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Brandon’s Dr. W. A. Bigelow set up Canada’s first medical clinic

Bigelow Clinic staff Forceps Fin and Fur

Bigelow Clinic staff, 1918 (L-R) Top row: Dr. W. A. Bigelow, Dr. H.S. Sharpe, Dr. R.O. McDiarmid, Dr. L.J. Carter, Dr. S.J. Pierce. Middle row : L. Williams, M. Gemmel, J. McDonald, M. Gemmel, V. Burchill. Bottom row: F. MacKenzie, H. Kirkaldy. photo: Forceps, Fin and Feather


Bigelow grad pic Forceps, Fin and Feather

Dr. W. A. Bigelow was inducted as a fellow of the American College of Surgeons at it first Convocation in 1913. photo: Forceps, Fin and Feather

Brandon’s Dr. Wilfred Abram Bigelow was a brilliant surgeon and a visionary.

Born in Nova Scotia, in 1879, he moved to Winnipeg in 1898 and studied medicine at the University of Manitoba.

Five years later, Dr. Bigelow set up a medical practice in Hartney. In 1906 he moved to Brandon.

In the introduction to his father’s memoir, Forceps, Fin and Feather, Dr. Wilfred Gordon Bigelow wrote:

“When you read the stories of his medical experiences, you must visualize a young medical graduate who is totally dedicated to his work.

He has a remarkably clear vision of the future of medicine and he is a perfectionist.

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Dad had a venturesome and vigorous attitude towards life. He worked hard and played hard.”

The following are excerpts from Forceps, Fin and Feather:

1905: The Coleman gasoline lamp came into use in 1905 while I was in Hartney. This produced a wonderful light for operating.

You could suspend it by a wire from the ceiling, or drive a nail into the top of the door case or window casing and suspend the lamp from this.

I remember one bad encounter with a Coleman lamp very distinctly. It happened in the early 1920’s, when I was called by Dr. Clark of Reston to a case of acute ruptured appendicitis.

The house had one room downstairs and one unfinished room upstairs. At the end of the room herbs were hanging from the rafters.

We had a Coleman light for the operation, and while I was operating there was a sudden flareup. I noticed the lamp was leaking and the fire was running down the lamp.

A man named McKay was helping by handing me things. He immediately kicked out a little window and heaved the lamp out into the snow.

Nothing caught fire, but we were left in complete darkness. McKay rushed downstairs and brought up a lantern that certainly was not very clear.

A nurse, assisting me and Dr. Clark, was giving the anesthetic. I got a clamp on the base of this ruptured appendix and tied it off, mostly by feel since the lantern did not give much light.

The patient made a good recovery. It was really very exciting at the time. I still think it was providential that the whole thing did not explode or the herbs catch fire.

The only harm done was the broken window. I had the pleasure of meeting this patient a few years later. I did not recognize him but remembered him when he mentioned the lamp.

1906: I came to Brandon. I immediately took the practice of Dr. H.E. Condell and very soon became busy, particularly with a very large maternity practice.

Having seen new developments in medicine and surgery during my year of postgraduate work at the Mayo Clinic and the Crile Cleveland Clinic, as well as New York, I attempted to keep abreast of the times.

I was doing my own smears and microscopic examinations as well as cultures. I operated my own X-ray machine and high-frequency long-wave unit for physiotherapy.

1909: I was sent out to Pendennis to a maternity case. It was January, blustery and the trails were full of snow. Some places they were five feet high with temperatures 25 degrees below zero.

The driver and I went for about a mile until at last we met a cutter coming our way. The cutter was stopped so we got out thinking it was probably someone coming to place another call.

Instead of that I found it was my patient and her husband. The final severe pains were on. I knew I had a maternity case right on and fast.

I crawled under the buffalo robe with the patient and the two men threw another one over the two of us.

I went to work in the dark. By the time we got to a nearby house the baby was born and everything was lovely.

About sixty-five percent of our surgical patients in the Brandon General Hospital came from outside the city of Brandon.

In order to keep an eye on these patients after surgery, I had six or seven private houses, often the home of married ex-nurses, where I could put post-operative cases about the time they became able to get up and around.

Thus, I could keep in touch with their convalescence before they left for remote towns and farms in the prairies.

1913: I decided to start a clinic in Brandon. I had learned that a much better diagnosis was worked out in the American clinics where a group of specialists worked together.

It was too much for one man to keep in touch with all the new developments in diagnosis and treatment.

The concept of a clinic where a complete examination and treatment could be provided by specialists working together and submitting one common account proved to be successful.

The Bigelow Clinic functioned for nearly half a century providing services to patients who came from all over the prairies.

Dr. Wilfred Abram Bigelow (1879-1967)

Dr. Bigelow’s sons, Dan and Wilfred Gordon, became doctors. Dan was a leading orthopaedic surgeon.

Wilfred, a foremost heart specialist, pioneered hypothermia research in surgery and the heart pacemaker.

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Throwback

Clement Block Heritage Brandon

Clement Block, 907 Rosser Avenue

This five-storey concrete, steel, and red brick building was constructed in the fall of 1910 at the northwest corner of Rosser Avenue and Ninth Street, on the site of the city’s first post office (1882).

Built on behalf of Brandon pharmacist David Clement, the first floor was occupied by Clement’s pharmacy and other retail shops.

The remainder became offices for a variety of commercial enterprises, including Canada’s first medical clinic established by Wilfred A. Bigelow, and the law firm of Clement and Clement.

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After a failed effort in the late 1980s by the Assiniboine Historical Society to have the building designated as provincially significant, the Clement Block was demolished in July and August 1989, and the site is now occupied by a one-storey commercial structure.

Manitoba Historical Society

photo courtesy of Heritage Brandon. photo source: Albertype Company/Library and Archives Canada/PA-032776

 

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