Lotions, Potions and Liniments Pure: A Look at the Drug Trade in Winnipeg in the 1900s
Gerald J. Stortz is an assistant professor of history at St. Jerome’s
College, University of Waterloo.
Joseph Wilder is a retired pharmacist and developer of patent medicines. He is probably best known to older Canadians as the developer of Wilder’s Stomach Powder.
The subtitle suggests that Lotions, Potions and Liniments is a study of the drug trade in Winnipeg. In reality, the work is an autobiographical memoir which has much of value. The dilemma of a pharmacist during Prohibition (and the use to which those such as the Bronfmans of Seagrams Distillery fame put drug stores) is most revealing. So too are the sections that deal with cures. Unfortunately, these gems of social history are buried in an awkwardly written, poorly organized, badly edited book. Uninformative generalities abound. Chapter headings are inaccurate, and there are abrupt changes from one subject to another. One chapter on Chinatown borders on racism.
There are also certain contradictions. In “The Seamy Side,” Wilder self-righteously relates how he refused to co-operate with a woman engaged in what he euphemistically terms an “assignation” (p. 63). Yet in a separate incident, another woman wanted to redeem merchandise that a variety of men had given her for fifty cents on the dollar; the author’s comment is, “Here was a most beautiful and charming lady in distress, a girl in a gilded cage crying to be let out. Mrs. Cardinal’s problem had both rhyme and reason; how could I refuse?” (p. 76).
There is also an inordinate amount of name dropping and a tendency toward the melodramatic. Particularly annoying is the persistent overuse of one-sentence paragraphs for effect. The work has merit; but a shorter, better organized book would have been much more useful and entertaining.