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Trapped at Tracadie

For the week of Monday April 8, 2013

On April 8, 1896, leprosy (Hansen's Disease) patients in Tracadie, New Brunswick, moved into a new stone building where they could live and receive treatment. Tracadie was the only place in 19th-century Canada that maintained a building specifically for leprosy patients, called a lazaretto.

Nuns and leprosy patients at the lazaretto in Tracadie, 1874
© Musée Historique de Tracadie

There is debate as to how leprosy reached New Brunswick, though it was most likely brought by two patients who escaped from a lazaretto in Norway. The patients sought shelter in Tracadie and transmitted the disease to some of the locals. The first Canadian fatality due to leprosy occured in 1828. By 1844, the disease had spread. The provincial government quarantined all infected persons in warehouses on Sheldrake Island, just east of Miramichi, New Brunswick. Although they were promised medical attention, these patients lived in terrible conditions without anyone to care for them. In 1849, they were moved to a wooden lazaretto within Tracadie.

Conditions only improved when the Religieuses Hospitalières de Saint-Joseph arrived in Tracadie in 1868. They provided care for the leprosy patients and opened a small clinic where they dispensed remedies to the sick in the region. In 1880, the federal government took over the lazaretto, but the nuns continued to be in charge of its administration. As New Brunswick grew, so did its medical needs. In 1893, the government approved the construction of a new general hospital, which would include a stone lazaretto. The lazaretto was completed on April 8, 1896, and provided a cleaner and more comfortable environment for the leprosy patients. In 1898, a new wing with 30 beds was added to the lazaretto making it the Hôtel-Dieu Saint-Joseph de Tracadie, a general hospital.

Lazaretto and cloister of Tracadie
© Musée Historique de Tracadie

The building was ravaged by a fire in 1943 but was rebuilt soon afterwards. By this point, leprosy had greatly declined and the new hospital included only a small secondary facility to house any persons infected with leprosy. In 1991, the provincial government built a new hospital to serve patients in the region and the Hôtel-Dieu Saint-Josphe de Tracadie, including the lazaretto, was demolished.

The Hôtel-Dieu Saint-Joseph de Tracadie was commemorated as a national historic event in 1992. It depicts the evolution of Canadian healthcare, specifically in the treatment of leprosy. More than 200 leprosy patients were treated at the Tracadie hospital.

For more information about the history of the lazaretto in Tracadie, visit the Musée Historique de Tracadie. For more information about the development of healthcare in Canada, visit the This Week in History archives: Ground Broken for New Nurses' Home, NONIA: A Welcome Addition to the Community!, The Nurse of La Corne, The Rewarding Life of Dorothy Dworkin, The Victorian Order of Nurses in Canada, Wilfred Grenfell - A Generous Soul, and Women Doctors.

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