04 December 2010

The Healing Hands of Rocke and Locke

A final follow-up, of sorts, to Monday's post (and Wednesday's)...

At the beginning of this century I wrote a book about characters in Canadian literature that were inspired by real people. The subject can be a sensitive one. Understandably so. Hurt feelings and withdrawn dinner invitations are just the beginning.

In the foreword to The Canada Doctor, Clay Perry and John L.E. Pell show caution: "characters are fictional but in them will be found a composite of the hundreds of thousands who have not only sought soundness of body but have fought for faith and so have learned, as the great healer says in the story, that..." Well, you get the idea.

The novel's dust jacket is much more forthcoming. We learn, for example, that Perry "found in the northlands of Ontario a character in whom there was more romance than any he ever created, and, in collaboration with John L.E. Pell, re-created in 'Dr. Rocke of Johnsburg' a fictional counterpart of this man whose real name is on many lips."

This romantic figure of whom so many speak is Dr M.W. Locke of Williamsburg, Ontario. He's forgotten today, but in his time Locke was both very famous and very controversial. A medical man, a miracle man or a charlatan, the country doctor was celebrated the world over as one who could cure arthritis, rheumatism and related ailments by simply manipulating a patient's foot. Locke was visited by people from every continent, save Antarctica – one writer claimed he treated as many as 2500 souls a day. An exaggeration to be sure – no one was really keeping count – but there's no doubt that the number was very high.

Like the fictitious Dr Rocke, Dr Locke would sit on a screw-chair, surrounded by a circle of sufferers, moving from one foot to the next. Once and future prime minister Mackenzie King was treated in this manner, as was the novelist Rex Beach. The latter wrote an enthusiastic piece for Cosmopolitan, describing a treatment that lasted no more than twenty seconds.

Locke lived a modest life – his death in 1942 came while cranking up his old Ford – yet he made a great deal of money. These earnings came not only from his practice, but through sales of the shoes that bore his name.

The Leader-Post, 10 July 1933

Of his own design, Lockwedge Shoes were sold exclusively through Simpson's in Halifax, Montreal, Hamilton and Regina. George H. Wilkinson sold them in Windsor. Americans had this handy advert that appeared on the back of The Canada Doctor. Clear evidence, I think, that after publication authors Perry and Pell remained welcome at Dr Locke's table.

My thanks to William Weintraub who brought The Canada Doctor to my attention and generously donated his copy to the Dusty Bookcase.

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  1. The hands! An article in Cosmopolitan!

  2. Do they not look like the hands of a drowning man?

  3. Old advertisements are so interesting, one can only wonder how those people thought of such things and how could have that worked on customers then. By the way, I have to agree with Brian that those hands really do look like hands of a drowning man a bit.

  4. I should have mentioned that the image and description of the drowning hands of Dr Locke also come from an advert - this for "Dr M.W. Locke Shoes" published in the 13 March 1944 issue of Life.