TOUPIN-FAFARD, MATHILDE (baptized Marie-Célina-Mathilde, and known also as Mathilda), teacher, Sister of Charity at the Hôpital Général of Montreal, nurse, and school administrator; b. 27 Dec. 1875 in Saint-Cuthbert, Que., daughter of Odilon Toupin, a farmer, and Marie-Célina Fafard; d. 3 Feb. 1925 in Montreal.
After completing her elementary schooling, Mathilde Toupin-Fafard at the age of about 12 entered the boarding school of the Sisters of St Anne in Saint-Cuthbert, from which she graduated “with high honours.” She spent only three months at the community’s noviciate in Lachine before deciding, at the age of 17, on a teaching career in the village where she was born. She pursued this career until she entered the noviciate of the Sisters of Charity at the Hôpital Général of Montreal on 5 Sept. 1901. The third member of her devout farm family to dedicate her life to the service of the church, she took her final vows on 10 Dec. 1903.
Once in the community, Sister Toupin-Fafard began studying to become a nurse at the school of Notre-Dame Hospital in Montreal, which had been founded in 1897 by her order [see Élodie Mailloux*]. Graduating in 1907, she was assigned to the hospital of the Sisters of Charity in Toledo, Ohio. Her zealous care of patients and her great capacity for learning were soon noticed. To further her education, she enrolled in a pharmacy course at Ohio State University in Columbus and she obtained a diploma in June 1915. As a qualified pharmacist, she was appointed in 1916 to the General Hospital in Edmonton and in July 1918 to the Holy Cross Hospital in Calgary.
Sister Toupin-Fafard returned to Montreal at the time of her father’s death in 1921. Because of her extensive experience, the director of the community’s hospitals, Sister Albertine Pépin-Duckett, chose her as superintendent of nurses at Notre-Dame Hospital. This prestigious position included being head of the training school, a position she would retain until 1924. Through her efforts and her dynamic personality, the school would rank amoung the top centres in French Canada for hospital training.
In addition to the heavy responsibilities of her daily work at Notre-Dame Hospital, Sister Toupin-Fafard laboured to promote the nursing profession among French Canadian women. She played an important role in the Association of Registered Nurses of the Province of Quebec, which had been founded in 1920, serving as its vice-president from 1922 until her death in 1925. At the time she was the only French Canadian woman on the executive committee. Thanks to her, the official minutes were translated and read in French at meetings, and French Canadian members received notices of meetings and ballots in French. She was actively engaged within the association in drawing up the first curriculum of studies for nurses.
Sister Toupin-Fafard’s professional concerns also led her to become a pioneer in nursing education at the university level. In 1923 she became the first director of an advanced course of studies for nurses inaugurated that year at the Université de Montréal. In conjunction with the faculty of medicine and with the support of the university authorities, she organized the courses in public health and dietetics, as well as the first university course for directors of nursing schools. These courses would make an important contribution to establishing professional standards for French-speaking nurses in Quebec, and they would be the starting-point for the creation, in 1934, of the Institut Marguerite-d’Youville, an advanced school for nurses which was attached to the Université de Montréal. In 1923 Sister Toupin-Fafard was also the prime mover in the founding of an association of university-trained nurses.
In the same spirit, Sister Toupin-Fafard was involved in January 1924 in launching the magazine La Veilleuse. This monthly publication for French-speaking nurses fulfilled the desire to maintain a Christian concept of the profession, while taking scientific progress into account.
A woman of great tact who was highly regarded for her affable manners, Sister Mathilde Toupin-Fafard deserves a place of honour in the annals of the nursing profession in Canada. She helped in a significant way to enhance the prestige of French Canadian nurses and the quality of their training.
ANQ-M, CE605-S19, 28 déc. 1875.
Arch. des Sœurs grises (Montréal), Dossier de sœur Mathilda Toupin-Fafard, notice biog.
“À sa mémoire,” La Veilleuse (Montréal), 2 (1925), no.1: 1.
Françoise Côté, “75e anniversaire; jalon important pour les infirmières et infirmiers,” Le Courrier médical (Montréal), 3, no.9 (26 avril 1983): 20–22.
Yolande Cohen, “La contribution des Sœurs de la charité à la modernisation de l'hôpital Notre-Dame, 1880–1940,” CHR, 77 (1996): 185–220.
Yolande Cohen et Éric Vaillancourt, “L'identité professionnelle des infirmières canadiennes-françaises à travers leurs revues (1924–1956),” RHAF, 50 (1996–97): 537–70.
Édouard Desjardins et al., Histoire de la profession infirmière au Québec (Montréal, 1970), 231.
Lucie Deslauriers, “Histoire de l'hôpital Notre-Dame de Montréal, 1880–1924” (mémoire de ma, univ. de Montréal, 1984)