PHLEM (Flame, Flemme, Le Fène), dit Yvon, YVES, healer; b. at Morlaix, France, son of Guillaume Phlem and Marguerite Péroine; d. 26 Sept. 1749 at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade (Que.).
According to his own testimony Yves Phlem grew up at Morlaix, where presumably he learned the rudiments of the art of healing as then known: bleeding, dressing wounds, and using “several remedies for curing different maladies.” When Phlem arrived in Canada is not known, but he was there in 1724, since on 8 April of that year he married Marie Levreau (L’Heureux) at Sainte-Famille, Île d’Orléans. The couple was living at Saint-Nicolas when their first child was born the following year, and in 1727 they were at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade. It was in that parish that Phlem put into practice, for more than 20 years, his healing knowledge.
It is difficult, however, to determine what his activities as a surgeon were, particularly at the beginning of his career. A great number of documents refer to him by that title, but few tell us anything about his patients and the treatment he gave them. He was above all renowned for curing cancer, and in this field he achieved, it seems, “remarkable cures.” The sick sometimes came from a considerable distance to be treated by him. But Phlem’s treatment was not always efficacious, as is shown by the case of Michel Desmarais, a habitant from Saint-Sulpice who died in 1729 at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade “in the home of the Sieur Yves Phlem, surgeon.”
Nevertheless nothing seems to have disturbed the healer’s peaceful existence until 1735, when what could be called the Bilodeau affair began. Phlem could not have suspected difficulties when he agreed in September 1735 to treat Jean Bilodeau, who was afflicted with a sort of cancer which had “eaten away his lower lip and almost all of his chin.” Before having recourse to Phlem, the sick man, who lived at Saint-François, Île d’Orléans had already been treated by the surgeon Jean Mauvide of Île d’Orléans. As the latter had been unable to check the malady, Bilodeau had gone to Quebec to consult Michel Bertier*, king’s surgeon, and the Jesuit Jean-Jard Boispineau, both of whom considered the malady incurable. Phlem was much more optimistic: in an agreement signed in the presence of Joseph Voyer, the parish priest of Sainte-Anne, he undertook to treat Bilodeau “to the best of his ability for a period of six consecutive months . . . unless the aforementioned Bilodeau is completely cured before the said period of six months.” Phlem promised in addition to supply his patient with board, lodging, and laundry, to dress his wound twice a day, and to give him all necessary care. For his part Bilodeau promised to give the surgeon “for his pains, treatment, and supplies” the sum of 500 livres, payable in three instalments.
Unfortunately the six months went by without the over-confident Phlem curing his patient, or the over-trusting Bilodeau paying his doctor. On 25 March 1736 the two men ratified their previous agreement before the notary Arnould-Balthazar Pollet. Bilodeau, who still owed Phlem 400 livres, mortgaged all his belongings in favour of the latter. It was to no avail, for the patient, suffering more and more, died on the following 10 May in Phlem’s house.
This death was to have unpleasant consequences for Phlem. Marie Turgeon, Jean Bilodeau’s widow, refused to make the payments which the surgeon demanded according to his agreement with the patient. On 14 Oct. 1736, therefore, Phlem presented a request concerning this matter before the provost court of Quebec. He had cause to regret it. On 15 March 1737 the lieutenant general for civil and criminal affairs, Pierre André de Leigne, not only declared the agreement between Yves Phlem and Jean Bilodeau null and void, “whereas the aforementioned appellant has no qualifications as a surgeon and cannot be recognized as such,” but strictly forbad him to “assume in the future the profession of surgeon and to exercise its functions,” on pain of a severe fine. The decision did, however, award Phlem the sum of 120 livres, since he had lodged and boarded the deceased for eight months.
