In 1995, the Bracebridge Historical Society opened the Rene M. Caisse Memorial Room. 
Most of the artifacts are now on permanent display at the Rene M. Caisse Theatre in Bracebridge. 

 


The west side of Manitoba Street in Bracebridge, circa 1912. 
The building at the far right is the Caisse's Barber Shop.

 


Rene M. Caisse at her Bracebridge Clinic.

 


Ampoules filled with Essaic from the Rene M. Caisse Clinic.

 


Cars outside the Rene M. Caisse Cancer Clinic on Dominion Street in Bracebridge.

 


A hand painted sign from the Rene M. Caisse Cancer Clinic.

 


Protest button advocating the approval of Essiac as a viable treatment for cancer.

 


Rene M. Caisse in 1938 with the petition of 55,000 
names which accompanied a private member bill 
presented to the Ontario Legislature to permit Rene to practice medicine with a license.

 


A painting by Rene M. Caisse.

 


A painting by Rene M. Caisse.

 


Rene M. Caisse on her 90th birthday.

 


BracebridgegGravesite for Rene M. Caisse.

INTRODUCTION

When Joseph and Friselde Caisse moved to Bracebridge from Peterborough, Ontario, in 1879, the pioneering community of Bracebridge was well on the road to becoming a thriving commercial centre for the production of leather, woollen goods and lumber.

At first, Joseph Caisse worked in one of the two great leather tanneries which operated beside the shores of the Muskoka River. Returning to Peterborough in 1881 to learn the barbering trade, Mr. Caisse opened his own barber shop on the west side of Manitoba Street in Bracebridge the following year.

The Caisses raised eleven children, eight girls and three boys. Rene Mary Anna Caisse was the third daughter born into the family whose ancestors immigrated to Quebec from France during the 1700s. Born in Bracebridge on August 11, 1888, Rene and her brothers and sisters were raised "in the love and fear of God."

Little is known about Rene’s childhood. Her two elder sisters became milliners while Rene pursued a career in nursing.  She trained and graduated from Dr. Hyde's Hospital in Connecticut. It was in 1922, while employed as the head nurse at the Sisters of Providence Hospital in Haileybury, a small town located 150 kilometers north of North Bay, Ontario, that Rene saw an elderly woman with a mass of breast scar tissue being bathed. The woman told of her complete recovery from breast cancer fifty years earlier, the result of taking a herbal remedy created by the Native People of Northern Ontario.

This was the beginning of a remarkable odyssey that would dominate the rest of Rene’s life.

 

THE CLINIC YEARS

Convinced of the herbal tea’s medicinal value, for two years Rene Cassie experimented, tested and refined the mixture of burdock root, sheep sorrel, slippery elm bark and Turkish rhubarb root. Working first in her mother’s basement which she converted into a laboratory, between 1928 and 1930 Rene experimented with mice at Toronto’s Christie Street Hospital Laboratories.

"I applied my remedy and watched it work," wrote Rene. "Gradually I perfected it and became convinced that I had found the answer to a deep gulf in medical knowledge of the disease."

Rene named the finished product Essiac, her family surname spelt backwards.

One of Rene’s first patients was her mother’s only sister who had been given six months to live. Rene asked her aunt’s doctor, Dr. R.O. Fischer of Toronto, for permission to administer Essiac under his observation. The aunt recovered to live another twenty-one years. Other cases, which had failed to respond to proven medical treatments were referred to Rene by Dr. Fisher.

"As a nurse, under the laws of Ontario, I had no right to administer my remedy, however beneficial it was to humanity, except with the permission and under the observation of a recognized medical man," remarked Rene. "I wanted to establish my remedy in actual practice, to use it on people in my own way, then be free to share in the administration of my own discovery."

Word of her work spread and nine more doctors began referring their patients to Rene. After a twelve hour nursing shift, Rene would return to her Toronto apartment and treat up to thirty people over the course of an evening. To have more time for her on-going research and patient care, Rene made the decision to give up her nursing career. With her own evidence about Essiac, Rene approached Dr. Frederick Banting who advised her to apply to the University of Toronto to complete great in-depth research. It was advice Rene could not follow through with for it meant revealing the ingredients of Essiac and she feared the research findings would simply be filed in the archives, hidden from the public.

Without her nursing income, Rene could no longer afford to maintain her city practice. She moved to Timmins, then Peterborough. Shortly after renting a house in Peterborough, Rene was contacted by Dr. Albert Bastedo of Bracebridge who was impressed with the results of her work. At his request, the Town of Bracebridge granted Rene the use of a building acquired through back taxes. She was persuaded to return to her home town to practice and rented the former British Lion Hotel for $1 per month.

