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GADBOIS, JOSEPH-PIERRE, physician, athlete, sports columnist, promoter of physical education, and office holder; b. 15 Aug. 1868 in Saint-Urbain-Premier, Que., son of Pierre Gadbois, a carpenter, and Aglaé Langlois; m. 31 May 1893 Julia Gauthier in Montreal, and they had three sons and two daughters; d. there 22 Aug. 1930.
When Joseph-Pierre Gadbois was very young, his parents moved to Saint-Jean (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu), which he would consider his real home town. He attended the Petit Séminaire de Montréal from 1881 to 1887 and then enrolled in the Montreal School of Medicine and Surgery. The school merged with the medical faculty of the Université Laval’s Montreal campus in 1890, and it was from this institution that he received his md with high honours in 1892. His studies completed, Gadbois took up residence in Montreal, where he specialized in the treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction. Sometime around the month of May in 1893 L. W. Murphy, a Catholic priest, hired him as medical director of a clinical institute he had just opened on Rue Sainte-Catherine, where he treated alcoholics with gold bichloride. Murphy’s method, known as the Gold Cure, was questioned by many physicians but was much in vogue in the United States. Late in 1893 Gadbois opened his own hospital on Rue Saint-Laurent, where he used this approach for alcoholics and morphine addicts. In 1895 he announced the publication of two works on the Gold Cure, which he had been studying for three years, but they apparently never came out. Montreal physician Joseph-Edmond Bergeron regarded him at the time as a leading light in the treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction. Gadbois moved his hospital twice, in 1897 and 1899, and around 1900 he put aside the practice of medicine in order to devote his time to promoting sports, hygiene, and physical education.
Gadbois would all his life encourage regular participation in sports and physical exercises. When he was still a child, his father, who was a good wrestler and a powerful arm wrestler, had taught him the rudiments of his art. Young Joseph-Pierre soon excelled at wrestling, boxing, swimming, jumping, canoeing, and handball. In his third year at the Petit Séminaire de Montréal he had won the handball championship, and he retained his title as champion until he finished his studies there.
In October 1900, seeking to rouse his fellow French Canadians’ interest in physical exercise, Gadbois opened a gymnasium at his hospital. To spread his ideas, he sometimes gave lectures. From 7 March 1904, the newspaper La Presse also provided him with a forum by giving him a column headed “Culture physique.” By 1908 it had published more than 500 of his pieces. He also contributed to La Patrie (Montreal) and Le Soleil (Quebec). These columns bore witness to his concerns. Although Gadbois appreciated the advantages of the city, he worried about its effects on the health of his compatriots. He believed that in the country, where they remained in contact with a harsh but abundant nature, they had been able to maintain their strength, sturdiness, and physique. Once they became city-dwellers, crowded into smoke-filled cities, confined to unhealthy lodgings, and cooped up in poorly ventilated offices, workshops, and stores, they grew sickly and were threatened with degeneration. He thought that physical education, which is not the same thing as exaggerated muscular development, guaranteed health and a balanced and harmonious condition. He advised against overeating and advocated dieting and occasional fasting to cleanse the body. He preached abstinence from alcohol, drugs, tea, and coffee, and recommended drinking plenty of water and eating vegetables, fruit, and nuts. A vegetarian, he gave a lecture at Quebec in 1909 under the auspices of the Vegetarian Society of Canada. It is essential, he noted, to have eight hours sleep every night, keep windows open summer and winter, brave storms, heat, and cold, and get as much sunshine as possible.
Among the sports that could ensure complete development, Gadbois chose wrestling and swimming, but he encouraged participation in many others. The proliferation of hockey leagues prompted him to caution French Canadians against dissipating their efforts and he urged them to work together in all branches of sport. Faced with the popularity of contests of strength in Quebec, he regretted that the lack of uniform rules and methods prevented meaningful comparison between athletes, and he expressed a wish that some feats of strength better suited to the circus than to athletic competition be banned from these tournaments. Gadbois also blamed the educational system for valuing the mind and neglecting the body. In his view, sports and physical education should be compulsory in French-speaking educational institutions. He was delighted when Major Henri-Thomas Scott was hired in 1905 to take charge of the teaching of physical education in all the schools of the Montreal Catholic School Commission. In his columns Gadbois also dealt with the health of women, children, and the elderly. He called for medical inspection of schools and recommended that the inspection team include two women physicians – a novel idea in 1907.
