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The Nurse of La Corne

For the week of Monday May 14, 2007

Gertrude Duchemin was born on May 20, 1910, in Sainte-Thècle in Mauricie. She was one of the hundreds of French Canadian nurses who travelled to Quebec’s new settlements to practice nursing in the 1930s. She remained at her post at the La Corne nursing station in Abitibi-Témiscamingue for 40 years, from 1936 to 1976.

Gertrude Duchemin
Gertrude Duchemin
© Desparois, Paysanna Journal 1946
The economic crisis of the 1930s hit all Canadians hard. In order to help the unemployed, the federal and provincial governments developed “back to the land” policies to encourage thousands of urban families to settle in sparsely populated regions. This migration to the regions resulted in a pressing need for health care for the settlers. Quebec’s Service medical aux colons (medical service for settlers), created to deal with the shortage of doctors, hired Gertrude Duchemin to provide health care services in the young community of La Corne, which was established in 1935.

 

La Corne Nursing Station National Historic Site of Canada in 1946
La Corne Nursing Station National Historic Site of Canada in 1946
© Desparois, Paysanna Journal 1946
Gertrude Duchemin was at that time a young graduate nurse from Lachine Hospital, which was run by the Sisters of Providence. She had only worked for a short time in private practice and at a Montréal hospital before facing the immense challenge of running a dispensary. In addition to promoting public health, delivering babies and performing routine nursing work, nurse Duchemin’s work also required forays into the fields of medicine, pharmacology and dentistry. The dispensary was not built until 1940. Between 1936 and 1940, Gertrude Duchemin lived in a community building that also housed the church, school and rectory. She fended for herself in poor conditions in a remote area. She had to travel at a moment’s notice, at any time of the day or night and in every kind of weather imaginable. When she arrived in La Corne, the community did not yet have effective transportation or communications systems. She had to get about using the means provided by the settlers, who also came to see her at the dispensary. Because of the important role she played in the community and the nature of her work, she was not required to follow some of norms of the time and was able to enjoy certain freedoms usually reserved for men, such as wearing pants and going out alone at night.

Gertrude Duchemin spent her entire nursing career serving the residents of La Corne. Like many outpost settlement nurses, she helped settle and develop the social fabric of a remote region of Quebec. The La Corne Nursing Station, where she lived from 1940 until her death in 1990, was designated a National Historic Site in 2004.

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