From 1935 to 1942, Rene operated her cancer clinic which contained a reception room, furnished office, dispensary and five treatment rooms. Staffed by members of her family, the Rene Caisse Clinic became the focus of much publicized work with cancer.

Four days every week, people from all walks of life visited the modest Dominion Street clinic. Cars lined the street as patients were wheeled or carried into the clinic. Each day, with a written diagnoses from their doctors, Rene treated dozens of terminally ill people with Essiac – all without charge and without advertisement. "If it does not cure cancer, it will afford relief, if the patient has sufficient vitality remaining to enable them to respond to treatment," remarked Rene.

The vast majority of Rene’s patients came to her after such treatments as surgery, radium or x-rays for example failed to halt the spread of cancer. Many testimonials from patients attested to the value of Essiac. "I wonder if you people know what a wonderful thing life is – or do you, in your everyday hurry, forget,?" Mrs. Thomas Lehman wrote in 1936. "I had been given three months to live before I came to Miss Caisse. The time is past and I have received wonderful results."

By the late 1930s, a grassroots movement began to have Essiac formally recognized by the medical profession as a viable treatment for cancer. Mary McPherson of Bracebridge spearheaded a petition and when it was presented to the Ontario Legislature in 1938, 55,000 people had signed their names in support.

In 1938, a private bill was presented to the 20th Legislature of Ontario seeking authorization for Rene "to practice medicine in the Province of Ontario in the treatment of cancer in all its forms and of human ailments and conditions resulting there from." The bill was lost by three votes.

The Minister of Health of the day, the Honourable Harold Kirby, established the Royal Cancer Commission to investigate alternative means of cancer treatments including Essiac. On December 31, 1939, the Commission submitted its report which read in part:

"After a careful examination of all the evidence submitted and analyzed herewith, and not forgetting the fact that the patients, or a number of them, who came before the Commission, felt they had been benefited by the treatment which they received, the Commission is of the opinion that the evidence advanced does not justify any favourable conclusion as to the merits of Essiac as a remedy for cancer, and would so report."

Throughout her quest to have Essiac recognized, Rene often felt misrepresented, misunderstood and believed powerful and influential forces were working against her efforts. In "I Was Canada’s Cancer Nurse" an undated booklet written by Rene about her work, she states:

"I had absolute faith that I could accumulate enough proof of results obtained with different types of cancer, as demanded by the Cancer Society, the medical profession would eventually be glad to accept Essiac as an approved treatment. I did not then know of an organized effort to keep a cancer cure from being discovered, especially by an independent researcher not affiliated with any organization supported by private or public funds. Tremendous sums have been raised and appropriated for official cancer research during the last 50 years, with almost nothing new or productive discovered. It would make these foundations and institutions look pretty silly, if an obscure Canadian nurse discovered an effective treatment for cancer!"

For the most part, the medical establishment did not interfere with Rene’s activities since she administered Essiac without any charge to people for whom all other treatments had failed. As the same time, Essiac was refused licensing because of a lack of clinical evidence to support its effectiveness as a treatment for cancer and because Rene continued to refuse to reveal the recipe claiming it to be "secret."

In 1941, Rene closed the doors to her clinic and moved to North Bay.

 

THE RETIREMENT YEARS

After the closure of the clinic, Rene Caisse gave up the struggle. Three years earlier, in 1938, she had married Charles McGaughey, a North Bay lawyer whose family had been well known and long-time residents of the city. In North Bay, Rene led a quiet life, learning to paint for her own enjoyment.

Over thirty years later, in 1977, a resurgence of publicity for Essiac brought Rene out of seclusion and in her 90th year she finally entrusted the formula to then Lieutenant Governor Pauline McGibbon. A year before her death on December 26, 1978, Rene gave the recipe to the Toronto-based Resperin Company.

Since 1977, tests conducted by various organizations have not established the viability of Essiac to cure cancer. The Health Protection Branch of Health and Welfare Canada issued a report concluding:

"No clinical evidence exists to support claims that Essiac is an effective treatment for cancer. At the same time, it is acknowledged that Essiac is not harmful to a person’s health providing it is not substituted for proven forms of cancer therapy. In fact, there may be positive psychological effects for some cancer patients."

These findings were verified once again in 1983 when the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, tested Essiac and found that the drug showed no anti-tumour activity.

Essiac, in a variety of formulas and under different brand names, continues to be made and taken by people suffering from cancer, physical ailments and for general good health. It is widely available in health food stores and information, of varying degrees of accuracy,  is accessible on the World Wide Web.

 

Disclaimer
 Woodchester Villa does not endorse or promote the use or sale of Essiac.  Information available on this web site and at the museum is presented in a historical context only. Woodchester Villa cannot give medical advice. The use of Essiac should be discussed with your health care professional(s).

 

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Woodchester Villa is located in Bracebridge, Ontario, Canada.