GAUVREAU, FERDINAND-EDMOND, Roman Catholic priest; b. 12 Sept. 1806 at Quebec, L.C., son of Louis Gauvreau and Marie-Anne Barbeau; d. 2 May 1875 at Saint-Flavien, Quebec.
Ferdinand-Edmond Gauvreau studied theology at the seminary of Nicolet and was ordained on 20 Sept. 1828. Almost immediately he was appointed curate at Memramcook, New Brunswick, where he arrived in October. He was parish priest of this large mission from June 1829 until July 1832, when, exhausted physically and emotionally, he returned to Quebec. In October he was appointed parish priest at L’Ange-Gardien (Montmorency County). In November 1833 he became the first parish priest of Saint-Sylvestre, Lotbinière County, and while there he founded the neighbouring parish of Saint-Ferdinand (now Bernierville) in Megantic County in 1834. Gauvreau returned to the Memramcook mission in December 1836 and remained there until his appointment to Tracadie, N.B., in January 1852.
At Tracadie, during the following 20 years, Gauvreau accomplished the most significant work of his career among the 25-odd inmates of a leprosarium transferred from nearby Sheldrake Island in 1849. The plight of the lepers had improved, thanks in part to the newly built institution and the proximity of the inmates to family and friends in Tracadie. Nevertheless, discontent and insubordination, engendered by insufficient, untrained, and poorly motivated staff, as at Sheldrake, soon turned to open hostility, evasion, and violence. Gauvreau became intensely preoccupied not only with the physical condition of the lepers, but also with the despair which consumed their minds and spirit. As chaplain of the institution and as a member and later chairman of the Board of Health for Gloucester and Northumberland counties, he pleaded, in correspondence with government officials and in the newspapers, for more humane treatment and improved general conditions. His efforts were finally rewarded in 1868 when the provincial government agreed to transfer the administration of the leprosarium to six nuns of the Hôtel-Dieu of Montreal [see Céré]. Contemporary views attribute the new hope and dignity which henceforth emanated from the inmates of the institution to the work of this group of dedicated women.
Gauvreau’s health began to fail him soon after this achievement at Tracadie, and worsened during 1870. In September 1871 he returned once more to Quebec. He spent his final years as parish priest at Saint-Flavien (Lotbinière County).
Archives acadiennes, Université de Moncton, Archives paroissiales de Saint-Thomas (Memramcook, N.B.), 1828–52. Gloucester County Court (Bathurst, N.B.), Gloucester County records, 21 (1969). N.B. Museum, Edward Barron Chandler papers, political correspondence, 1829–65; New Brunswick, Gloucester County land grants, 1842. Lovell’s province of New Brunswick directory for 1871 (n.p., n.d.). Allaire, Dictionnaire. R.-É. Casgrain, Histoire de la paroisse de l’Ange-Gardien (Québec, 1902). F.-M. Lajat, Le Lazaret de Tracadie et la Communauté des religieuses hospitalières de Saint-Joseph (Montréal, 1938). MacNutt, New Brunswick. L.-E. Cousineau, “M. l’abbé François-Xavier Lafrance, fondateur du Lazaret de Tracadie et ‘préfondateur’ du collège Saint-Joseph de Memramcook,” Revue canadienne, new ser., XVI (1915), 481–95. Édouard Lefebvre de Bellefeuille, “Les lépreux de Tracadie,” Revue canadienne, VII (1870), 545–74. P.-G. Roy, “Saint-Ferdinand d’Halifax,” BRH, III (1897), 17. “Saint Ferdinand d’Halifax,” BRH, XXXVI (1930), 606. F. L. Whitehead, “Leprosy in New Brunswick: the end of an era,” CMA Journal, 97, no.21 (1967), 1299–1300.