National Historic Site Hillary House and the Koffler Medical Museum
15372 Yonge Street
Here’s a question. What did American Civil War surgeons carry with them when they went out on a battlefield “house” call?
Answer: a couple of saws, a knife or two; a few needles, thread and a tourniquet. No disinfectant in this handy kit. If the musket didn’t kill you, the bacteria surely would.
Hillary House National Historic Site of Aurora invites visitors to see this gruesome kit, and other Victorian medical instruments in their Koffler Museum of Medicine. It’s a fascinating place. From the early 1860’s to a century later, four generations of physicians called Hillary House their family home, their medical office, surgery and apothecary. It’s on the main street of the pretty town of Aurora, a hop-skip-and-jump north of Toronto.
Tag along with me, on a virtual tour. First stop is the Doctor’s Consulting room. A handsome horsehair couch is the room’s main feature. This essential piece of Victorian furniture gave decades-long service as an examining and surgery “bed.” Not a sterlized sheet in sight.
And here’s that Civil War Amputation Kit, tucked into a handsome mahogany box, velvet-lined. And of course, the healing man’s essential medical bag.
Crossing over to the Dispensary, take a minute to take a look at the “Doctor’s Fees” posted outside the door. Removal of hemmoroids set back patients $25. Pesky and expensive, those hemmoriods. Helping the patient “pass wind” was a bargain at $2.00. And treatment of venereal disease? A bargain at $5.
Local drug store pharmacists had not yet taken their place in the medical landscape when Hillary House’s Victorian- era doctors were tending to their patients’ ailments. So the good doctor took the role of chemist too. And what a Pandora’s Box of “cures” he cooked up! Here’s a mortar and pestle for grinding; scales to measure the draughts; empty bottles for storage and cork stoppers to keep the goodness in.
Here’s Wood’s Vegetable Cure, Wills English Cure, Balsam of Life and Munigan’s Cure. You’re travelling? Take along this handy-dandy Medicinal Travelling Kit, containing everything essential, in a compact case. There’s Mercury as an antiseptic; morphine for reduction of pain; glonion (today’s nitroglycerine) for heart palpitations, and anondyne to lessen “sensitivity” in the brain. Have a worry-free trip!
Your glimpse into the Victorian medical world over; make sure you tour through the rest of this charming family home. Called “one of the best examples of the Picturesque Gothic Revival architecture in Ontario,” Hillary House is decorated in period furniture. Its upper-floor bathroom boasted the first flush toilet and stainless steel bathtub in Aurora. A ballroom hosted musical events and fancy dress balls.
Hillary House Curator Catherine Richards and her staff keep themselves busy giving guided tours of both Hillary House and the Koffler Medical Museum. They plan various exhibits and programs year round.
A National Historic Site since 1973, Hillary House is owned and administered by the Aurora Historical Society. Make a point to visit this spring or summer. You’ll be glad you did.