In 1845 Elisabeth Bruyère, a Grey Nun from Montreal, became the foundress of the Sisters of Charity community in Lowertown Ottawa.
The original buildings completed between 1847-49 were located between Cathcart Street and Bolton Street (now Bruyère Street). It was here that Bruyère and the Sisters worked tirelessly to save lives during the typhus outbreak in 1847.
The typhus epidemic of 1847 was brought about by the massive influx of Irish immigrants who came on disease ridden ships fleeing famine in their motherland. The Sisters of Charity devoted themselves to building barracks to house the sick and to provide for them essential services and care.
Bruyère and the Sisters treated hundreds of patients with virtually no assistance. The mental and physical strain on the Sisters caused many to fall ill themselves, including Bruyère. She writes about the hardships they faced in one of her letters:
The Sisters are starting to feel exhausted. I do not know if they can hold out, being so few and receiving help from no one, especially to sit up at night –Sr E. Bruyère. – July 9th, 1847
This story was researched and developed by Kelsea McKenna as a contribution to the Workers’ History Museum’s Capital History Kiosk’s project for Ottawa 2017. It formed part of her course work for Professor David Dean’s graduate seminar on museums, national identity, and public memory (Department of History, Carleton University). Kelsea would like to thank Gabrielle Marchand and the Sisters of Charity of Ottawa (ASCO) for their assistance and Ross Rheaume whose painting adorns the installation.
Thanks also to Megan Michie of the City of Ottawa and Marie-Soleil Bergeron of Ottawa 2017 for their assistance, and to councillor Mathieu Fleury for their support.
This entry for capitalhistory.ca and its related installation at Bank and Exhibition was made possible by Ottawa 2017, CIBC and the three Arts, Culture and Heritage Program Stewarding Partners AOE Arts Council, Ottawa Arts Council and Council of Heritage Organizations of Ottawa.
It was funded by a City of Ottawa 2017 Arts, Culture and Heritage Investment Programme Grant.