It’s 1905 and Jean-Louis is starting his university studies at the faculty of medicine at  Laval University in Quebec City. One day, he will be a doctor like his father and work with him at his Saint-Hyacinthe practice.

Jean-Louis wants to specialize in children’s medicine because many infants die before their first birthday. For every 1000 births in Quebec in 1905, 153 babies die before the age of one. In 1997, the infant mortality rate was 5.6 children per 1000 births.

What were children dying of? Many died of gastrointestinal diseases caused by the poor quality of the milk and water. Water needed to be treated (by filtration or chlorination) and milk needed to be pasteurized. But this wasn’t the case at the time; water only started being treated in 1910 and the mandatory pasteurization of milk only became a law in 1926.

They were also dying of contagious diseases: smallpox, diphtheria and tuberculosis, to name just the most widespread ones. In 1905, a hospital for contagious diseases has just been opened: the hôpital Saint-Paul. Jean-Louis learned that the smallpox epidemic in Montreal in 1885 caused 3164 deaths—2717 of which were in children. There was a law that made vaccination compulsory, but people did not respect it because they were afraid of vaccines. When he became a doctor, he would have to explain its importance to parents.

See French Video:  La santé La Quebec vers 1905 at

Did you know?

In Jean-Louis’ day, there were no health insurance cards. People had to pay for medical treatment. A patient’s outlook therefore depended greatly on whether he was rich or poor. To avoid paying for health care, people had to prove that they could not afford it and that there was no one in their family who could help. In such cases, the government, church or municipality paid for the costs. The Catholic Church financially supported the Francophone health care system, while the English-speaking middle class financially supported the Anglophone network.

Finding medical treatment in the countryside was even more difficult, since there were few hospitals in rural areas. The local doctor often had to travel to patients’ homes to treat them.

Author: Service national du Récit de l’univers social