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Asthma cigarettes: once a common cure, now a museum piece.

Mini-museums at Rady Faculty of Health Sciences: A window into our past

March 20, 2017 — 

Shortness of breath. Wheezing. Tightness in your chest.

If you have asthma, those symptoms probably mean it’s time to reach for your inhaler.

But not that long ago, your pharmacist might have handed you another remedy altogether: a pack of cigarettes.

Kellogg’s asthma cigarettes promised to relieve troubling symptoms suffered by asthmatics everywhere. When an attack felt imminent, users were instructed to smoke one—perhaps two, if necessary—inhaling as deeply as possible.

Asthma cigarettes are just one of the many curiosities housed in the College of Pharmacy’s mini-museum, on display on the main floor of the Apotex Centre. The collection includes bottles that once contained strychnine, gin and powdered opium. Devices for pressing powders and forms for lozenges allowed pharmacists to produce their own pills and remedies. Weights down to the smallest increments provided accurate measurements. “But my favourite item is always going to be a mortar and pestle,” said Nancy Kleiman, pointing to a group of donated items, the classic symbol of the profession.

Kleiman is a pharmacy practice instructor with the College of Pharmacy, and one of the unofficial curators of the mini-museum. The pharmacy collection is just one of several at the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, organized by interested members of the faculty and staff. Now in its 140th year, the University of Manitoba has seen vast changes in science, technology and skills—pharmacy is no exception.

When the college moved out of its space at Fort Garry campus and relocated to the Bannatyne campus, it was time to open every box and empty every shelf—a treasure trove of artifacts was revealed. “And some junk, too,” laughed Kleiman. Not everything that winds up in a storage closet is precious, of course. But there was more than enough for an extensive display that offers a fascinating look back at the history of how a profession has evolved, now available for viewing to visitors and students alike.

Similarly, the College of Dentistry offers a window onto the past with a small but well-stocked case of dental curios and equipment on the main floor of the Dentistry building, 780 Bannatyne. This collection was donated to the university by Olga and Ralph Crawford. Crawford began gathering the unique selection of tools, cabinets and books in the 1960s, ultimately offering it to the university on his retirement.

“My wife and I have always had an interest in things old,” said Crawford in an interview with Paul Robertson, the curator at the University of Kingston, which also houses a dental museum courtesy of the Crawfords. Many of the vintage dental instruments came from antique stores and at auction, but also found themselves the happy recipients of donations from colleagues—the retired dentist says he became known to friends as “pack-rat Crawford”. Where previously items might have been thrown into the landfill, they began donating pieces to the collection. Ultimately, artifacts that might never again have seen the light of day became available to enjoy and educate future generations.

Likewise, a visit to the College of Nursing will also reward history buffs with a glimpse into the past. The Helen Glass Building houses the Margaret Elder Hart Heritage Room, named in honour of the College’s second and longest serving Director, Dr. Hart. The room is adorned on all sides with photographs, display cases and a large mural depicting the history of the profession. But Marion McKay, Director, Curriculum Integrity and Student Support Services, points out that one of the more modest displays—this time in a case in the atrium—has as much significance to alumni as any piece of technology or artwork.

She’s talking about a simple pair of oxfords. They look like ordinary shoes—nothing special, just plain leather with corded laces and a rounded toe. “We hated them,” said McKay, one of the exhibit’s organizers. They were part of a uniform that required student nurses to wear brown shoes along with beige nylons. “We envied students of the Winnipeg-based diploma nursing programs, who wore white nylons and shoes,” she remembers.

But she points out that when we’re enjoying the opportunity to look at the artifacts and documents on display—or laughing about the old-fashioned uniforms students had to wear—there’s also a bigger picture to consider. “Nursing education is a lens through which to analyze society and social change,” says McKay. “Educational practices, the education of women, women as workers, nursing as a gendered profession, nursing and power relationships, nurses as instruments of the state—all of these approaches to the analysis of nursing education provide a window to both our past and our present.”

The university’s 140th birthday is an ideal time for alumni to visit the campus and reflect on our past. The mini-museums mentioned in this article can all be viewed without appointments. Two smaller display cases with rotating exhibits are also open to the public in the Neil John Maclean Health Sciences Library. To arrange a visit the Margaret Elder Hart Heritage Room, please contact the College of Nursing at nursing [at] umanitoba [dot] ca or call 204-474-7452.

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