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
BracebridgegGravesite for Rene M.
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.
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
After the closure of the
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
"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
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.
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.