RICHER, ARTHUR-JOSEPH (baptized Joseph-Arthur-Adélard), physician and professor; b. 16 Nov. 1868 in Saint-Éphrem-d’Upton, Que., son of Damase Richer, a blacksmith, and Célina Lavoie; d. unmarried 26 Feb. 1922 in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Que.
Arthur-Joseph Richer attended the mission school at Sabrevois and became a student in the faculty of medicine of Bishop’s College in Montreal in 1888. After graduating in 1892, he enrolled at the New York Postgraduate Medical School. In 1893 he crossed the Atlantic to pursue his studies in France, in particular at the medical faculty of the Université de Paris and at the Institut Pasteur, where he took a keen interest in tuberculosis. He also trained for several months at the École Supérieure de Pharmacie in Paris and at the Laboratoire de Physiologie in the medical faculty of the Université de Paris. During his stay in Europe, Richer made a long study tour, visiting many clinics in Austria, Germany, and Poland. In Cracow (Kraków, Poland) he contracted pulmonary tuberculosis; he went back to Paris to be treated by his teachers and was confined to bed for six months. When he had recovered, he returned to Canada in 1896 and took up residence in Montreal, where he practised his specialty of phthisical therapy and taught in the faculty of medicine of Bishop’s College. He would remain there as professor of physiology, hygiene, and medicine until 1905, when the faculty merged with that of McGill University.
While in Europe, Richer had furthered his knowledge of tuberculosis and the ways of eliminating it. In his opinion the key factor was the sanatorium, which he saw as a place where patients would learn to modify their thinking and daily habits. It was a centre more for training than for treatment. In Paris, Richer had already informed his colleague and friend Sigard Adolphus Knopf of his intention to set one up in Quebec as soon as possible after returning home. Steeped in the theories of two Germans, Hermann Brehmer and Peter Dettweiler, and an American, Edward Livingston Trudeau, as to the therapeutic value of higher altitudes and country living, Richer chose the village of Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, in the Laurentians, as the site for the first sanatorium in Quebec. It was built with private funds in 1898, less than a year after one had been opened in Ontario in Muskoka [see Sir William James Gage]. His modest institution burned down in 1902, but Richer’s initiative was taken up by other groups. Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts became an important treatment centre with the establishment of the Laurentian Sanatorium in 1908, followed by the Mount Sinai Sanatorium, which the Jewish community of Montreal founded in 1912, and, a few years later, by the one set up by the Sisters of Charity of the Hôpital Général of Montreal.
Not discouraged by the misfortune that had befallen his first attempt, Richer advanced the idea of prevention still further by founding in 1905, again in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, the Brehmer Rest Preventorium. The first institution of its kind in the Americas, it was intended for persons at risk of or predisposed to tuberculosis, rather than for those suffering from it. As Richer explained in his first annual report, “When we select for treatment convalescents from pneumonia, pleurisy, and typhoid fever, as well as those affected with anaemia, chlorosis and debility, we do so with a definite object in view. Nine-tenths of those affected as above will inevitably become victims of tuberculosis. If they can be treated and trained before they become a prey of the dread scourge, the saving is evident from every viewpoint.” The objective, then, was to help people build up their natural resistance. From 1905 until the last years of his life, Richer devoted the greater part of his professional energies to supervising the medical care of the residents at this institution.
The campaign against tuberculosis – the antituberculosis crusade, as it was often termed – had begun in Canada in the last quarter of the 19th century after Jean-Antoine Villemin in 1865 demonstrated the disease to be contagious and Robert Koch in 1882 identified the microbe causing it. It was necessary, first, to recognize the extent of the disease and to fight against the deep-seated misconception, widely held throughout the 19th century, that tuberculosis was hereditary and incurable. According to the Board of Health of the Province of Quebec, it was responsible for more deaths than all other contagious diseases combined, with an annual mortality rate, from 1896 to 1906, of 192 per 100,000 inhabitants. It was truly considered the scourge to be combated. The federal and provincial governments, however, played only a small direct role at the outset, limiting their involvement to making grants to private endeavours. It was in this context that the National Sanitarium Association was founded in Ontario in 1896, followed in 1901 by the Canadian Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis and in 1902 by the Montreal League for the Prevention of Consumption and Other Forms of Tuberculosis. Richer was a member of the latter two bodies during their early years. In 1902 he was elected to the executive committee of the Canadian association to represent the province of Quebec along with physicians Emmanuel-Persillier Lachapelle* and Sir William Hales Hingston*. His view of the fight against tuberculosis was well received, and the president of the association announced to the general meeting in April 1902 that “5,000 copies of a brochure by Dr. Richer have been purchased and will be distributed to the various boards of health in the Dominion.” A founding member of the Montreal League, Richer was its honorary secretary for a number of years. He held no office in these associations after 1905.
