LACHAPELLE, SÉVERIN (baptized Pierre-Alphonse-Séverin), Papal Zouave, physician, professor, author, editor, and politician; b. 18 Sept. 1850 in Saint-Rémi, Lower Canada, son of Léon Lachapelle, a physician, and Rébecca Lanctôt; m. 29 July 1874 Elise Demers in the parish of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, Montreal, and they had one daughter and two sons; d. suddenly 18 June 1913 in Montreal and was buried 20 June in Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery.
Séverin Lachapelle pursued his classical studies at the Petit Séminaire de Montréal from 1862 to 1868. In response to the call of Bishop Ignace Bourget*, he joined the Papal Zouaves [see Édouard-André Barnard*] in 1868 and on 19 February left for Italy. On garrison duty in Velantano for some months, he attained the rank of second class and then first class corporal. This military adventure left him with strong loyalty to the pope and the Roman Catholic Church and sincere religious commitment.
When he returned to Canada in 1870, Lachapelle enrolled in the Montreal School of Medicine and Surgery, which was affiliated with Victoria College in Cobourg, Ont. He graduated in 1874 and went into practice at Saint-Constant, but moved to Saint-Henri (Montreal) in 1876. At this time he joined the Société Médicale de Montréal, which had been founded by Jean-Philippe Rottot* and others five years earlier; he also became a regular contributor to L’Union médicale du Canada, a monthly on whose editorial committee he served from 1878 to 1882. During the same period he wrote on science for the Revue canadienne, expressing his opinions in a column entitled “Causerie scientifique.”
In 1879, a year after the Université Laval opened its Montreal campus [see Édouard-Charles Fabre*], Lachapelle began a long academic career. Starting as a professor of hygiene in the faculty of medicine, he would also give theoretical and clinical courses in paediatrics and forensic medicine and for several years teach general pathology. In addition, he was to serve on the governing body of the faculty and on the medical board of Notre-Dame Hospital, which was established in 1880 specifically to meet the need for clinical teaching.
Because of his interest in popular education, Lachapelle published La santé pour tous ou notions élémentaires de physiologie et d’hygiène à l’usage des familles, suivies du petit guide de la mère auprès de son enfant malade (Montréal, 1880), a work that took into account both physical and spiritual health. To promote hygienic measures, he played an active role in 1884 in the incorporation of the Sanitary Association of the Province of Quebec and served as the first editor-in-chief of the Journal d’hygiène populaire (Montréal), which was launched with financial assistance from the federal government. He made a special effort to help the political authorities become aware of public health problems.
After a brief foray into municipal politics as mayor of Saint-Henri from April 1886 to January 1887, during which time he fought for improvements in sanitary services, Lachapelle became director of the newly opened dispensary for childhood diseases at Notre-Dame Hospital. In 1888 he published his Manuel d’hygiène à l’usage des écoles et des familles . . . (Montréal); written in accordance with the instructions of the province’s Central Board of Health and in a format of questions and answers, like a small catechism, this book would be approved by the Council of Public Instruction, reissued in 1890 and 1901, and translated into English in 1891. In May 1890 in Montreal he launched La Mère et l’enfant, a magazine to help reduce the rate of infant mortality. He would remain its editor until it ceased publication in October 1891.
Lachapelle then ventured into politics again, this time at the federal level. In a by-election on 21 Oct. 1892 he was returned as the Conservative mp for Hochelaga, replacing Alphonse Desjardins, who had been appointed to the Senate. In the House of Commons he spoke on various topics. He defended the quality of education in Quebec; he attributed the exodus of French Canadians to the United States to their adventurous nature, thirst for new experience, and hope of making a fortune, and expressed little anxiety about it; and he opposed free trade. He pronounced against women’s suffrage, on biological grounds. In his view “women ought to be judged, as to the part they play in the community, after the attributes inherent to their sex, as men themselves ought to be. . . . [But] the position of women is not at all the same as that of men in this respect. . . . [Therefore] to allow women to vote is, without any necessity, to impose on them a new obligation. . . . I have too much regard for them . . . to overburden their weak shoulders, which could not bear such a heavy burden.” Lachapelle was defeated in the federal elections of 1896 and 1900 by Liberal Joseph-Alexandre-Camille Madore, and he returned to the fight against infant mortality. His zeal in defending the child’s right to life would be coupled with nationalist discourse.
