Banner image is of King St looking east from west of Leader Lane, 1847. Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.
The history of ophthalmology in Toronto is quite an interesting one, if not a particularly long one. As with a number of other medical specialists in the early 19th century, there weren’t a whole lot of ophthalmologists – or oculists, as they were then known – kicking about town. Which is to say, there were none.
Of course, this didn’t mean the Torontonian of yore was completely without help when suffering some ocular issue. After all, it’s quite likely that at least one of the city’s half-dozen general practitioners would’ve had some trick up his sleeve for addressing whatever the problem was. But frankly it probably wouldn’t have been very effective if there were anything seriously wrong with one’s eyes. That’s because, for the most part, eye treatments often boiled down to the catch-all remedy of the day – bleeding and/or blistering the general area. And, as you might expect, this was of little benefit to the eyes (i.e. none.) Unless of course you were just looking to be distracted from whatever was actually troubling you.
A better option was the practice of using ointments for eye irritations and infections. An added bonus to this course of action is that a body did not have to visit a doctor for relief, as many of these concoctions were readily available at local druggists.
Of course, there are a number of eye problems which cannot be treated by simply prying apart your eyelids and squirting a dose of potion into them. Problems like cataracts, crossed eyes and tumours require serious treatment by a doctor with some expertise. And so, in the early 19th century, this meant visiting an oculist. Or – what was more likely – seeking the services of a visiting oculist.
Because oculism was a specialized practice, those trained could make a good living by travelling and treating those who would not otherwise have access to such services. Thus, it became quite common for an oculist to establish a home base in a city and then strike out on a tour of neighbouring towns when local business became quiet. Once they’d completed a tour of duty, they’d return to their home base and see if anyone new had been stricken.
It is in this way that Frederick Alexander Cadwell, Toronto’s first resident oculist, came to call in 1849.
Born in New York City in 1817/18, Cadwell studied at, and graduated from, the Jefferson Medical School in Philadelphia in 1837. Though trained as a medical doctor and surgeon, he would find his passion in treating the eyes and ears. (This, in the parlance of the time, made him both an oculist and an auror.) Following his graduation, Cadwell returned to New York and established his own practice. During this period he would also marry a woman named Louisa (maiden name sadly unknown) and, in 1846, welcome a daughter – Adeline Augusta.
But following the oculist’s custom, he soon packed up his young family and took to the road. It was on one of these jaunts, in 1847, that he crossed the border and found himself in Montreal, Quebec and decided to stay awhile:
Of course, it wouldn’t be long before Cadwell was on the move once more. And so it was that on a June day in 1849 the family (which now included a baby boy, Charles Frederick) first arrived in Toronto.
Naturally Cadwell’s first order of business upon arrival was to find temporary lodgings at one of the local hotels – happily, something this city was not short on. Though there were a number to choose from, he would settle on the Phoenix House at Church and Colborne. Owned by a Black Canadian named B. R. Snow, it was considered one of the best spots in the city and so was quite popular with travelers.
Because the Phoenix House is not particularly well-remembered or documented in our city’s history, let’s take a moment to see what it offered a visiting professional like Cadwell:
Having thus settled where they’d stay, Cadwell could now scour the city for a fitting office for his practice. … Okay, I say “scour” but really, there wouldn’t have been much to his search. Anyone visiting Toronto in 1849 would have easily found that there was only one place to be:
Luckily for Cadwell, a dentist named Charles Rahn had recently vacated a prime address on King St W, near Bay. (Rahn himself would actually move to nearby Melinda St, which we explored last year.) Securing the office, Cadwell was now all set to perform a familiar chore – visiting the local newspaper offices to place advertisements for his services.
As would become his custom, he had the printers insert an eye at the top of his notice:
Over the years, and at the hands of various printers, Cadwell’s “eye” would change. But it would never be as well rendered as it was in the above ad. More often than not, it would end up looking like this example from the British Colonist:
Once Cadwell became better settled in the city, he’d move his family out of the Phoenix and into a proper home on Adelaide St W. Though no address was ever given, we do know that he lived between Bay and Yonge because Cadwell (like many other professionals of the period) advertised the fact. … These were different times, people.
