“To have hope and to move forward, we must also know where we come from.”
Fernand Braudel, Historian
The Catholic Francophone hospital named Saint‑Louis‑Marie‑de‑Montfort officially opened to the public in 1953. This event marked the beginning of a series of great challenges that the hospital would have to face during its existence, while becoming one of the resounding Franco-Ontarian success stories during seven years of tireless work, public demands and intense dedication. The lines that follow lift the veil on its history.
Hôpital Montfort’s history began in the late 1940s. At the time, Eastview (1) had a large Francophone population. The small town was part of an extensive Francophone demographic that included the townships of Gloucester and Cumberland, as well as villages in the United Counties of Prescott and Russell.
From the middle of the XIXth century, a bilingual hospital was already operating in Ottawa’s Lowertown. However, the Francophone community felt it was too far away and unable to adequately serve it in French. This is why in 1947, the region’s Francophone elite mobilized to establish a health care centre in the eastern part of the National Capital that could deliver services and administer its activities in French.
Springing to Action
A temporary organizing committee was created and named “comité protecteur” (protector committee) and included Donat Grandmaître, businessman and former Mayor of Eastview, Louis‑Philippe Poirier, Director of the Social Action Office of the Ontario Ministry of Education, Raoul Landriault, businessman and secretary of Eastview High School, William D’Aoust, construction contractor, and Father Edmond Ducharme, a Montfortian and parish priest of Eastview’s Notre‑Dame‑de-Lourdes church. The idea of founding a hospital was Father Ducharme’s, a man known for his devotion towards the wellbeing and development of the Franco-Ontarian community. (2)
The committee had to tackle many challenges, not the least of which was the opposition of certain established institutions, including the Ottawa General Hospital and the University of Ottawa School of Medicine, that were cool to the idea of creating a Francophone hospital because it seemingly had the potential to undermine their respective plans for expansion. Moreover, the emergency situation of the post-war rearmament led to an increased demand for steel, a vital construction commodity. The foundries could barely supply enough to the country which resulted in delivery delays and increased construction costs. And finally, raising the needed funds proved to be one of the most challenging endeavours, a task made difficult by the fact that the federal government of the time had imposed a restriction on admissible credit.
Despite these predictable problems, the project moved forward quickly in 1949 when two major partners (ACFEO and Daughters of Wisdom) joined the organizing committee.
The Association canadienne-française d’éducation de l’Ontario (ACFEO) (3) supported the project and lent a firm hand to its organizing committee. It appointed three of its senior managers as committee members: Edmond Cloutier, Ernest Désormeaux and Gaston Vincent . The ACFEO also agreed to solicit support for the project from authorities. It not only organized petitions, but also took pains to compile data on the region’s needs.
The Daughters of Wisdom also supported the project thanks to the intervention of Father Edmond Ducharme. Indeed, he was the one responsible for presenting the project to the Daughters of Wisdom (4) order and persuading them to establish a hospital for his parishioners. The Daughters of Wisdom sent three representatives to sit on the organizing committee: Sister Henriette de l’Eucharistie (Sister Marie‑Thérèse Picault), Sister Thérèse de Saint‑Antoine (Sister Antoinette Vandelwynckele) and Sister Émile de l’Enfant‑Jésus (Sister Evelyne Quesnel).
Up to that point, the organizing committee had filled a strictly advisory role and served as an intermediary between religious and civil authorities as well as the ACFÉO. It now became a standing committee chaired by Donat Grandmaître.
Founding members of the hospital and first members of the Executive Committee, 1949-1953.
(Photo: Studio C. Marcil, Ottawa, BAnQ, Centre de l'Outaouais, P174, S1, D15512).
Needless to say, the major imperative of the standing committee was to secure the necessary funding.
At the time, only public, particularly non-denominational hospitals received official government funding. The possibility of obtaining special government subsidies therefore had to be explored.
As members of the Organizing committee, Donat Grandmaître, a well-known businessman with a favourable image, and Ernest Désormeaux, who was then the president of the ACFEO, met with the province’s Minister of Health, Russell T. Kelley, while Edmond Cloutier met with the federal Minister of Health and Welfare, Paul Martin, to secure their support. Provincial MLA Daniel Nault and federal MP J.‑Omer Gour of Russell gave their support.
