GRAY, HENRY ROBERT, pharmacist, politician, inventor, and businessman; b. 30 Dec. 1838 in Boston, England, son of Robert Gray and Maria Smith; m. 4 June 1861 Catherine Margaret McGale in Montreal, and they had three daughters and a son; d. there 18 Feb. 1908.
Henry R. Gray received his early education at a school in Standard Hill, Nottinghamshire, where he attended classes taught by William Goodacre, a famous author of school texts. He then studied chemistry and pharmacy under William March in Newark (Newark-on-Trent), and chemistry under Henry Enfield Roscoe in Manchester. In 1859 he moved to Montreal, where he busied himself for several years with urban public health and the improvement of sanitary conditions. In 1868 he was one of the founders of the Montreal College of Pharmacy, which was incorporated in 1870 as the Pharmaceutical Association of the Province of Quebec [see John Kerry*]; he served as its secretary, vice-president, and, in 1875–77 and 1891–93, president. He also sat on the province’s Board of Examiners in pharmacy from its inception in 1871 until 1882.
As municipal councillor for Saint-Laurent ward from 1884 to 1887 and chairman of the Montreal Board of Health, Gray had to deal with the smallpox epidemic that in 1885 and 1886 took the lives of 3,164 people in this city of 168,000. On 16 Sept. 1885 it was reported that 30 people – most of them young children – were dying of smallpox every day in Montreal, 210 in the past week, and the epidemic was still spreading. Some doctors, for example Emmanuel-Persillier Lachapelle* and William Hales Hingston, recommended vaccination, but others declared it useless, indeed, dangerous. One of the latter was Joseph Emery-Coderre*, of the Montreal School of Medicine and Surgery, who maintained that the vaccine had not yet proven itself. In fact, vaccines were often tainted or ineffective and revaccination was rarely carried out. Those opposed to the procedure were not all simply backward; they believed that the improvement of sanitary conditions and the amelioration of the social surroundings were prerequisites for the well-being of the population and were the main bulwarks against disease.
In order to counter this opposition, Gray organized a vigorous publicity campaign. It was backed by the English-language press, with Richard White, editor and owner of the Gazette, and Hugh Graham*, editor and owner of the Montreal Daily Star, uniting their efforts in the cause. The mayor, Honoré Beaugrand, saw to it that the strong measures proposed by Gray were implemented. Municipal bylaws made vaccination obligatory and free, infected premises were quarantined, patients were isolated, and those who contravened the regulations were prosecuted.
Like their counterparts in Europe and the United States, the citizens of Montreal, whatever their language, disliked coercion, distrusted new ideas, and were opposed to the isolation of patients and – even more strongly – to vaccination. This opposition became louder when newspapers such as La Minerve, La Presse, and Le Monde fuelled the disputes by giving them a political cast. Doctors knocked at every door to vaccinate and were often roughly dealt with by recalcitrant householders; notices posted on contaminated houses were immediately torn down. These provocative acts had their effect, for in the summer of 1885 riots broke out.
At the height of the epidemic, Gray organized temporary city hospitals at such places as the exhibition grounds and the women’s prison in the parish of Sainte-Brigide, which was altered to meet the need, and he emphasized the necessity of isolating smallpox patients. On his advice, an ambulance service began criss-crossing the city. White and Graham went to the city hall in the company of important businessmen, including Gray, who was making a fortune from the sale of a syrup he had invented, which was named after him. The city council appointed Graham to head a quarantine committee and White to chair a vaccination committee.
Under Gray’s influence, but with enormous difficulty, the municipal authorities managed to gain a modicum of control over the epidemic. The measures adopted met with limited success because they were too radical and aroused the strong opposition of an ill-informed populace that was sceptical about the efficacy of the vaccine. This attempt to stamp out smallpox was encouraging, but it would not be possible to eliminate infectious diseases until after the 1920s. In the 1880s medicine relieved such diseases, but did not cure them. In 1886 Gray got the city council to pass a by-law that household garbage must be burned. An incinerator was built and a five-year contract to collect garbage was let.
Unwilling to give up a number of his flourishing business interests, in 1887 Gray turned down the chance of re-election to the city council and even declined the suggestion of influential people that he seek the mayoralty. The provincial government appointed him a jp in 1887 and a member of the Council of Public Instruction. He was also the government representative on the council of the École Polytechnique in Montreal. An honorary member of the Société d’Hygiène Française de Paris since 1885, he was a life governor of the Montreal General Hospital and Notre-Dame Hospital. When the province’s public health act was passed in 1886, not long after the smallpox epidemic, Gray was named to the provincial health commission, which became the Central Board of Health two years later, and he served on it until his death in 1908.
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