20 PHASES OF OUR HISTORY
Discover our heritage
As healthcare workers, apothecaries, founders of Québec’s healthcare system, and managers of hospitals, the Augustinians have a compelling story to tell!
The Augustinians bequeathed their precious founding monastery as well as their archives and collections to the current and future generations in order to ensure that their history stays alive. Today, Le Monastère des Augustines is a heritage site-and a haven for respite and well-being for all visitors with a particular attention for those who take care.
The founders of our health system convey a profoundly humanist message, filled with compassion and hope, through the 20 phases of their history, which spanned from 1639 until today
20 phases of their history, from 1639 until today
THE COMMUNITY – The founders arrive in Québec (August 1, 1639)
After a perilous crossing, three Augustinians, Marie Guenet de Saint-Ignace, Anne Le Cointre de Saint-Bernard and Marie Forestier de Saint-Bonaventure, accompanied by three Ursulines, arrived in Québec on August 1, 1639. During their history, the Augustinians founded 12 hospital monasteries. By laying the foundations for Québec’s current healthcare system, they have contributed to its development as well as to the life of the regions in which they have tirelessly worked as owners and managers of hospitals, infirmaries and pharmacies. The history of the Augustinians is a lesson in humanity. Thanks to their courage, these pioneer women, once cloistered, were able to share their values in our society: compassion for human suffering, complete respect for the person, and the ambition to provide aligned with science.
Community life has greatly contributed to the success and survival of the Augustine mission over the centuries. The Augustinians placed great emphasis on comfort and mutual recognition.
CONSTANCE – The Augustinians record their history (April 22, 1662)
Jeanne-Françoise Juchereau (Sister Saint-Ignace) entered the Hôtel-Dieu de Québec monastery on April 22, 1662. She was the Superior of her community and author of the first Annales de l’Hôtel-Dieu de Québec, 1636–1716. This was the first book written by a woman born on Canadian soil. In addition, these first Annals herald a tradition that would never be interrupted in the history of the Augustinian hospital monasteries: the writing of their daily history. Even today, an annalist is appointed from among the sisters to continue this written tradition.
The Augustinians’ daily actions demonstrate constant determination and diligence. Even today, they meet at fixed times for their rituals, their duties, their moments of action and contemplation. In June 2020, they added an outdoor walk to their daily lives to support those who take care of sick or vulnerable people.
INCLUSION – Foundation of the Hôpital Général de Québec (1692-1693)
The Hôpital général de Québec was officially founded on March 30, 1692 by a patent letter from King Louis XIV. To set up the hospital, Bishop of Saint-Vallier acquired a large parcel of property from the Recollets, which was located outside the city on the banks of the Saint-Charles River, already comprising a church and a convent. At the Bishop's request, the Augustinians of the Hôtel-Dieu de Québec appointed four sisters to take charge of the hospital in March 1693. From 1699, the Hôpital général de Québec community became autonomous and no longer belonged to that of the Hôtel-Dieu de Québec.
The sisters took in old people, the chronically ill, the infirm, prostitutes, people suffering from psychological disorders and the war wounded. The Hôpital général de Québec also provided long-term care. This central mission continues today, since this hospital specializes in caring for the elderly and is now part of Québec’s CHSLD network.
DETERMINATION – A delicate and successful operation (1700)
The first mastectomy in Canada (and most likely in North America) took place in 1700 at the Hôtel-Dieu de Québec. Michel Sarrazin, who arrived in Québec in 1685 as a marine surgeon, performed this delicate operation. He cared for the sick at Hôtel-Dieu while practicing his profession with sailors and soldiers. In 1694 he returned to France for more education and returned to Québec three years later with a medical degree.
In 1698, Marie Barbier stayed four months with the Augustinians to receive treatment for a tumour in her right breast. Two years later, Dr. Sarrazin diagnosed her with cancer, for which an operation seemed the only possible solution. The operation was performed on May 29, 1700. At the time of her operation, Sister Barbier was 37 years old, and she survived another 39 years. The determination of the doctor and the Augustinians, who operated the hospital, helped this patient to live for many more years.
VOCATION – Boarding school for girls: A new vocation (1726)
A new mission was entrusted to the Augustinians at the Hôpital général de Québec. The sisters had to take young girls under their wings to educate them, both intellectually and morally. The boarding school opened its doors to its first students in September 1726. Over the years, the origins of the residents diversified. The boarding school closed in 1868.
The Augustinians accepted that their role should be broadened to suit the needs of the people. When they had a new responsibility within society, they took it to heart and made it their vocation. This was also the case with the reception of abandoned babies between 1801 and 1850.