Sadly, I’ve yet to find a good photo which documents this stretch of Adelaide at the time. But here’s a bird’s eye view of the area, circa 1860:
This is the same stretch of Adelaide today, looking east from Bay to Yonge.
Because there’s no record of which side of the block Cadwell lived on, here’s the south side for good measure:
These first few years in Toronto seems to have been fairly happy ones for Cadwell. His wife, Louisa, gave birth to another daughter – Fanny Maria – in 1851, his practice was thriving and he enjoyed a solid reputation in the community. But as the years ticked past, not all would be rosy in Cadwell’s world. Oh sure, there were still many professional highs, but there would also be a good many personal lows.
On April 11th, 1852, little Fanny Maria died at just eight months. A second son, Abner Mellen, born in 1853 would die before his second birthday. And then, cruelly just three months later, Cadwell and his wife would also lose their two eldest children – Adeline and Charles:
Were that not misery enough, there would also be a couple of occasions when Cadwell stood witness to terrible events in his adopted city.
Here we have an account of the night he went to the theatre and answered one of those “Is there a doctor in the house?” calls. (Fair warning: This is pretty grim and doesn’t end well):
Because I’ve got it handy, here’s the Lyceum as it would’ve appeared at the time:
A couple of years later, Cadwell would find his services required after a nightmare played out on the Great Western Railway:
The horrific accident occurred when the Desjardins Canal bridge in Hamilton collapsed just as the Toronto train was crossing it. The tragedy would claim 59 lives:
Among those killed when the train plummeted into the canal was J. Bradfield – a patient of Cadwell’s. As the over-whelmed authorities attempted to confirm victims’ identities, the grim job of identifying Bradfield and his wife fell to the good doctor:
… So yes, I imagine there were a good many dark days in the young doctor’s life. Yet, somehow, against this backdrop of misery, both Cadwell and his wife Louisa endured.
By this period, from the mid-to late 1850s, Cadwell was working out of an office on King St E, near Leader Lane:
Which today looks like this:
With an unfailing focus on building his clientele and furthering his reputation, Cadwell would even publish a book on his work. With a pithiness typical of the time, he titled it “Treatise on the eye and ear: rules for the preservation and restoration of sight; deafness, its causes and progress explained; new discoveries in treatment illustrated with numerous cases.” And let me tell you, if you enjoy a frank discussion of eye diseases and surgeries, then this is the book for you.
It also features an array of not-too traumatizing illustrations such as these:
And lest anyone have trouble identifying the characteristics of crossed eyes, this illustration would help set them straight. (Sorry.)
Of course, we mustn’t forget that Cadwell was also an auror. Though his “treatise” is marked by an emphasis on ocular issues, he was careful to include a good number of distressing ear anecdotes and illustrations as well.
His book also featured a number of testimonials from former patients – many of which vouch for his skill in curing chronic eye inflammation and the removal of cataracts. But some of the letters also attest to his ability to cure deafness. And frankly, some come off as, well, a mite miraculous:
After all, this was at a time when Cadwell himself often advertised this forerunner to the modern hearing aid:
Though I suppose it is possible Cadwell found some success treating deafness with a little contraption he’d come up with. It looked like this:
Should you have any trouble envisioning how such a, er, thing could be beneficial, I’m pleased to offer Cadwell’s own description of it:
Alas, with the close of the decade, Cadwell would decide that it was time to bid Toronto farewell and pursue new opportunities elsewhere. Packing up his home and practice, he and Louisa would head back to the U.S. and start anew in Chicago:
But after just a few years in the Windy City, Cadwell would feel the need to move on once more. In 1863, he and Louisa would move back to his hometown of New York City.