Gadbois did not limit himself to writing. He was active in sports as an administrator of associations, promoter of events, judge, and athlete. In 1897 he was elected to the board of the Montreal Swimming Club, of which he would be president from 1904 to 1907. A charter member and vice-president of the Association des Francs-Tireurs de Montréal in 1900, he took part as a marksman in its first organized competition in 1901. He was a life member of one of the most important French Canadian sports organizations, the Association Athlétique d’Amateurs Nationale, which was better known from 1919 by the name of Palestre Nationale. He sat on its board of directors from 1904 to 1907 and in 1922–23, and he served on a number of its commissions from 1918 to 1924. From 1903 to 1909 his name was also frequently associated with the activities of the Club de Raquette le Montagnard. Moreover, he was regularly chosen as a judge by those organizing competitions of strength for women and men. At the famous contest between Louis Cyr* and Otto Ronaldo in 1899, he was not only one of the three judges, but also Cyr’s official representative and one of his trainers. In order to demonstrate the physical strength of French Canadians, Gadbois organized, with the support of La Presse, a competition with “bags of salt” which aroused exceptional enthusiasm. On 31 Oct. 1907 the 121 competitors were cheered by 300,000 people (an estimate no doubt inflated). One journalist exclaimed that this demonstration surpassed any that Montreal had ever witnessed, even the protest meeting that followed the hanging of Louis Riel*. In 1919 Gadbois became a charter member and secretary of the Fédération Canadienne des Poids et Haltères.
Gadbois was also known at that time as the popularizer of wrestling in Montreal and the leading expert on the subject. Early in the 20th century he organized events and advised and trained wrestlers, thereby contributing to the great popularity of this sport in the period 1904 to 1908. In 1905 one of his protégés, Montreal wrestler Eugène Tremblay, won the world lightweight championship. Montreal began to rival Buffalo and Chicago as a place for championship matches. His extensive knowledge of Graeco-Roman wrestling and all-in wrestling made “the doctor,” as he was familiarly called, indispensable. He was chosen as referee for almost all the important matches in Montreal, sometimes at Quebec or elsewhere in the province, and even in Buffalo. To promote his favourite sport more effectively, Gadbois, with his friend George Washington Kendall, became a leading spirit in the Club Athétique Canadien, which was incorporated in 1908. The most important of its kind in Canada, this organization sent representatives to the United States, Europe, and as far away as Turkey to seek new stars. The club was also interested in boxing and bowling and it purchased the Canadiens hockey club in 1910. One of its principal shareholders, Gadbois sat on the board of directors and was elected president in 1908 and 1909.
Gadbois was one of the best handball players in Canada and held the title of Montreal champion for some time. Between 1897 and 1904 he made a number of unsuccessful attempts to take the Canadian championship away from Napoléon Lavoie* of Quebec. He was also said to be a champion in amateur and professional wrestling.
Gadbois was interested in politics as well and was active in the Liberal party. In 1909 he was elected secretary-treasurer of the Liberals’ Club Saint-Louis, where he rubbed shoulders with mla Godfroy Langlois and the mayor of Montreal, Louis Payette. From 1 Feb. 1906 to 31 Jan. 1910 he represented Saint-Louis ward on the Montreal city council, where he was elected to eight commissions and sat on 10 committees. Among other things, he appeared before the police commission to request more children’s parks and more involvement of officers in gymnastics. His battle against the electricity, water, and gas monopolies placed him in the camp of the “progressives.” However, charges of influence peddling, which were brought against him during the royal commission on the municipal administration presided over by Judge Lawrence John Cannon in 1909, tarnished his reputation. Almost all the councillors were implicated and eight of them, including Gadbois, were formally charged and sentenced to a fine. Gadbois protested his innocence and claimed to have been unjustly treated. He ran for office again in Saint-Louis ward, but, like most of his former colleagues, he was swept away by the wave that engulfed the council on 1 Feb. 1910.
Thereafter Gadbois disappeared from the sporting scene and began speculating in land. In the fall of 1910 he bought half of a property in Pointe-aux-Trembles, to the east of Montreal, and subdivided it into 1,500 lots. For nearly a year he flooded the newspapers with advertisements, dangling before potential buyers the prospect of fantastic profits, but he met with little success. Early in 1912 he began a new campaign to sell shares in the Three Nations Gold Mine at Porcupine, near Timmins, Ont., but he failed to find enough investors and soon abandoned the endeavour.
On 15 May 1914 Gadbois’s career took a new turn. He became a city employee, when he was appointed, jointly with T. C. M. Black, to the new position of superintendent of playgrounds. Mayor Médéric Martin* opposed the hiring of Black and had seen to it that Gadbois would receive a higher salary; Black was an American who, in the mayor’s opinion, knew nothing about French Canadian ways, and he did not speak the language of the majority. Black did not accept this arrangement and resigned. On 14 July 1914 the board of commissioners named Gadbois the sole director of the city’s playgrounds. For the rest of his life he would work to develop and improve them. In 1915 he was in charge of eight playgrounds and of nine skating rinks. By 1929 he was supervising 24 playgrounds, including one he had had laid out in Sohmer Park, 15 public baths (which had come under his jurisdiction in 1918), and some 100 skating rinks. To learn more about his field, Gadbois visited a number of American cities, including New York. Numerous types of apparatus that he invented were installed in the playgrounds. For more than 15 years he would attend all the major picnics, sports events, and physical education festivals.
