LAROCQUE DE ROCHBRUNE, ALPHONSE-BARNABÉ (baptized Barnabé), physician and office holder; b. 21 July 1823 in Rigaud, Lower Canada, son of Charles Rochbrune, dit Larocque, merchant and innkeeper, and Marie Lefebvre; m. Marie-Julie Beauchemin; d. 14 Jan. 1893 in Montreal.
Alphonse-Barnabé Larocque de Rochbrune did his classical studies in Baltimore, Md, and then in 1844 enrolled in the faculty of medicine at McGill College in Montreal, from which he graduated three years later. He went into practice in Sorel, but subsequently moved to Montreal. In 1867 he became secretary of the recently founded Montreal Sanitary Association. With a membership of businessmen, politicians, and other leading citizens and with William Workman* as president, the association functioned as a pressure group reminding municipal authorities of their responsibilities in public health matters.
In 1870, when Workman held the position of mayor, Larocque was appointed one of two health officers for the city of Montreal. Among his major preoccupations was the setting up of a sanitation body to implement the measures recommended by himself and his fellow officer. Larocque also drew up a list of regulations designed to improve public health. He proposed legislation to regulate the sale of milk, the establishment of vaccination centres, the disinfection of contaminated objects, the compilation of demographic statistics, as well as regulations for burials, obligatory reporting of all contagious diseases to the Board of Health, and the disinfection of dead bodies.
A health officer’s role generally was to make recommendations to the Board of Health, which was created in 1870, about the health regulations most appropriate to particular situations. The city council retained the right to make the final decision. More often than not, Larocque’s efforts met with resistance from the councillors, as his annual reports on sanitary conditions in Montreal between 1876 and 1882 clearly indicate. The reports contain numerous thinly veiled denunciations of the negligence and inertia of the municipal authorities. Although Larocque’s work did not always receive the response it deserved, certain of his efforts proved fruitful. In 1877, the Board of Health became a separate department in the municipal administration, an arrangement that was, however, tenuous. The office was dissolved on 20 Oct. 1879, to be reinstated on a permanent basis only in 1881.
During the latter year Larocque prepared and submitted to a committee of physicians and of members of the Montreal Board of Health a bill designed to address the sanitation needs of the province of Quebec. Thus his activities as a hygiene expert and as a reformer now reached outside the city’s boundaries and extended to the whole of the province. Paradoxically his activities beyond the municipal level and his ongoing fight for better representation of the medical community on the various boards of health led to his dismissal from office in 1884, just before Honoré Beaugrand* became mayor. It is astonishing that Larocque, who had been identified since the early 1870s with the agitation in Montreal for a local public health department, became the scapegoat of the new mayor’s reforms. Beaugrand insisted that efforts be concentrated largely upon Montreal. Larocque was probably the victim of his own zeal in trying to convince the authorities of the need for reform going beyond the city, but in the process neglecting his municipal responsibilities. He resumed private practice in Montreal, and continued to serve his patients there until his death.
Throughout his career, Larocque remained a strong proponent of vaccination, which he thought essential in the fight against smallpox. In 1868 the city health commission had recommended him for the position of vaccinator. Four years later he sat on a committee to investigate the New York public health system. Upon his return to Montreal, he again proposed that it be made obligatory for doctors to report all cases of contagious disease to the health officers – a proposal viewed as an interference with private medical practice.
The arguments against the preventive technique of vaccination gave rise to heated debates in which Larocque participated actively. On 25 April 1874 he got the council of the Montreal Sanitary Association to pass a motion reprimanding certain physicians for using the press to condemn vaccination. One dispute involved Larocque with Dr Joseph Emery-Coderre*, who firmly opposed vaccination and who in 1885 would found a medical journal in Montreal, the Antivaccinateur canadien français. From 1875 to 1881, Larocque served on a committee inspecting the hospital for smallpox victims run by the Sisters of Charity of Providence (Sisters of Providence). In 1885, four years after the hospital closed down, Larocque opened another one for patients with this disease. However, his stand in favour of vaccination was to have unfortunate consequences when rioting broke out on 4 April 1885 in Montreal during a serious smallpox epidemic. An angry mob besieged the office of the Board of Health and, after setting fire to it, proceeded to break into the homes of the vaccinators. Larocque’s own property was ransacked.
Larocque was also concerned about high infant mortality rates. In 1874 he published an article in L’ Union médicale du Canada entitled “Le massacre des innocents,” exposing the government’s apathy in the face of one of the highest infant mortality rates in the western world, rates attributable, in his opinion, to the ignorance of the poor about matters of hygiene. He also carried out numerous statistical surveys of deaths in Montreal for the federal, provincial, and municipal governments; in his mind these surveys were a useful instrument for the control of disease. However, they are useful and effective only to the degree that the statistics are properly recorded, and this practice did not begin until early in the 20th century.
Alphonse-Barnabé Larocque de Rochbrune was certainly one of the foremost leaders in the medical community promoting the development of public hygiene in 19th-century Quebec. He not only did important work in publicizing health issues but was also the leading figure in the field, as well as chief health officer for the city of Montreal for some fifteen years.
Alphonse-Barnabé Larocque de Rochbrune is the author of numerous articles, including the following: in L’Abeille médicale (Montréal), “Bureau de santé, Montréal, juillet, 1879,” 1 (1879): 326–29, 374–76, and “Abattoir public”: 384–87; and in L’ Union médicale du Canada (Montréal): “Bureau de santé,” 2 (1873): 42–44; “De l’hygiène et des statistiques vitals”. 246–53, 289–98; “Statistique des décès,” 3 (1874): 375–78; “Le massacre des innocents”: 422–28; “Bulletin de la mortalité pour Montréal et les municipalités environnantes durant le mois d’août 1874”: 474–76; “Bulletin de la mortalité pour Montréal et les municipalités environnantes durant le mois de septembre 1874”: 522–25; “Le bureau de santé de Montréal,” 5 (1876): 331–34; and “Le bureau de santé,” 10 (1881): 137–39.
ANQ-M, CE1-51, 18 janv. 1893; ZQl-44, 21 juill. 1823. Arch. de la ville de Montréal, Doc. administratifs, procèsverbaux du conseil municipal, 10 sept. 1864–10 juill. 1882; Dossier 800.A. McGill Univ. Arch., RG 38, Student records, 1824–48. Sciences & médecine au Québec, perspectives sociohistoriques, sous la direction de Marcel Fourier et al. (Québec, 1987). Michael Farley et al., “Les commencements de l’administration montréalaise de la santé publique (1865–1885),” HSTC Bull. (Thornhill, Ont.), 6 (1982): 24–46, 85–109.