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BOURQUE, EDMOND-JOSEPH, physician and professor; b. 22 Jan. 1843 in L’Assomption, Lower Canada, son of Édouard Bourque, a farmer, and Olive Jeannot, dit Lachapelle; m. first 27 May 1867 in Sainte-Scholastique (Mirabel), Lower Canada, Iphigénie Desjardins, sister of Alphonse*, a lawyer and future mp, and of Louis-Édouard* and Henri, who would both make a name as ophthalmologists, and they had eight children, including Henri, a rector of the Collège de Saint-Boniface in Manitoba, and Edmond, a physician in Ottawa; m. secondly 31 July 1911 Georgine Gagnon in Montreal; they had no children; d. 12 Dec. 1921 at the convent of the Sisters of Charity of Providence in L’Assomption.

In 1854 Edmond-Joseph Bourque entered the Collège de L’Assomption, where he was a classmate of Wilfrid Laurier*. He turned next to medicine, enrolling in the Montreal School of Medicine and Surgery in 1862. After graduating in 1865, he was in general practice for 20 years, first in Saint-Valentin, near the Richelieu River, for seven years, and then in Montreal.

In 1885 the government of John Jones Ross*, determined to exercise greater control over the asylums it funded in the province, set up medical boards for the Asile de Beauport and the Asile de Longue-Pointe (also known as the Hôpital Saint-Jean-de-Dieu). Comprised of three government-appointed physicians, these boards were responsible for the admission, treatment, and discharge of mentally ill patients. The legislation, which was known as the Ross Act, was passed at the request of the Montreal Medico-Chirurgical Society, which had embraced the criticisms of the English alienist Daniel Hack Tuke about the deplorable state of the province’s asylums. Taking the position that this statute violated the contract they had signed with the government, the Sisters of Charity of Providence, who administered the Asile de Longue-Pointe, decided not to obey the directives of the medical board, whose superintendent was Henry Howard*, and they hired three attending physicians. The asylum’s medical staff now included two categories of physicians: those appointed by the government and those employed by the sisters. Bourque was one of the latter. He was immediately sent to Europe at the sisters’ expense to specialize in psychiatry. He undertook a six-month training period, during which he visited many asylums in England, Belgium, and France, and attended clinical classes on mental illness in London and especially in Paris. On his return to Canada in 1886, he was appointed head of the medical staff for the Asile de Longue-Pointe, a position he held until 1909.

When he took up his duties, Bourque found himself responsible for the daily treatment of the asylum’s 950 patients. He lost no time in introducing substantial changes. For example, about 40 cells were demolished and replaced by public wards. Bourque also did away with metal restraints, whose use had been sharply criticized by Tuke; instead he introduced the straitjacket, a more flexible device he had seen utilized in Europe. Unfortunately, these reforms came to an abrupt halt in May 1890 when the asylum burned down. Bourque himself almost lost his life during the blaze, which left some 80 people dead. Temporary wards were built to house patients and it was not until 1901 that a new hospital, with a capacity of 2,000 beds, was opened.

Relations between Bourque and the Sisters of Providence seem always to have been extremely cordial. Testifying in 1888 before the royal commission on lunatic asylums, which had been set up the previous year by the government of Honoré Mercier* with a view to resolving the crisis surrounding institutions for the care of the mentally ill, Bourque indicated that the sisters had never put any restrictions on the treatments he proposed. In 1889 he and his assistant, Dr Adélard Barolet, accompanied the director of the asylum, Cléophée Têtu*, named Thérèse de Jésus, and Sister Madeleine du Sacré-Cœur to Europe, where they visited some 40 asylums. However, Bourque’s relations with the hospital’s medical board were rather strained during the early years. For example, he noted in 1888 that it did not consult him before deciding to discharge some patients. The following year, at an international congress on mental medicine in Paris, he defended the system of private asylums in existence in Quebec, taking a view opposite to that of the medical superintendent of the Asile de Longue-Pointe, Dr Emmanuel-Évariste Duquet (Duquette), who favoured public asylums. Bourque’s participation in this congress gained him membership in the Société Médico-Psychologique of Paris.

The crisis of the 1880s was finally resolved by a compromise. Although there remained two categories of physicians at the Asile de Longue-Pointe, some degree of understanding was reached, especially after the appointment of Georges Villeneuve as medical superintendent in 1894, with the two groups arriving at a consensus on the etiology and the classification of mental illness. A similar understanding at the provincial level paved the way for the formation in 1898 of the Société Médico-Psychologique de Québec, whose first president was Arthur Vallée*, the medical superintendent of the Asile de Beauport; Bourque and the other physicians hired by the nuns collaborated with the society.

However, Bourque was to make his most important contribution at the theoretical level. On his return from Europe he had disseminated in L’Union médicale du Canada the teachings of Valentin Magnan, a French psychiatrist whose theory of degeneration, emphasizing an acquired or hereditary predisposition to mental illness, would be the dominant paradigm of Quebec psychiatrists until early in the 1920s. In addition, Bourque’s clinical teaching on mental illness, which he had begun upon his return, had been recognized in 1888 by the Montreal School of Medicine and Surgery.

By both his practice and his teaching, Edmond-Joseph Bourque helped to advance French neuropsychiatry in Quebec.

Guy Grenier

Edmond-Joseph Bourque is the author of “Le délire chronique,” L’Union médicale du Canada (Montréal), 15 (1886): 193-98; “De la céphalée des adolescents,” La Gazette médicale de Montréal, 1 (1887): 59-63; “Clinique des maladies mentales,” La Gazette médicale de Montréal, 2 (1888): 388-90; and “Paralysie générale des aliénés,” La Gazette médicale de Montréal, 3 (1889): 149-55.

ANQ-M, CE605-S14, 22 janv. 1843; CE606-S22, 27 mai 1867. ANQ-Q, E104. Le Devoir, 13 déc. 1921. La Presse, 13 déc. 1921. Adélard Barolet, “Rapport du Congrès international de médecine mentale,” La Gazette médicale de Montréal, 3: 433-37. Denis Goulet, Histoire de la faculté de médecine de l’université de Montréal, 1843-1993 (Montréal, 1993). Guy Grenier, “L’implantation et les applications de la doctrine de la dégénérescence dans le champ de la médecine et de l’hygiène mentales au Québec entre 1885 et 1930” (mémoire de ma, univ. de Montréal, 1990). Peter Keating, La science du mal: l’institution de la psychiatrie au Québec, 1800-1914 ([Montréal, 1993]). Montreal School of Medicine and Surgery, Annuaire, 1862-65. Sœur Thérèse de Jésus [Cléophée Têtu] et sœur Madeleine du Sacré-Cœur [Madeleine Desjardins], Récit de voyage d’Europe . . . 1889 (s.l., n.d.). D. H. Tuke, The insane in the United States and Canada (London, 1885).

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Guy Grenier, “BOURQUE, EDMOND-JOSEPH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 15, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bourque_edmond_joseph_15E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bourque_edmond_joseph_15E.html
Author of Article:   Guy Grenier
Title of Article:   BOURQUE, EDMOND-JOSEPH
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   2005
Year of revision:   2005
Access Date:   June 15, 2024