Activities from Home #6: Early Canadian Societies (Grades 5-6)

Greetings Museum of Health Care Friends! In light of ongoing efforts to limit the transmission of COVID-19, this activity has been modified from the original version for offsite, home use. (Normally, this activity is completed as part of the “Early Canadian Societies” education program offered at the Museum of Healthcare at Kingston.)

For Educators

Learning Outcomes:

Students will analyze the interactions between European and Indigenous peoples prior to 1713, and the resulting consequences in relation to medicine and the spread of disease. Students will then demonstrate the contributions made by Indigenous peoples to current medical practices by learning to create a poultice; a paste made of anti-inflammatory ingredients held in place with a cloth as an early 18th century medical apprentice.      

For Parents

300 years ago healing and medicine were very different from today, although some of the elements previously used can be found in modern medicines. Often natural ingredients were used to relieve illnesses such as cuts, stomach pain, coughs and fevers. In this activity children will create their own poultice from simple ingredients found around the home.

Pre-Activity: Welcome to 18th century medical school!

Congratulations on getting an apprenticeship with your town doctor! In Upper Canada two hundred years ago, medical schools that we know today did not exist yet. Instead, if you wanted to become a doctor you had learn the skills of the trade first hand by working for your town doctor as an apprentice. Students would start with small chores like gathering plants for the doctor to make medicines before taking on more important jobs, like making the medicines themselves and helping the doctor with operations.

Indigenous people’s knowledge and long history of using the plants and herbs of the area to create medicine were used by 18th century doctors to treat many different illnesses like cuts, stomach pain, coughs and fevers.

Activity: Make an 18th Century Poultice

After months of training with your doctor, it’s finally your turn to take over a medical procedure all by yourself! Today, your doctor is trusting you to make your first remedy for a patient called a Poultice. Before Band-Aids were invented, doctors would use a Poultice, which uses herbs and plants to heal cuts, pains, and itchiness on the skin. The herbs would be mixed into a thick paste and tied onto the patient’s body with a cloth. Follow the steps below to make your very own 18th century Poultice.

Supplies you will need

  • 1 Cup
  • 1 Wooden or big spoon
  • A couple teaspoons of milk (or water)
  • 1 Slice of bread
  • 1 Cloth OR 2 sheets of paper towel (1 extra)


1) Ask a parent or guardian if you will get an allergic reaction to any of the ingredients you need. If you have an allergy, use ingredients in your home that are safe for you (e.g. water can replace milk).

2) Put your cup, spoon, bread, milk and cloth on a flat surface.

3) Break the bread into small chunks and put them into the cup.

4) Pour a tiny bit of milk into the cup. Mix everything in your cup together with your spoon until it gets thick.

5) Pick a place on your arm or leg where you would like to put your Poultice.

6) Use your spoon to scoop up a little bit of your mix. Carefully paint the mix onto your arm or leg until it stays on that spot.

 7) Carefully paint more onto your arm or leg until the spot gets to the size of a cracker.

8) Cover the mix on your arm or leg with your cloth or paper towel. Press the cloth flat down on the mixture.

9) Wrap the 2 loose ends of your cloth or towel around your arm or leg. Tie the ends in a knot. Ask someone to help tie the knot if you can’t reach!

10) Leave the Poultice on for 10 minutes.

11) Untie the Poultice and wash the mixture off your skin with soap and water.

Need some inspiration! Here are some historical examples!

Explore similar education activities, discover highlights of museum artefacts, and sign up for an onsite education program by clicking the link here!

About the Authour

Meaghan McDougald

(Public Programs Assistant, Summer 2020)

Meaghan recently completed an undergraduate degree in history at Queen’s University, with plans to return to Queen’s in the fall to begin her Bachelor’s of Education! Her main areas of interest include the history of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, and the history of psychiatric medicine. Meaghan’s experience of quarantine during the COVID19 pandemic has allowed her to expand her cooking skills, and discover the many hiking locations that Kingston and the surrounding region has to offer.

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