COURAGE –The Hôtel-Dieu de Québec monastery burns down (1755)
On June 7, 1755, a fire destroyed the Hôtel-Dieu monastery, its hospital and church, part of the outbuildings and five neighbouring homes. The Augustinians first took refuge with the Ursulines, then at the Jesuit convent, where they opened rooms for the sick.
As of November 27, 1755, the community decided to undertake the repair of the monastery, which the Augustinians reintegrated in 1757. The crisis marking the end of the French regime brought the community to the brink of a financial abyss. It would take them 15 years to repay everything.
RESILIENCE – The Augustinians during war time (1759)
In July 1759, General Wolfe besieged Québec City. Sisters from the Hôtel-Dieu and Ursulines took refuge in the Hôpital général de Québec. Wounded soldiers from both armies were brought in by the hundreds. On September 13, the English and the French clashed during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.
A few days later, the English generals provided protection for the Hôpital général and instructed the sisters to care for the wounded and other sick, in addition to taking care of a 30-man guard. The two armies’ officers were on neutral ground when on hospital territory. The sisters had only a small apartment in which to retire.
The Augustinians of the Hôtel-Dieu returned home three days after Québec’s surrender, on September 21, 1759. They discovered that the British army had taken over their premises. This cohabitation would last 25 years, and would permanently come to an end in 1784.
The war generated expenses and losses that left the sisters on the verge of bankruptcy. In 1767, the misfortunes of the time forced the Augustinians of the Hôpital général to sell the Seigneury of St-Vallier, which was their main source of livelihood.
HOSPITALITY – The reopening of the Hôtel-Dieu de Québec (1784)
During the year 1784, the Augustinians of the Hôtel-Dieu announced the departure of the British soldiers. The beds would once again be available for the local sick population. On May 1 of the same year, they officially opened the doors of their hospital, which enabled them to fulfill their mission of care and their vow of hospitality.
COMPASSION – Taking in abandoned children (1801-1850)
At the government's request, the Augustinians at the Hôtel-Dieu took charge of picking up abandoned children and placing them with families. Between 1801 and 1850, the Augustinians cared for nearly 1400 children. Of these, 532 were placed with new families thanks to the Augustinian community at the Hôtel-Dieu de Québec. It should also be noted that 7% of the children were handed back to their parents. However, among the 1400 children, more than half died at an early age.
Compassion has always been one of the Augustinians’ fundamental values, a value upon which they founded their mission and based their existence.
GROWTH – Expansion of the Hôtel-Dieu de Québec (1816-1825)
Thanks to a grant, work began in the fall of 1816 to construct of a new hospital that could accommodate more patients. It would take nine years and two more substantial grants (in 1818 and 1821) to complete this project, which was completed in 1825.
The opening of this new hospital was an important step in the medicalization of care and the creation of structured medical services. Two doctors and two surgeons would now alternate between caring for the sick. In addition, the birth of anaesthesia (1848), followed by antisepsis and asepsis at the end of the century, reduced the risks associated with surgery.
ALLIANCE – First partnership between the hospital and the university (1855)
The Hôtel-Dieu de Québec became the first hospital affiliated with the Université Laval School of Medicine. University students could now follow doctors during their patient visits.
Upon their arrival in North America, the Augustinians signed a pact of friendship with the Ursulines, as they have always attached great importance to cooperation.
RELIEF – The largest fire in Québec (October 14, 1866)
On October 14, 1866, a huge fire destroyed the entire St-Roch district and part of that of St-Sauveur. Approximately 1800 families were left homeless. The Augustinians of the Hôpital général accommodated as many victims as possible and provided them with food and clothing. The monastery was saved from near flames.
OUVERTURE – Foundation of monasteries outside of the Québec City Region (1884)
In the early 1880s, the need for a hospital to serve the Saguenay population became apparent. At the time, there were only seven or eight doctors practicing in that territory, and the Port of Chicoutimi was becoming intensely busy. Passing sailors seeking immediate treatment found refuge in families, thus causing a contamination problem as well as moral consequences caused by this “promiscuity.” The authorities deemed opening a hospital as a necessity, so on May 24, 1884, five Augustinians arrived in Chicoutimi and began their work with sailors, the sick and the most destitute.
A few years before the Hôtel-Dieu de Chicoutimi was founded, the sisters had founded a third hospital in Québec, the Hôtel-Dieu du Sacré-Coeur (1873). Thereafter, the Augustinians would answer the call of several other Québec cities needing a hospital and diversified care. They founded hospitals in Lévis (1892), Roberval (1918), Gaspé (1926), Saint-Georges-de-Beauce (1949), Montmagny (1951), Alma (1954), Jonquière (1955) and Dolbeau (1955).