The effort produced results: the federal and provincial governments each granted approximately $200,000 to help cover the cost of the hospital, for a total of $432,000.
From the early 1950s, hospital managers used different means to financially support the hospital’s operations and plans. Lawyer Gaston Vincent and stockbroker Joseph‑Félix Simard sold debentures to stakeholders and community partners and launched a public fund-raising campaign. In the mid-1960s, Gaëtan Schingh, a partner of Mr. Simard, also began issuing public debentures on the hospital’s behalf. But the financial demands of a modern 20th century hospital were high. Mr. Vincent was finally authorized to issue a request to borrow $2 million over 18 years.
“The Hospital decided to issue and sell loan certificates in the form of debentures as a means of borrowing money from the public over a long period of time. Debentures are an unsecured debt, a loan repaid at the end of the term, where the borrower pays the interest at a given period but none of the principal is repaid until the end of the loan. They were issued and sold by securities brokers until the 1960s.”
Gilles Morin, Former Financial Advisor and Chair of Hôpital Montfort Board of Trustees from 2009 to 2011
The Daughters of Wisdom order agreed to mortgage all of its Canadian properties as collateral, which required obtaining permission from the Vatican through an indult.(5)
His Excellency Msgr Alexandre Vachon,
Catholic Archbishop of Ottawa (1940-1953).
(Photo: Montfort Hospital Archives).
In September 1950, the Archbishop of the Ottawa Diocese, Msgr. Alexandre Vachon, received Rome’s response informing him that the Vatican had granted the indult to the Daughters of Wisdom. Mgr. Vachon then issued the long-awaited official permission to proceed with construction.
Historical Milestones (1949-1956): From dream to reality
In the fall of 1949, a vast 48-acre tract of land in Gloucester, annexed to Ottawa, was purchased for the sum of $50,000. This was the former site of the McDonald tree nursery on Montreal Road.
In November, Jean-Serge LeFort was hired as the architect in charge of developing the hospital plans and specifications.
As general contractor, William D’Aoust was placed in charge of performing the work.
(Document: Montfort Hospital Archives).
According to the architect’s drawings, the foundation of the building would be made of reinforced concrete and the structure, steel. Its exterior walls would be pale yellow brick. The hospital would have a T-shape, with patients at the top of the "T" and the various services below.
The Hospital would have eight floors, including two basement floors. The sixth floor would be reserved for the exclusive use of the religious living on site
In December 1949 the hospital adopts its official name, Saint‑Louis‑Marie‑de‑Montfort, in honour of the founder of the Daughters of Wisdom order and the Montfortian Fathers community.
Later, many ceremonies and inaugurations followed.
- July 1950:
(Photo: Montfort Hospital Archives).
The construction site was blessed during a ground-breaking ceremony.
- October‑November 1950:
The City of Ottawa issued a construction permit.
- September 1952:
Msgr. Vachon, Archbishop of Ottawa, blessed and set the cornerstone. Among the documents stored in the box at the centre of this stone were a copy of the Daughters of Wisdom charter, two letters authorizing construction, a series of recently minted coins, stamps, and the front page of each of Ottawa’s daily newspapers, dated the previous day.
- December 1952:
Sister Marie‑Angèle du Saint‑Sacrement (Gracia Leduc) was appointed the hospital’s first administrator.
- January 1953:
The McDonald farm’s stone house was designated as the temporary home of the nuns who were busy arranging the interior of the hospital. They lived there until its opening. Father Ducharme blessed the building and named it Marie‑Louise House in honour of Marie‑Louise Trichet, the first to wear the Daughters of Wisdom habit in 1703.
- October 1953:
The hospital’s official opening ceremony and blessing of the building by the Archbishop of Ottawa, Msgr. Marie‑Joseph Lemieux, took place on October 11th before more than 3,000 guests and dignitaries. On the same day, Obstetrics and Pediatrics received their first patients. One mother gave birth to Montfort’s first baby during the ceremony. Indeed, between October and December 1953, most admissions were made to Pediatrics or Obstetrics. Parents Alda and Léo Côté decided to name their son Louis-Marie in honour of the hospital’s patron saint. After the opening ceremony, Msgr. Lemieux baptized Montfort’s first-born.
Alda Noêl (Mrs. Léo Côté)
and son Louis-Marie, first baby born at the hospital.
(Photo: BAnQ, Centre de l'Outaouais, P174, S1, D2151.2).
