Quick facts

Story kiosk location

  • Corner of Bruyère and Dalhousie

Important dates

  • (1847 – 1849) The grey nuns built a school, hospital, orphanage and old-age home for the local Irish immigrant community.


  • No

Who lived here?

  • Élisabeth Bruyère, a grey nun from Montréal, arrived in what is now Ottawa in 1845 to serve the community. She passed away in 1876.

The painting you are looking at captures a moment from 1847-1848...

Facing a typhoid epidemic, residents of this neighbourhood (Lowertown) were helped by Élisabeth Bruyère and her nursing sisters.

Elisabeth Bruyère 1871 [Library and Archives Canada MIKAN no. 35117479]


In 1845 Elisabeth Bruyère, a Grey Nun from Montreal, became the foundress of the Sisters of Charity community in Lowertown Ottawa.


Original buildings situated on Bruyère and Sussex [bytown.net – http://www.bytown.net/bruyere.htm]


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.



Bruyère and Sisters helping the sick [Painting by Ross]


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.