Unfortunately, for Cadwell, this move would bring yet another personal blow. One which would play out in both American and Canadian newspapers:
Though Cadwell had left the city a few years before, the doctor was still well remembered here, and his name considered a big enough draw to sell newspapers. But here’s the thing – the Cadwell central this drama was not the doctor. It was his wife, Louisa:
Though contemporary newspaper accounts of the case are occasionally hard to follow, I think I’ve got a handle on its ins and outs now. So here’s the situation, as I understand it, in a nutshell:
During one of Cadwell’s extended trips out of town, his wife Louisa took up with a very wealthy, New York gentleman. This fellow suggested to Louisa that she leave her husband – and to help move things along he offered to pay for her divorce. Well, Louisa apparently thought this was a pretty good idea and a lawyer was hired to begin the proceedings. Cadwell, who was still out of town tending eyes and ears, was served with the divorce papers and became, as you might imagine, quite upset. Hurrying back to New York, he accused the mysterious gentleman of having an “improper intimacy” with Louisa. Which, you know, given the circumstances does not seem all that unlikely. Anyhow, according to the New York Times of Oct 7, 1863, our Cadwell then “threatened to enforce against him the utmost penalties of the law.” Which at the time, amounted to arresting the rich Casanova and suing him for damages.
Well, the prospect of such actions apparently frightened the guy sufficiently and he asked a mutual acquaintance of the two – the delightfully named Rollin A. Goodenough – to help the two men come to some agreement. Preferably one that would keep him from being arrested and any hint of a scandal out of the papers. And so Goodenough approached Cadwell with some offer, Cadwell acquiesced and the divorce proceedings were stopped. And so it seemed that some semblance of peace had been returned to the Cadwell household.
But, as it turned out, Louisa’s wealthy gentleman was not yet ready to give her up. According to the same New York Times article, the fellow continued to shell out a lot of dough for her.
“He settled her board bills at the hotels, sent her to Saratoga Springs to recuperate her health, presented her with a gold watch and expensive dresses, paid her carriage hire, and gave her money, wines, brandies, fruits, &c.”
… You know it’s serious when there’s fruit involved.
He also arranged for her to travel out west to quietly (i.e. without anyone in N.Y. noticing) obtain the divorce they’d bungled in New York. And this time it seems she was successful.
In returning to New York, Louisa no doubt was looking forward to settling into the kind of decadent life to which she’d now become accustomed. Unfortunately, however, it seems fate had a different plan for her. While she’d been away, her dashing Lothario had up and died. And, as terrible a blow as that must’ve been for her, she soon felt even worse when she found out that he hadn’t left her a cent. … And so we come the “blackmail” bit.
Louisa approached the dead man’s lawyers asking for money, but was continuously refused. But then, somehow or other, she discovered that her fellow had left two payments of $5,000 with Goodenough “for the settlement of some private affair.” Well, considering herself a “private affair” of sorts, she became fixed on the idea that this money must’ve been meant for her. When Goodenough failed to agree, she made a couple of threats to have him arrested and wound up taking him to court to get the money. And so the whole sorry, sordid mess came to light and was played out publicly in the newspapers.
In the end, the Court decided that Goodenough had not acted improperly and that Louisa Cadwell had no claim on the money. Adding insult to injury, she was then ordered to pay him $10.
Of course, by this time, our Dr. Cadwell had long given up his fight for her and they were completely disassociated – though both would continue to live in New York City for several years:
Though Cadwell would continue with his practice and issue several new editions of his Treatise on the Eye and Ear, it appears his life after this episode became a good deal quieter – or, at least, so it seems from this great distance.
When next he turns up in the news, it’s 1873 and he is in London, Ontario and answering for the death of a patient following surgery:
Specifically, it was Cadwell’s use of chloroform which appears to have done the poor man in. But if this causes you to fear for our beleaguered doctor, worry not. As the patient himself requested the chloroform, and a number of respected doctors attested to Cadwell’s expertise and good record, the matter was dropped and Cadwell emerged relatively unscathed.
Just the same, it’s a shame this isn’t more of a “good news” story – because, sadly, this is the last trace I can find of Dr. Frederick Alexander Cadwell. After this episode, he disappears into the sands of time.
But where Cadwell’s association with Toronto ends, another oculist’s tale begins…
A young doctor named Abner Mulholland Rosebrugh would set up his practice here in the early 1860s, just a few years after Cadwell’s departure. And it would be this man who’d help bring oculism into the modern age. We’ll meet him, along with some of the city’s early opticians, next time. I hope you’ll join me.