- June 1956:
The Daughters of Wisdom of Ontario renewed their corporate constitution giving them the right to administer hospitals. The original is dated 1932.
When it opened, the Hospital was considered one of the most modern of its kind. It housed an emergency room, operating room, laboratory, pharmacy, radiology department and 200 beds. It was the outcome of a close collaboration between the Francophone elite of Eastview, the Montfortian Fathers, the Daughters of Wisdom Order and the leaders of the ACFEO.(6)
The nuns played a major role in the new institution. About thirty of them worked on an annual basis in the hospital during the 1950s and 1960s. They occupied the entire sixth floor of the building. They demonstrated a zeal for their work, night and day, 365 days per year. One has only to read their reminiscing to see how dedicated they were and become aware of the characteristics that defined the hospital: mutual assistance, enthusiasm, determination, daring, resilience and valour are but some of the words that symbolize their values and bear witness to their mission.
Students of the first class of the Montfort Nursing School (l'École d'Infirmières Montfort), in 1956.
(Photo: Archives-FDLS Canada/MAS, R630, 001).
In concert with their administration of the hospital, the Daughters of Wisdom founded a nursing school which opened its doors in 1956. They trained radiology technicians and laboratory technicians in order to recruit qualified Francophone personnel.
The hospital celebrated its 5th and 10th anniversaries in 1958 and 1963, respectively. In the meantime, it signed its first affiliation agreement with the University of Ottawa in 1961, which it later ratified in 1964, making Montfort the fourth hospital affiliated with this establishment.
In 1964 the Daughters of Wisdom handed over management of the hospital to an Executive Committee composed of lay persons, replacing the Council of Governors formerly comprised exclusively of members of religious orders. The Executive Committee and the others that followed agreed to uphold the basic values of the hospital’s founders: compassion and dignity. They also championed community involvement, a spirit of charity and the mission of administering to the less fortunate.
After giving thought to the possibility of constructing a building to house a school of nursing, it finally opened in the mid-1960s on land located behind the hospital. The following year, the hospital celebrated its 15th anniversary.
New building of the Nursing School (École d'Infirmières Montfort), circa 1965-1967.
(Photo: Archives-FDLS Canada/MAS, L1, 2392).
The Daughters of Wisdom administered the hospital and managed to maintain and financially support it until 1969. For 16 years they took charge of delivering care, hiring staff and managing and maintaining the hospital. Under their leadership, the number of beds increased from 200 to 232 and the number of admissions climbed steadily.
By the late 1960s financial pressures were mounting year after year. The Daughters of Wisdom realized that the hospital – still private and Catholic – would not survive unless it became a public institution like most other Canadian hospitals founded by religious congregations.
The announcement of a major change at the hospital came in the early 1970s: Montfort was to become a secular, public hospital.
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- Created in 1909 following the amalgamation of the towns of Janeville, Clarkstown and Clandeboye, Eastview was renamed Vanier in 1969, in honour of the first French-Canadian Governor General, Georges P. Vanier. http://www.museoparc.ca
- Les Premières Années, Montfort Hospital 25th anniversary program (1953-1978), Daughters of Wisdom archives.
- Established in 1910, the goal of the Association canadienne‑française d'éducation de l’Ontario was to encourage the general advancement of Ontario’s French Canadians, protect their interests and advocate for their rights and privileges. It preceded the Association canadienne‑française de l’Ontario (ACFO), now known as the Assemblée de la francophonie de l'Ontario (AFO).
- (Translation) "The Daughters of Wisdom are considered pioneers in the health field among Francophone minorities of Northern and Eastern Ontario. In 1940, they were already administering two hospitals in Canada: the Saint‑Jean‑de‑Brébeuf Hospital in Sturgeon Falls, in Northern Ontario, and Our Lady of the Rosary Hospital in Alberta.” Les Filles de la Sagesse ‒ 300 ans de présence ‒ Sagesse au cœur du monde, insert printed by Le Droit, May 7, 2003, p. A14.
- A term used in church law to refer to a dispensation or exception from the normal law. http://www.eglise.catholique.fr
- Excerpt from the unpublished document, Naissance et développement de l’Hôpital Montfort d’Ottawa (1949‑1953), by Jean Yves Pelletier, 1997.
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Daughters of Wisdom
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