Arthur-Joseph Richer was primarily a specialist who devoted his professional life to the treatment of tuberculosis. Those who knew him described him as a profoundly humane person, liberal in political ideas and highly intelligent. He was loved by his patients and respected by his colleagues, not only in Quebec but outside the province. He died prematurely from an attack of nephritis in 1922 at the age of 53. The legacy he left was the work of a distinguished and learned man, a pioneer in the field of modern phthisical therapy in Canada. His career contributed to the progressive and rational development of public health measures in Canada.
Arthur-Joseph Richer is the author of the following articles: “On sanatoria: locality and cure,” Canada Medical Record (Montreal), 27 (1899): 293–97; “L’aspect économique de la question de la tuberculose au Canada,” L’Union médicale du Canada (Montréal), 32 (1903): 260–63; “Tuberculose pulmonaire (apyrétique), traitée au moyen des injections de sérum anti-tuberculeux Marmorek,” L’Union médicale du Canada, 33 (1904): 280–86 (written in collaboration with Louis-Joseph Lemieux); and “The sanatorium and its mission,” Canadian Assoc. for the Prevention of Consumption and Other Forms of Tuberculosis, Trans. of the annual meeting (Ottawa), 1906, app.13: 86–88.
ANQ-M, CE602-S14, 19 nov. 1868. Municipal Gazette of Montreal, 31 Oct. 1904. W. H. Atherton, Montreal, 1534–1914 (3v., Montreal, 1914), 3. Canadian Assoc. for the Prevention of Tuberculosis, Annual report (Ottawa), 1902–19. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1912). Conseil d’Hygiène de la Prov. de Québec, Rapport (Québec), 1909: 38–39. C.-A. Daigle, “L’Alliance d’hygiène sociale,” L’Union médicale du Canada, 34 (1905): 113–19. J.-E. Dubé, “In memoriam: docteur Arthur Joseph Richer,” L’Union médicale du Canada, 51 (1922): 238–41; “Montréal la plus importante ville du dominion se doit d’être au premier rang dans la lutte antituberculeuse,” L’Union médicale du Canada, 48 (1919): 572–74. Denis Goulet et André Paradis, Trois siècles d’histoire médicale au Québec; chronologie des institutions et des pratiques (1639–1939) (Montréal, 1992), 128–29. J. J. Heagerty, Four centuries of medical history in Canada and a sketch of the medical history of Newfoundland (2v., Toronto, 1928), 2: 231. S. A. Knopf, “In memoriam: Arthur J. Richer,” L’Union médicale du Canada, 51: 235–37; Tuberculosis as a disease of the masses and how to combat it (7th ed., New York, 1911). “The Laurentian Sanatorium,” Canada Medical Record, 27: 339–40. “Medical faculty, University of Bishops College, Montreal,” Canada Medical Record, 29 (1901): 281. E. H. Milner, Bishop’s medical faculty, Montreal, 1871–1905, including the affiliated dental college, 1896–1905 (Sherbrooke, Que., 1985), 368–69. “Personals,” Canada Medical Record, 24 (1895–96): 349. Que., Royal commission on tuberculosis, Report (Quebec, 1909–10). “University of Bishop’s College; faculty of medicine, Montreal,” Canada Medical Record, 31 (1903), nos.8, 11. G. J. Wherrett, The miracle of the empty beds: a history of tuberculosis in Canada (Toronto, 1977), 210.