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BERNIER, ARTHUR (baptized Louis-Arthur), bacteriologist, pathologist, and professor; b. 1 Oct. 1873 in Montreal, son of Charles-Télesphore Bernier, a merchant, and Aurélie-Julienne Rivard-Bellefeuille; d. unmarried 29 April 1928 at Notre-Dame Hospital in Montreal.

After completing his elementary schooling at the École Olier in Montreal, Arthur Bernier entered the Collège Sainte-Marie for his classical studies. In 1893 he began his medical course at the Montreal branch of the Université Laval. He received his md with distinction in 1897, and became an intern at Notre-Dame Hospital. On 7 July of that year he was licensed to practise by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Province of Quebec. Interested in bacteriology, a new specialty whose importance he fully understood, and probably influenced by Dr Michel-Thomas Brennan of Notre-Dame Hospital, who had set up a small bacteriology laboratory there, he decided in 1898 to spend a year studying at the Institut Pasteur in Paris. He took a course in “microbial technique” [see Oscar-Félix Mercier] that had been started on 15 March 1889 by Dr Émile Roux, a close associate of Louis Pasteur. Roux also won renown for his research on diphtheria vaccine. He had an assistant, Alexandre Yersin, who would discover the plague bacillus in 1894. At the time Bernier enrolled in the course, which was based essentially on medical bacteriology, it was taught jointly by Dr Roux and Dr Élie Metchnikoff. The latter would become one of the founders of immunology, mainly as a result of his work on phagocytosis. To this team of pioneers were added Louis Martin and Gaston Ramon, who would carry out experiments on diphtheria immunization under Roux’s direction. It was as part of this team that Bernier began to learn about research on diphtheria immunization and studies of the immune system. Some of his published work would deal with these subjects.

On returning to Canada in 1899, Bernier was appointed demonstrator (or research assistant) in bacteriology and general pathology in the Montreal School of Medicine and Surgery, which was the faculty of medicine at the Université Laval in Montreal. He was thus able to put into practice the techniques of bacteriological analysis he had recently learned. The following year he became physician at the general dispensary of Notre-Dame Hospital, then pathologist, and later head of the hospital’s laboratory. His competence in the fields of pathology and medical bacteriology was soon recognized. In 1902 he was promoted to associate professor of bacteriology, and from 1908 he held the chair of general pathology. Two years later he became the first person appointed to the chair of bacteriology in the Montreal School of Medicine and Surgery. He would retain this office for the rest of his life. Soon after assuming his duties, he increased the time that medical students would have to devote to the study of bacteriology and to laboratory work from 60 to 120 hours. Throughout his academic career, he would introduce new theoretical elements (such as the role of antibodies, the effects of immunization, and the discovery of new bacteria) into his explanation of the mechanisms of infection. He would also strive to incorporate recent techniques in medical bacteriology that made it possible to detect and prevent infectious diseases. Thus the quality of instruction given to medical students was constantly enhanced. Concern about improving public health led Bernier to accept appointment in 1908 as chief bacteriologist for the Board of Health of the Province of Quebec, an office he would retain on a part-time basis until the end of his life.

An indefatigable worker who missed no opportunity to promote the establishment of medical bacteriology in the province of Quebec, Bernier agreed in 1911 to help Dr Hector Baril and Dr Amédée Marien organize the laboratory at the Hôtel-Dieu in Montreal. His assistance was valuable: he obtained $1,000 from the faculty where he worked for the purchase of laboratory equipment (microscopes, glass utensils, and Bunsen burners). He was also involved in planning the layout of the laboratory and in designing the course of studies that would be provided there. In recognition of his efforts, the management of the Hôtel-Dieu appointed him head of the laboratory two years later. In addition, he taught the course on public health there. His term of office was brief, however; in 1914 he left his position to devote himself almost exclusively to teaching bacteriology and general pathology at the Montreal School of Medicine and Surgery, where he became one of the few full-time professors. In 1918 he was elected a member of its council, where he joined such other leading practitioners as Louis de Lotbinière Harwood*, Amédée Marien, Oscar-Félix Mercier, Télesphore Parizeau, and René de Cotret, who would be instrumental in shaping the scientific basis of the faculty. Bernier would hold two other teaching positions at the Université de Montréal, one in bacteriology in the faculty of dental surgery, and another, from 1925, in practical hygiene at the École d’Hygiène Sociale Appliquée.