In December 1899, at a time when a high mortality rate prevailed in child-care institutions, Lachapelle was appointed superintendent of the Crèche de la Miséricorde. He hastened to offer courses in child care to both religious and lay staff. In 1901 he published Femme et nurse, ou ce que la femme doit apprendre en hygiène et en médecine. . . . In its introduction he affirmed his belief that the French Canadian people would remain numerically strong. He took up this theme again at the first conference of the Association des Médecins de Langue Française de l’Amérique du Nord, held at Quebec in June 1902 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Université Laval. In 1912 he offered a regular six-month course in child care to the Sisters of Miséricorde, which included a practicum and culminated in a diploma on graduation.
Meanwhile, Irma Levasseur*, the house doctor at the Crèche de la Miséricorde, told Lachapelle of her desire to found a hospital for sick children. He supported her organizational efforts and played a part in founding Hôpital Sainte-Justine in 1907 by serving on the medical board, a duty he discharged conscientiously for the rest of his life. Convinced the high rate of infant mortality among French Canadians was due to the fact that mothers were not familiar with the rules of hygiene, he intensified his program of popular education by giving series of lectures. With the support of the Central Board of Health, he advocated thermometry and organized the sale of “maternal thermometers.”
With the reformers holding power on the Montreal city council in 1910, it seemed an opportune time for reviving the movement to promote Gouttes de Lait, services providing pasteurized milk to infants and advice to their mothers on child nutrition. Having obtained financial support from the municipal authorities, Lachapelle shared responsibility for leadership in this initiative with Dr Alexander Dougall Blackader*. Convinced that the Goutte de Lait was a school for mothers, he recommended that action be organized at the parish level and that a public health message be spread. In 1912 he was a Canadian delegate to the conference on tuberculosis held in Rome and took advantage of his stay in France to visit the Gouttes de Lait there. On 25 March 1913 Lachapelle became the first president of the central board of the Gouttes de Lait, organized in Saint-Enfant-Jésus parish in Montreal, and there in May, a few months before his death, he chaired the first conference of Montreal’s Gouttes de Lait.
A man of faith and action, Séverin Lachapelle made the fight against infant mortality his life’s work. Although in his own day he was occasionally criticized for his concern to popularize medical knowledge in order to communicate it better, he is rightly considered a pioneer of paediatrics among the French Canadian population of Montreal. To mark the 25th anniversary of his death, a commemorative plaque was unveiled at the Crèche de la Miséricorde in 1938.
In addition to the works mentioned in the biography, Séverin Lachapelle published “Souvenir d’un zouave” in Rev. canadienne (Montréal), 55 (1909): 15–27, which includes a photograph of him (a portrait can also be found at the Notre-Dame Hospital in Montreal). He is one of the authors of Le médecin de la famille, encyclopédie de médecine et d’hygiène publique et privée contenant la description de toutes les maladies connues, et les meilleures méthodes de les traiter et de les guérir (Guelph, Ont., 1893), and wrote a pamphlet entitled L’œuvre des Gouttes de lait (Montréal, 1911). Lachapelle was also part of the editorial board of the monthly La Clinique (Montréal) and a contributor to the Journal de médecine et de chirurgie (Montréal).
AC, Montréal, État civil, Catholiques, Cimetière Notre-Dame-des-Neiges (Montréal), 20 juin 1913. ANQ-M, CE1-60, 29 juill. 1874; CE4-14, 18 sept. 1850. Arch. de l’Hôpital Notre-Dame (Montréal), Rapports annuels, 1881–1914. Arch. de l’Hôpital Sainte-Justine (Montréal), Rapports annuels, 1909–14. Le Devoir, 12 mai 1913. La Presse, 2 janv. 1909. É.-J.[-A.] Auclair, Saint-Henri des Tanneries de Montréal (Montréal, 1942), 73. Canadian directory of parl. (Johnson). La Clinique, nouv. sér., 4 (1913–14): 110–11 (obit. of Lachapelle). Lucie Deslauriers, “Histoire de l’hôpital Notre-Dame de Montréal, 1880–1924” (thèse de ma, univ. de Montréal, 1984). “Fédération des œuvres catholiques françaises d’hygiène infantile,” École Sociale Populaire, Publ. (Montréal), no.162 (). René Hardy, Les zouaves; une stratégie du clergé québécois aux XIXe siècle (Montréal, 1980), 251. History of the federal electoral ridings, 1867–1980 (4v., [Ottawa, 1982?]), 3. Raoul Masson, “Cours de pédiatrie; leçon d’ouverture,” L’Union médicale du Canada (Montréal), 43 (1914): 139–46. Rumilly, Hist. de Montréal, vol.3. L’Union médicale du Canada, 42 (1913): 444–46 (obit. of Lachapelle). Univ. Laval, Annuaire, 1879–1914.