“Advice Gratis” Sign; (accession number HA2017.12.38); dimensions – 31.5 cm x 23 cm x 0.1cm
This piece from the Hillary House Collection was chosen by curator Erika Mazanik and written by Claire Layton (Collections and Exhibitions Summer Student). This is a piece in our collection that speaks to the important conflation of doctor and community member; operating their practice out of their own home in the center of town.
This represents a particularly Canadian ethos of universal access to health services, which is overwhelmingly a symbol of Canadian pride. In the mid-19th century, when the town doctor was the only option for all things health-related, as well as being a community member himself, he was perfectly situated to understand the importance of healthcare being accessible and affordable.
This sign was unique to the Hillary House, where it would be found hanging above the front door between the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. It was commissioned by the resident doctor, and though it implies one hour of free consultation, Nora Hillary, granddaughter and daughter to the two Dr. Hillarys who lived and worked here, often said that the sign really should read “10am to 11pm.” People were welcomed at all hours, and no one was ever turned away. These small-town doctors were advocating accessible healthcare before it was standardised by the Canadian government, importantly demonstrating creative and unique ways to informally offer assistance, which certainly branches beyond the realm of healthcare.
This allows us to reflect on the origins and impact of Canada’s healthcare system, beginning in a more formal forum with Tommy Douglas in 1947, when he introduced the first provincial hospital insurance program in Canada. The first nationalised public health care was implemented through the Hospital Insurance and Diagnostic Services Act, passed by the Liberal majority government of Louis St. Laurent in 1957. This was followed by an expansion of the policy to universal health care within the Medical Care Act, by Lester B. Pearson's government in 1966.