Bernier was also a member of the Society of American Bacteriologists. In 1922 he became a founding member and first president of the Société de Biologie de Montréal, which was still active at the beginning of the 21st century. This initiative by a group of professors from the faculties of science and medicine at the Université de Montréal sought to disseminate scientific and medical knowledge, develop research projects, and increase cooperation with researchers in the rest of Canada. In 1923 Bernier was also one of the founding members of the Association Canadienne-Française pour l’Avancement des Sciences.

Throughout his career, Bernier strove to keep up with the most recent advances in bacteriology, picking out key contributions from European and American schools. At the laboratory of the Board of Health of the Province of Quebec, for example, he ushered in a new era by reorganizing the bacteriological examination service. He was always looking for better ways of identifying gaps in prophylactic methods (preventive techniques), in order to improve the work done by this board in the field. He also refined health statistics to make them more complete and detailed. Shortly after the end of World War I, he set up a serology laboratory for the detection of syphilis (in particular, through the new Wassermann reaction test) and its treatment. In 1927 alone, more than 26,000 tests were carried out in the board’s laboratories, demonstrating the important contribution made by this agency to the fight against venereal disease.

A year before he died, Bernier collaborated with Dr Joseph-Albert Baudoin in manufacturing and distributing the tuberculosis vaccine known as BCG. Intended for newborn infants, this vaccine had been developed a few years earlier by French researchers Albert Calmette and Camille Guérin. Bernier hoped at the time to have this prophylactic measure used throughout the province and wanted to expand immunization against diphtheria.

Arthur Bernier was a meticulous and competent teacher who was always eager to introduce his students to the latest technical and theoretical developments in medical bacteriology. He also helped broaden the scope of pathology by adding to histology a new method of investigating the causes of disease. His efforts to make a noticeable improvement in diagnosis and prevention were especially laudable, given that he had had to overcome the reluctance of many colleagues, who preferred traditional methods. Because of his notable contribution to the teaching of medical bacteriology and to the development of laboratories, Bernier ranks among the most important pioneers not only in bacteriology but also in scientific medicine itself in Canada.

Denis Goulet and Philippe Hudon

Arthur Bernier wrote many reports for the Board of Health of the Prov. of Quebec and several articles in L’Union médicale du Canada (Montréal), among which are “Les anticorps,” 36 (1907): 96–101; “À propos de génération spontanée,” 36: 354–59; and “Le spirochète de la syphilis,” 35 (1906): 264–67.

ANQ-M, CE601-S51, 5 oct. 1873. Arch. de l’Hôpital Notre-Dame (Montréal), Procès-verbaux du bureau médical, 1892–1928; Rapports annuels, 1892–1928. Arch. de l’Institut Pasteur (Paris), Cours de microbie technique, MP 29048 (liste des personnes ayant suivi les cours, 1889–1970). Le Devoir, 30 avril 1928. La Patrie, 30 avril, 2 mai 1928. La Presse, 30 avril 1928. J.-A. Breton, “Nécrologie: le professeur Louis-Arthur Bernier, 1873–1928,” L’Union médicale du Canada, 57 (1928): 376–78. College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Prov. of Quebec, Medical reg. (Montreal), 1897; 1911. École de Médecine et de Chirurgie de Montréal, Annuaire, 1890–1919. Denis Goulet, Histoire de la faculté de médecine de l’université de Montréal, 1843–1993 (Montréal, 1993). Denis Goulet et al., Histoire de l’hôpital Notre-Dame de Montréal, 1880–1980 (Montréal, 1993). Denis Goulet et Othmar Keel, “Les hommes-relais de la bactériologie en territoire québécois et l’introduction de nouvelles pratiques diagnostiques et thérapeutiques (1890–1920),” RHAF, 46 (1992–93): 417–42. Univ. de Montréal, Faculté de médecine, Annuaire, 1920–28.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Denis Goulet and Philippe Hudon, “BERNIER, ARTHUR,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed November 21, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bernier_arthur_15E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bernier_arthur_15E.html
Author of Article: Denis Goulet and Philippe Hudon
Title of Article: BERNIER, ARTHUR
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 2005
Year of revision: 2005
Access Date: November 21, 2014