A Canadian Adventure – Part Two – Coming Back to Bracebridge
December 3, 2015: Summer is now just a memory and winter seems to have moved in overnight. Its taken six months since we approached Bracebridge, in Part 1, to finally pull into town.... fitting metaphor for how time seems to have been flying by this year.
It was wonderful to come back to Bracebridge. This was my second trip. I retraced the steps of the prior visit, going to pay my respects at Rene Caisse's grave, and visiting the site of the Rene M. Caisse Cancer Clinic, now called the Lee Building. I visited with the secretary in what is now law offices, but there was no trace of the former clinic ever having been right in that exact same spot.
For the first time I was able to visit the Rene M. Caisse Memorial Theatre Exhibit. I took over 1000 photos of what Bracebridge still has in its Essiac archives, both in the Town's vaults and the Bracebridge Public Library's Archives. Over the coming months they will begin to populate our very own 'virtual' Rene Caisse Room!
I loved going for a healthy bite to eat at the "Deli Lama" at Muskoka Natural Foods, and met many friends old and new. I learned that Rene's statue had been very purposely located right where patients seeking Nurse Caisse's "Essiac" treatments had been instructed to "cross the bridge and then turn left" - her clinic was just a block away. They called it the Bridge of Hope.
My 2012 visit happened in the fall, the maple leaves were beautiful! This time the scenery was late Spring at its finest, and 100% delightful. I stayed at the Inn at the Falls, just a block away from the former Clinic, on Dominion Street. The nice woman at the front desk, Judith, put me in touch with local historian Ken Veitch, who was the most gracious, helpful host and guide to all things Rene Caisse and Essiac that I could have ever dreamed of!
And then, after just a few short days of exploring and researching, it was already my last night in town. As I sat under a full moon on a little bench outside the old clinic, I wondered how it must have felt for patients to find the door locked when the Clinic closed for the last time in 1941. I thought, wouldn't it be great if that door could be once more unlocked...a small garden with the herbs growing by the bench...and the Rene Caisse Memorial Room restored to its former glory... in the most fitting home I could ever imagine (just turn left at the statue) 🙂
There are still many people in Bracebridge who remember Rene Caisse, love her and are very loyal to her memory. But many younger people don't remember, and one wonders, what will happen in just a few more decades when there will be no one left that lived during Rene Caisse's actual lifetime (1888-1978)? Rene and Essiac will not be forgotten in Bracebridge. But will the few boxes of papers and memorabilia (mostly out of sight) be enough to ensure her legacy goes on in a lasting or meaningful way?
The Rene Caisse Memorial Room was opened in 1995 and from what I can tell, it remained open for a little over a decade. I believe the Woodchester Villa, where the exhibit was housed, suffered weather-related damage a few years ago, and it was announced that the Rene Caisse exhibits had been moved to the Rene M. Caisse Memorial Theatre. I was thrilled to see the exhibits on display this trip, but I couldn't help but note that the display was a lot smaller. Mali Klein had shot video of it in the late 1990s, and it occupied several rooms then. Now, three shelves in a display case. In a recent local write-up on the renovations it appears that it has not yet been decided what to do next at Woodchester Villa... but Rene Caisse and Essiac do not seem to be part of their plans.
Ken Veitch was the Bracebridge Town Clerk for more than 30 years. He knew Mary McPherson well and was there when she signed her affidavit making the Essiac formula public. Ken's Grandmother benefitted from Essiac treatments with Nurse Caisse. Ken was very generous with his time and arranged for my access to the City's Essiac Archives. He also introduced me to several other local residents with links to the history, and made my visit to Bracebridge a learning journey extroidinaire. Ken is a first-class researcher and indexer and has written several local history books.
How does one preserve a legacy? Books, statues, museum exhibits....the best legacy is a living one I believe. I think it would do Rene's heart good to see so many people using and benefitting from Essiac today. It would sure be great to see something more lasting and well-curated going on with what is left of the history in Bracebridge, though.
My time in Bracebridge seemed so short..and then it was time to head for "the Bush" - Northern Ontario. Vision Quest time. Back to the source, where the original Native American formula emerged into the modern world in the late 1800s. The adventure continues....
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