970s. Two rooms were set aside at the hospital for a medical museum – one room was a re-creation of a nineteenth-century doctor’s office with numerous instruments.”
The actual doctor’s office was packed off to the local pioneer village.
“We took the medical instruments and doctors’ ledgers. I took the things that were more interesting from a medical history perspective.”
And what’s there to see? For shock value there are the gruesome instruments of Victorian medicine – bloodletting knives and cups and surgical saws. Also on display is London’s first electro-cardiogram machine and microscopes dating back to the mid-1800s.
For Professor Potter, the collection livens up medical school lectures and provides a valuable research resource at the university.
The little tiger-striped four-by-four is definitely going too fast. In an instant, the diminutive Suzuki stands balanced, its front wheels squashed at 90 degrees. A millisecond later, it’s on its back like a ladybug flipped over by the wind. The cacophony of the crowd reaches a crescendo. But the noise had been building; the Skydome crowd saw the writing on the wall for the little jeep.
Frantic helpers pry open the door of the jeep, wrestling free the driver, Dwayne Robichaud. He emerges in an orange jump suit and prances around, looking vaguely like the Oklahoma bomber. The audience lets out an even louder cheer as he walks away, smug and happy.
Half an hour earlier, two monster trucks, Young Gun and Samson, line up behind a pile of crushed cars, with a dirt ramp at each end. The methanol engines let out a roar like the mother of all hairdryers. The revving turns into a drag race. The pulsating white noise rattles the cavernous Dome. The effect on the audience is almost sexual: the stomach rattles, the heart skips a few beats. It is a short buzz, but it is good. And the noise? I begin to notice that everyone around me has ear plugs and I realize I’m going to regret this in 20 years.
The exhaust fumes are starting to reach toxic levels 40 minutes into the rally. I shake my head and feel the motion a few seconds later. I’m getting a CO2 buzz, too. It’s the USA Motor Spectacular monster truck derby at Toronto’s Skydome. But monster trucks are just a small part of the show, there for the crowd to ogle while they get off on the noise. There is the amateur truck rally involving the tippy Suzuki and other monster-truck wannabees, and a ridiculous car-eating, fire-breathing robot called Robosaurus for the kids. The metal bashing of the demolition derby serves to satiate the audience’s thirst for damage – and is truly the highlight of the night.
I can’t get out of my mind comparisons to spectacles in Roman times. Titans of spectacle, the Romans set the benchmark by which all other public entertainment must be judged. On the spectacular scale, Roman bloodsports involving gladiators, wild animals and the sacrificing of Christians definitely rate a 10 – anything else falls below. I figure monster trucks rate about 4. Watching pick-up trucks with over-sized $10,000 tractor tires crush cars can’t match the gore and death of ancient Rome but it will do for now.
If monster trucks join professional wrestling and American Gladators as today’s answer to blood sports, why does this spectacle seem to lack that je ne sais quoi? Maybe it’s the sanitization of risk. The cabin of a monster truck coddles the driver. There are cushioned seats, a kidney brace, a five-point racing harness, neck braces, helmet restraints and a roll bar. Several drivers tell me that the job only looks dangerous. At half time, Young Gun’s Saskatoon-based driver, Kevin Weenks, tells me he doesn’t seek out danger. “I think some of those (amateur) guys are nuts and want to do the crowd a big favour [die]. You don’t want to run it hard. A win isn’t worth flipping over.”
Thirty demolition derby wrecks crawl into the centre of the Skydome. The flag is dropped and an orgy of car crushing begins. It goes on for half an hour. Now I’m not bored. Cars are still driving despite engine fires and rear-ends that stand at 45 degrees. It is down to two cars: one more or less intact, the other driving on its hubs, engine on fire, half its back a mangled piece of crumpled paper. The driver doesn’t give up. His engine stops, then starts again. This is repeated three times until, exhausted, he concedes defeat.
After the derby it’s time for Robosaurus. The press release claims the hunk of grey metal stands five stories tall and costs $2.1 million. The driver flicks on the switch on a very expensive stereo system and Robosaurus starts to growl like Godzilla. Two guys with radio headsets help direct the beast onto the floor. It burps and farts for a while before picking up a pre-cut car. It crushes it, drops it to the floor and incinerates it with a flame thrower. The crowd roars.
It seems things haven’t changed with spectacles. The Romans drew on slaves, freed men, foreigners and the lower social orders to provide fodder for their spectacles. Monster trucks are driven by farmers hired for six months at a time. The amateur drivers are a hodgepodge of laid-off workers, farm labourers and guys who make a meagre living fixing four-by-fours.