Phlem was greatly discontented with this decision and appealed to the Conseil Supérieur, to whom he presented a long memorial dated 22 March containing his complaints. In it he explained, in much detail, that his healer’s talents could not be questioned and that it was his duty to utilize them, “otherwise one could apply the parable of the Saviour of the world, and what He said against him who had hidden what had been given him. . . . When the master asked him for an account of it, he was punished for having done so.” Imbued with these pious sentiments, Phlem had up till then carried out the functions of a surgeon publicly and had earned the approbation of his fellow-citizens. He had, he said, even obtained the protection of the authorities; for example, Intendant Hocquart*, whose great “exactness . . . in correcting abuses” no one could question, had never forbidden him to practise his profession, although he was perfectly well aware of his activities. In his memorial Phlem also stressed his agreement with Bilodeau which the provost court had refused to recognize. The agreement in question could not be annulled, he maintained, since it had been ratified by a deed signed before a notary. He asked the Conseil Supérieur therefore to enforce the clauses in the deed and make the widow Bilodeau pay him his due. To back up his argument Phlem presented, along with his memorial, the minutes of a protest meeting held at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade on 22 March 1737. They had been written up by the notary Pollet and signed by the parish priest, the local seigneur, Pierre-Thomas Tarieu de La Pérade, and a great number of habitants. All bore witness to the surgeon’s good reputation and asked the Conseil Supérieur to overrule the judgement of the provost court and allow Phlem to continue practising his profession.
The Conseil Supérieur submitted the case to the surgeon Jourdain Lajus, who declared that Phlem had no choice but to obtain letters of qualification if he wanted to practise his profession. When it met on 13 April 1737 to render its verdict, the Conseil Supérieur took this opinion into consideration. It dismissed Phlem’s appeal and called upon him to take out surgeon’s papers. On the other hand, the court sentenced the widow Bilodeau to pay the appellant the sum of 180 livres, 60 more than the provost court had awarded the healer.
Despite its severity this judgement does not seem to have unduly impressed Phlem, who took no steps to obtain letters patent and continued to treat the sick. It is true that any request on his part would probably have been refused, since his surgical knowledge was much more empirical than theoretical, and this he surely realized. Moreover, he was not unaware that as long as no one lodged any new complaints against him, he could continue to practise as a surgeon without being disturbed.
The years following the Bilodeau affair were quiet. It seems that Phlem’s reputation had remained intact in the eyes of his fellow-citizens. As in the past, the healer continued receiving sick persons in his home. No complaint was brought against him, even if there might have been some occasions to do so. Indeed, according to the parish records of Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade, three of his patients died in his home: Nicolas Marion in 1738; Paul Desmarais, from Verchères, who was suffering from dropsy, in 1739; and Gabriel Desmaisons, a Saint-Maurice ironworks employee who also had dropsy, in 1742. But there were certainly many who found relief thanks to him.
Yves Phlem died at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade on 26 Sept. 1749 and was buried the next day “in the presence of the greater part of the said parish.” The inventory of the deceased’s belongings was drawn up on the following 3 October by the notary Pollet. Strangely enough, he makes no mention either of remedies or of surgical instruments!
AJTR, Greffe d’A.-B. Pollet, 25 mars 1736, 3 oct. 1749. ANQ, NF, Coll. de pièces jud. et not., 1145, 2406. Archives paroissiales de Sainte-Anne (La Pérade, Qué.), Registres des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures, 10 mai 1736, 22 juill. 1738, 12 déc. 1739, 22 févr. 1742, 27 sept. 1749. P.-G. Roy, Inv. coll. pièces jud. et not., I, 217; Inv. jug. et délib., 1717–1760, III, 170, 172. Tanguay, Dictionnaire. Ahern, Notes pour l’histoire de la médecine. Raymond Douville, “Chirurgiens, barbiers-chirurgiens et charlatans de la région trifluvienne sous le régime français,” Cahiers des Dix, XV (1950), 114–18. Sylvio Leblond, “La médecine dans la province de Québec avant 1847,” Cahiers des Dix, XXXV (1970), 69–74. Victor Morin, “L’évolution de la médecine au Canada français,” Cahiers des Dix, XXV (1960), 64–71.