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Remembering When with Dr. Bill Graham

April 5, 2023

By Belinda Wilson

From the North Kawartha Times, January 8, 1985

Sturgeon Point – He remembers winters spent tagging onto cutters and sleighs passing through Fenelon Falls and riding out to Nelson’s Corners [Aunt Molly’s], at which point the young boys would get off and tag onto another one heading back into town. Or else they would go to the rink (Moss Littleton ran it then) and pay 5c to play hockey. Such are the boyhood recollections of Dr. Bill Graham.

“Medicine was a Graham tradition… it was that way with a lot of families… My dad was a dentist, and I had seen too much of that to be interested, so I became a doctor,’ Doctor Graham explained. “My dad and I practiced together behind what used to be Bulmer’s Barber Shop.” It is now Fenelon Men’s Wear [Fenelon Marketplace] and the office is now occupied by Bill Austin, Chartered Accountant [was recently King’s Ink Tattoo] “I used to sneak out the back and go into the bakery for a cookie. Bernie Bell had it then.”

The life of a country doctor was by no means relaxing. Dr. Graham (or ‘Doc Bill’ as he is known to everyone) made house calls, travelling to Kinmount, Cambray and Glenarm to see patients. There was no such thing as medical plans, and when people couldn’t pay for the medical attention, they often gave Dr. Graham produce, eggs and the like. “We weren’t as busy then as doctors are now. At lot of that is because people couldn’t afford to see a doctor for every little thing. Often they were too sick before they sought medical attention.”

Dr. Graham was on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. “I had office hours on Sunday afternoons, and 6 nights a week. Lots of times I didn’t finish up until midnight…. I would have to go out and wake the last patient up,” he recalled.

Because doctors did not receive a guaranteed income, Dr. Graham was often able to reward himself by providing free medical service if the situation called for it. “I got self satisfaction out of practicing for nothing,” he said.

“The winters were colder then, as I remember, and I recall getting stuck on my rounds and having to be pulled out with horses.” Because he was raised in Fenelon Falls, living right across from the public school, which at that time was at the top of town, “I was always late for school.” Dr. Graham has many memories of the village. For instance, all the houses on the main street had fences on the front yards. The reason for this was that in the spring, farmers would drive their cattle through town to pasture, and the fences kept the cattle from running across the lawns.

Before the Post Office was built on the main street (where the Bank of Commerce now is located) the vacant lot was used for a horse-shoe pitch. “Horse-shoes was the big thing in Fenelon Falls! After the Post Office was built, the pitch was moved to the lot where Sunshine Food Market parking now is. And when they put lights up for the horse-shoe pitching, that was really something!” explained Dr. Graham.

Dr. Graham, like many residents of the village was disappointed when the cluster of buildings at the falls was torn down. “When boaters came up the river, as soon as they saw the bell tower they knew they were in Fenelon Falls. The town has lost its distinctiveness in that respect. But the downtown core is something to be proud of. The main street has changed drastically over the years, but everything you need is right there.”

Having gone into semi-retirement after a practice which started in 1948, Dr. Bill Graham is still busy, not only with medicine, but with other aspects of his life—he and his wife raise cattle, and the daily chores keep them busy, as do their 3 dogs and 4 cats.

It is understandable that after leading such a busy life for so long, Dr. Graham would find full retirement difficult… it’s better to ease into it slowly.

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