Wearing a waist-length monogrammed racing jacket is Don Frankish. The shy and patient Alberta grain farmer owns two of the four monster trucks in Canada. He has been racing for seven years and divides his year 50/50 between farming and tours on the monster truck circuit, which mostly takes him through the U.S.
He is definitely attracted to the excitement of the stadium, but not necessarily a love of death-defying acts. “It’s the rush of the crowd as they get behind you, talking to the kids who look at you as a superhero,” he says. “I like the speed, the unpredictability. We know the risks. There is a danger to it. But the Monster Truck Racing Association makes sure we have a killer radio to shut off the engines if the truck is out of control. The worst I’ve ever seen is a truck going end over end three times – it just destroyed the truck.” I ask him about insurance and he laughs. “We can’t get insurance!”
Down in the pit, the air is thick with exhaust fumes. The pit boys are milling about, patting each other on the back. A sprinkling of pit girls hang around, with hairstyles straight out of Xena: Warrior Princess. The dress for today is black: black t-shirts and black jeans. Don McGuire, 32-year-old partner in the Three Stooges four-by-four shop in Brampton, sports a mischievous grin as he tells me with pride about his chosen vocation: mud bog racing. It’s the messier outdoor version of tonight’s amateur truck rally. McGuire has been a mud bog racer for 10 years and isn’t doing it for the money. “First prize is just $200 – I spring for more money than I would ever win,” he says. “We do this for the pure adrenaline. It’s just heart and soul. It takes bucks per cubic inch to win in this business,” he says resentfully, looking across the Skydome to where the monster trucks are parked. Big Foot’s sponsorship by Ford seems to be a sore point with racers who spend thousands of their own dollars to come here.
McGuire gave up a $700 a week job to earn $300 a week and race. “I got laid off too many times. Now, I work harder for less money. But I get to do what I want to do. Not many people get that.”
Though many feel a golly-gee-whiz response when medical science leaps another hurdle towards genetic manipulation, research by two recent Royal Society Hannah Medal winners into the history of eugenics sends a chill up the spine.
Both University of Toronto’s professor Pauline Mazumdar, author of Eugenics, Human Genetics and Human Failings: The Eugenics Society, its Sources and its Critics in Britain (Routledge, 1992), and Angus McLaren, University of Victoria professor of history and author of Our Own Master Race: Eugenics in Canada, 1885-1945 (McClelland and Stewart, 1990), disclose how mainstream genetic selection once was – and possibly still remains.
“Ever since the test tube baby breakthrough a decade ago, there’s been a new concern for the spin-offs of this research,” says McLaren. “In Canada there’s a woman who was sterilized in Alberta who is now suing the Alberta government, so that is bringing it back into the consciousness that these things actually did happen.”
“Many quite respectable individuals took it as given that there must be something in eugenics. That was the difficulty in writing the book, determining who was a eugenist and who wasn’t. It was so widely believed that it was very hard to make a serious demarcation.”
Professor McLaren found winning the medal helped raise his profile. And the resulting media interest allowed him to put the issue in historical perspective.
“The problem as ever is people looking for some sort of a quick fix to social problems – hoping that some sort of genetic tampering will allow very complex problems to be surgically dealt with.”
Hannah Institute for the History of Medicine Newsletter (Toronto, Canada), Number 18, Summer, 1993
The idiosyncracies of Canada’s medical schools can be both a strength and a drawback. An exchange program sponsored by the Hannah Institute hopes to bring the schools a little closer by opening up the communication lines from coast to coast.
The first exchange took place this April between the University of Western Ontario and the University of Calgary. Medical students met at Western for three days of talks and socializing.
“One of the objectives is to have each student work up a talk of ten minutes to stimulate further research,” says UWO Hannah Professor Paul Potter, who helped coordinate the exchange along with Calgary’s Dr. Peter Cruse.
Topics ranged from diseases among the Cree of Alberta to the old medical art of uroscopy.
Professor Potter says he hopes the exchange will become a regular annual affair, possibly with next year’s exchange matching Calgary with Halifax’s Dalhousie University.
I worked as Editor and Writer for the newsletter of the Hannah Institute for the History of Medicine (under the direction of the Editor-in-Chief and Hannah Executive Director Dr. J.T. H. Connor) in the early 1990s. Located close to the University of Toronto and within a neighbourhood claiming a long association with medical and scientific discovery (Sir Frederick Banting, co-developer of insulin for the treatment of diabetes, lived at 46 Bedford Road,), the goal was to better connect Canada’s medical history community of scholars and raise the profile of the funding resources available to further the study of medical history in Canada.
“… in recent years it has become a pursuit for a growing number of researchers. … Behind much of this growth has been the Hannah Institute for the History of Medicine which has encouraged writing …”.