Quebec City is celebrating a number of significant anniversaries in 2014, including the 350th anniversary of the founding of the parish of Notre-Dame de Québec, and the 375th anniversary of the arrival of the Augustinian Sisters (in French only)—pioneers in health care in Quebec—and the Ursuline Sisters.
The establishment of a hospital in New France
In 1637, the Duchess of Aiguillon, niece of Cardinal Richelieu, agreed to finance the founding of a hospital in Quebec City to care for the Aboriginal population and the colonists. On August 1, 1639, the first three Augustinian Hospitaller Sisters arrived in Quebec City after a long and arduous three-month crossing on board the Saint-Joseph. Those three Sisters were Marie Guenet de Saint-Ignace, who was the first superior of the community, Anne Lecointe de Saint-Bernard and Marie Forestier de Saint-Bonaventure-de-Jésus.
They founded a first hospital in Sillery, on the outskirts of Quebec City, near the Jesuits. However, with the Iroquois threat, the Sisters felt it best to remain within the walls of the city, and opened the Hôtel-Dieu de Québec in 1646, in Quebec City’s Upper Town. The Augustinian Sisters not only took care of the sick at the hospital, they also took in abandoned children between 1800 and 1850, and welcomed and cared for immigrants upon their arrival at the port of Quebec City.
Among the women who joined the order was the first nun of Canadian birth, Marie-Françoise Giffard (daughter of seigneur Robert Giffard), and Marie-Catherine de Saint-Augustin (beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1989).
The Augustinians today
The work of the Augustinians forms the basis of today’s health care system in Quebec. The nuns founded a total of 12 monastery hospitals throughout Quebec, acting as administrators, nurses and pharmacists. Today, all of those hospitals form part of Quebec’s public health network and are still in operation.
To learn more
Library and Archives Canada has a number of records relating to the Augustinian community and their first hospital, in particular the Fonds de l’Hôtel-Dieu de Québec. You can also do an archives search to find other documents or images. For a definitive history of the Augustinians, we recommend La croix et le scalpel : histoire des Augustines et de l’Hôtel-Dieu de Québec, 1639–1989 (in French only), by François Rousseau.