PASSING THE TORCH – The nursing school (1904)
Until the beginning of the 20th century, the Augustinians, responsible for the care of the sick, learned by reproducing the actions of their elders. The end of the 19th century saw the birth of a medical revolution; the demands within the hospital were increasing.
It was in 1904 that the first nursing school was established at the Hôtel-Dieu de Québec, due to the growing need for qualified nursing staff. This included training at the Hôtel-Dieu for medical students and specialized doctors, which demonstrates that the Augustinians had to make choices to adapt to new trends and other scientific discoveries as well as new requirements in terms of the healthcare transformation. From that point on, other hospitals belonging to the Augustinians would open nursing schools.
The Hôtel-Dieu de Québec School of Nursing closed in 1972 after producing 1343 graduates.
ADVERSITY – The Spanish Flu in Québec (1918)
The second world wave of the Spanish Flu hit Québec City in mid-October 1918, killing an average of 40 people a day during its first week. Theatres, schools, taverns and even churches were closed for three weeks. Businesses operated with limited hours.
The Augustinians successfully managed a good part of the crisis, despite ignorance of the disease’s causes and the remedies to fight it. The economic crisis following the First World War was also felt; resources were lacking, and attempts at vaccines, remedies and isolation (quarantine) techniques proved ineffective. The three hospital monasteries in Québec City were mobilized to fight this epidemic, but soon, the hospitals’ premises no longer had the capacity.
During this time, the disease affected 58 of the 138 Augustinians at the Hôtel-Dieu de Québec. One of them died, and three others died from tuberculosis because the influenza virus had weakened their immune systems. At the Hôpital Général, 28 Augustinians fell ill, but all survived. At the Hôtel-Dieu du Sacré-Coeur, the illness was particularly aggressive. Three novices and young sisters died after contracting the virus.
CELEBRATION Tercentenary celebrations (1939)
The summer of 1939 was marked by festivities commemorating the tercentenary of the foundation of the first Augustinian monastery-hospital and their arrival in New France. For the occasion, the sisters decided to underline the celebrations in a memorable way and to completely revise the layout of their garden in order to hold a big fair that they wanted to be historic. Small buildings were erected for the event to serve as kiosks. This great fair began on August 28, 1939 and it lasted for five consecutive days. For the first time, the gardens were then opened to the Québec population, who joined the sisters for the celebrations.
ADAPTABILITY – The Reorganization of Québec’s hospital system (1961-1962)
The provincial government passed two private laws that required a separate legal existence for the community and hospital corporations. This administrative reform accompanied the Québec Government’s reorganization of the hospital system, which had just brought into force a law pertaining to hospital insurance and would enact hospital legislation in the summer of 1962.
Once again the Augustinians would have to adapt to a great change. They would continue to work as employees rather than administrators.
END OF THE CLOISTER – Closure of the Second Vatican Council and end of the cloister (December 8, 1965)
On December 25, 1961, the Pope officially convened thousands of sisters to Vatican Council II. The main objectives of the council were to promote the growth of the Catholic faith, to ensure the moral renewal of Christian life, and to adapt the Church to the needs of the present time. The purpose of this event was to respond to the profound changes that had marked the world during the 20th century. The results were great changes for the Augustinians and other religious communities in Québec and elsewhere.
The council marked the end of cloistered life for the Augustinians, and the sisters could see their family members again, a privilege they had given up upon entering the community.
Other customs, worship services and liturgies were also abolished, but this was the most significant for the Augustinians.
RENEWAL – The official opening of Le Monastère des Augustines (August 1, 2015)
Faced with their community’s decline, the Augustinians made the choice to pass on, during their lifetime, their precious heritage to the population. This is why they have created a charitable trust to which they have ceded their founding monastery as well as collections and archives from their 12 hospital monasteries.
It is thanks to this important legacy that Le Monastère des Augustines project was born, and it opened its doors to the general public in 2015 after several years of major work. This exceptional heritage building includes a museum, an archive centre, a museum reserve, a unique experience hotel, a restaurant focused on conscious eating, multifunctional rooms, a specialized care centre, programs and several other activities focused on global health. It has become a place of healing and, at the Augustinians’ request, a place of respite and well-being for healthcare workers and caregivers, whom they affectionately call their "natural successors."
CONTINUITY From here forward…
The Augustinians’ legacy now belongs to the people. Our generation now has this invaluable heritage, which is unique in the world. The current generation is responsible to continue writing this history of Western health for present and future generations, a history that could continue for at least another 400 years. Now it’s up to us to decide which path its future will take.
LET'S STAY IN TOUCH