Book Reviews

Dr. C. Lamont Macmillan: Memoirs of a Cape Breton Doctor


The author started his practice in 1928 in Baddeck, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. At that time, it was common for general practitioners to make house calls

These, now uncommon, house calls required arduous winter travel over frozen lakes, and snow banks, at freezing temperatures that were often made more severe by winds.

Country roads were very rudimentary, not maintained in winter, and local ferries operated by private individuals charging for crossing whatever the market could bear. Often there were no roads, but only well trodden paths passable in summer.

Telephones were interconnected, and regional operators connected callers with number indicated. General practitioners not only had to deliver babies with the help of certified nurses but had to perform minor surgeries, and carried most common medications in their medicine bags.

The good doctor Lamont Macmillan writes about this travels around Baddeck and Bras d’Or Lake, about his patients, their problems, and how he solved them. Those patients he could not help were referred to the hospital in Baddeck when it opened, but he describes how some very sick people had to be transported over long distances on sleigh under extremely treacherous and difficult conditions.

Horses were very important in transportation and valuable. They were looked after well since the population as well as the good doctor depended on them. He actually hired a young man to take care of his horses and help him in his travels, until he bought an all terrain four-wheel drive.

By then, rudimentary aircrafts had penetrated rural areas and the golf club of Baddeck had obtained one. Occasionally the doctor used the services of the pilot.

Country folk were very hospitable and often he slept in the home of the patient when he finished his consultations well after midnight.

His description of one patient in Nyanza (a Micmac village near Baddeck) is not only informative, but also sad.

The good doctor writes that he thought in 1950’s that many Micmacs soon would be so well off and highly educated that the Department of Indian Affairs would be abolished.

Of contuse, we now know that the department spends more money than ever to sustain impoverished aboriginals.

The book is well written, the narrative fluid, and easy to read. It is interesting enough for the reader to want to turn page after page.

Interestingly enough people paid whatever they could afford. There was no set fee. Still, doctors made enough to continue their practice.

This is a highly interesting book for anyone to learn how medicine was practices at he beginning of the 20th century in the Maritime Provinces of Canada, and for doctors who plan to work in rural areas to have an idea of life in such areas.

A memoir to read, learn, and cherish, for its historical and educational values.

Highly recommended.

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