In spite of his responsibilities, Gadbois still had a passion for the world of sports. In the early 1920s he was training boxers and guiding their careers. In 1929 he had the pleasure of seeing his daughter Pauline win the provincial tennis championship in the “ladies’ doubles” category.
Throughout his career, Joseph-Pierre Gadbois had never been afraid to oppose the ideas of his contemporaries. Just out of university, he had defended controversial methods of therapy. His promotion of vegetarianism is surprising. His campaign to improve the teaching of anatomy and physical education, and to give sports a larger place in the schools, set him apart. Gadbois was one of the small French-speaking elite who burst into the world of sports at the end of the 19th century.
[This biography draws heavily on newspapers, in particular La Presse, where Joseph-Pierre Gadbois worked as a sports writer between 1904 and 1908. Many unsigned articles which appeared in the paper from 1907 to 1910 are undoubtedly his, among them “Les tournois athlétiques de la Presse,” a series of 165 columns published between 14 Oct. 1907 and 9 July 1908. A large number of items concerning Gadbois can also be found in La Presse from 1893 to 1930. Other useful newspaper accounts include the following: L’Autorité nouvelle (Montréal), 25 janv. 1914; Le Canada (Montréal), 24 avril, 3 sept. 1903; 8–9 avril, 24 juin, 3 sept. 1918; 11, 21 févr., 6, 24 mars 1919; 10–11, 17, 22, 24 mai, 4, 8 juin 1926; 23, 25 août 1930; Le Cultivateur (Montréal), 13 mai 1893; Le Devoir, 15 mai, 21 juill. 1914; 16 nov. 1915; 14 juill. 1916; 20 avril 1918; 23 août 1930; Le Journal (Montréal), 14 juin 1902; La Minerve, 11, 16 oct., 6 nov. 1897; Le Nationaliste (Montréal), 16, 23 janv., 6, 20, 28 nov., 4 déc. 1910; 12, 19, 26 mars, 2 avril, 7 mai, 4, 11, 18 juin, 23 juill., 27 août 1911; 25 févr., 3, 10, 24 mars, 14, 28 avril, 5, 19 mai 1912; 14 juin 1914; La Patrie, 16 mars, 24 avril, 9 juin 1903; 30 mars, 1er avril 1929; 23, 25 août 1930; Le Réveil (Montréal), 5 janv., 31 août 1915; and Le Soleil, 22, 24–25, 29–30 juin, 2–3, 7–8 juill., 24 août, 15 oct. 1908; 26, 28, 30 avril, 6 mai, 16 juin, 9 juill., 21 oct. 1909; 28 mai 1914. g.j.]
ANQ-M, CE601-S51, 31 mai 1893; CE607-S20, 23 août 1868. Arch. de l’Univ. du Québec à Montréal, 1P (fonds de la Palestre nationale), 2/34–38; 13/11. Arch. du Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice (Montréal), Fonds du collège de Montréal, liste des étudiants. VM-DGDA, “Comités et commissions: 1900 à nos jours” (report prepared by the Div. des arch.), 1906–10; P39; VM6, Dossiers de coupures de presse, DO16.293 (J.-P. Gadbois); VM47, procès-verbaux, 20 févr. 1906–17 janv. 1908. “Bulletin,” L’Union médicale du Canada (Montréal), 21 (1892): 220, 548–51; 22 (1893): 217–19. L. J. Cannon, Rapport sur l’administration de la ville de Montréal, décembre 1909 (s.l., n.d.). “Correspondance,” L’Union médicale du Canada, 22 (1893): 235–36. Directory, Montreal, 1890–1910. P. A. Dutil, “‘Adieu, demeure chaste et pure’; Godfroy Langlois et le virage vers le progressisme libéral,” in Combats libéraux au tournant du xxe siècle, sous la direction d’Yvan Lamonde (Montréal, 1995), 247–75. Jean de Laplante, Les parcs de Montréal: des origines à nos jours (Montréal, 1990), 86–92. É.-Z. Massicotte, Athlètes canadiens-français; recueil des exploits de force, d’endurance, d’agilité, des athlètes et des sportsmen de notre race depuis le XIIIe siècle; biographies, portraits, anecdotes, records (2e éd., Montréal, ), 216–23. “Le sport chez nos Canadiennes,” La Rev. moderne (Montréal), 10 (1929), no.10: 12.
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Cite This Article
Gilles Janson, “GADBOIS, JOSEPH-PIERRE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 10, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gadbois_joseph_pierre_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:
|Author of Article:||Gilles Janson|
|Title of Article:||GADBOIS, JOSEPH-PIERRE|
|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 10, 2023|