This Week in History


Grey Nuns Arrive at Saint-Boniface

For the week of Monday June 15, 1998

On June 21, 1844, four Sisters of Charity stepped ashore at the Red River parish of Saint-Boniface, in present-day Winnipeg. Answering a plea made by Bishop Joseph-Norbert Provencher, these women, better known as the Grey Nuns, were part of the first religious community to settle in the Canadian West. After 59 gruelling days of canoeing and portaging through complete wilderness, Sisters Valade, Lagrave, Lafrance and Coutlée arrived at their new home.

The Grey Nuns' Convent (Provincial House)

The Grey Nuns' Convent (Provincial House)
© Parks Canada

There were about 6,000 people living in the Red River settlement when the nuns arrived. Within weeks of their arrival, the Grey Nuns began holding classes in makeshift schools for the children of Saint-Boniface. After their convent, the Provincial House, was completed in 1847, the Grey Nuns transferred their classes there. As the population grew, the Grey Nuns took charge of numerous new schools throughout the west.

First Saint-Boniface General Hospital, 1871

First Saint-Boniface General Hospital, 1871
© Grey Nun Archives, St. Boniface 2/32

Although the nuns' main focus had been on teaching, their responsibilities expanded to meet the needs of the settlement, including medical care for the settlers. They made some 6,000 house calls within their first ten years in Saint-Boniface! When smallpox broke out in 1870, they vaccinated over 3,000 people. Until the appropriate health care facilities could be built, the Grey Nuns used the Provincial House to care for the sick, the elderly, and the growing number of orphans. On August 5, 1871, the Grey Nuns opened the four-bed Saint-Boniface General Hospital. This was the first hospital in the West. After numerous expansions, a hospital remains open on the same site today.

The Grey Nuns' Convent was declared a National Historic Site in 1958. A rare example of "Red River frame" construction, and the only original building from the pre-Confederation Saint-Boniface mission, this building is now open as the Saint-Boniface Museum (Manitoba, Canada).

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