The Founding of the Hotel Dieu Hospital 175 Years Ago

In 1841, Kingston’s Bishop Remigius Gaulin wrote to Bishop Ignace Bourget of Montreal asking him to allow the Sisters of the Hotel Dieu of Montreal, the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph (RHSJs), to found a hospital in Kingston to care for the increasing number of poor Irish Catholics who settled in the city following the completion of the construction of the Rideau Canal.

After travelling to Kingston to see the scope of the problem, Bishop Bourget gave his consent and he approached the Superior in Montreal about the foundation. The RHSJs agreed to found a new hospital and four Sisters were selected to serve in this new mission. Their plans, however, were put on hold for four years as Kingston was named capital of the United Province of Canada in 1841 and housing became scarce.

Portrait of Mother Amable Bourbonnière painted by Michael Walker (1982) after lost original. RHSJ St. Joseph Region Archives, Kingston.

In May 1845, the opportunity to establish the foundation finally presented itself and Sister Amable Bourbonnière, who was elected to be the first Superior of the new community, traveled to Kingston with two lay benefactors of the RHSJ. A suitable location was found on Brock St. and two limestone buildings were purchased for use as a hospital and orphanage and for the Sisters’ monastery.

Modern photograph of the original Hotel Dieu, Kingston – the Monastery at 233 Brock St. and the original Hospital at 229 Brock St. RHSJ St. Joseph Region Archives, Kingston.

Dressed in secular clothing, Mother Bourbonnière, foundress and first Superior, with Sisters Huguette Claire Latour, Louise Davignon, and Emilie Barbari, travelled by steamer from Montreal to Kingston on September 1st, 1845, accompanied by their benefactor Mme Josephine Perras. They arrived on September 2nd, staying with the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame before moving into their hospital building (now 229 Brock St) on September 4th. They saw their first patient on September 7th (some sources state the first patient was seen on September 12th).

The RHSJs lived in their hospital building for more than a month while they completed preparations on their monastery. They moved into their new home at 233 Brock St. by the end of October, freeing up space in the hospital for additional beds and for use as an orphanage.

Notice published in the Kingston Chronicle & Gazette announcing the Hotel Dieu Hospital was open and accepting patients. Similar notices were also placed in the Kingston Herald and The British Whig. The notices began running on September 16th, 1845 and continued to appear as late as December 1846. RHSJ St. Joseph Region Archives, Kingston.

Opening two months before the Kingston General Hospital, the Hotel Dieu was the first permanent hospital in the city and, despite the predominantly Anglo-Protestant population, the RHSJ and their Hotel Dieu was welcomed by the newspapers and by many in the wider community.

Over the course of the next fifty years, the RHSJ expanded the Hotel Dieu to five buildings on Brock Street but the needs of the poor and sick in the community continued to grow. In December 1892 they moved the hospital into the former Regiopolis College building on Sydenham Street. Over the course of the next century, expansions continued until the Hotel Dieu Hospital occupied the entire city block, providing caring and compassionate care to all who required it.

View of Regiopolis College from St. Mary’s Cathedral before 1892. In 1892, a new entranceway in the western wall was among the renovations overseen by local architect William Newlands. RHSJ St. Joseph Region Archives, Kingston.

For more on the founding and history of the Hotel Dieu Hospital,  please see Celebrating 175 Years of Compassionate Care at the Hotel Dieu Hospital, Kingston

Rodney Carter
Archivist
St. Joseph Region Archives of the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph, Kingston, ON.

Cover: Drawing of the RHSJs arriving in Kingston on September 2nd, 1845. Three Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph are shown being greeted by Bishop Patrick Phelan and two Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame. RHSJ St. Joseph Region Archives, Kingston.

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