The radio brought us many stories. One of our favourite programmes was Georgia McKay telling her children's Bible story on the Family Altar Hour on Sunday mornings. There were times, even though I listened carefully, I just didn't understand the message. The story today, had been about a disease called leprosy and how a man sat begging in the street but no one wanted to touch him because he was unclean.
When Cliff and I were helping Mum with the supper dishes, I asked her about this disease of not washing. She smiled gently and commenced to tell us that a person with leprosy had a contagious disease and people were afraid they would catch it, if they touched the person, therefore a Leper had to announce he was unclean to alert folk of his condition. She told us that leprosy caused a person to have great sores all over the body.
As Ken dropped an armful of wood into the wood box, he asked if anyone in Canada ever had this terrible disease. Mum quickly assured him that this was a disease of foreign countries.
As the years have progressed, I have found out that Mum was wrong in this assumption. Way back in the 1820s, Ursule Landry Benoit of the Tracadie area died from leprosy. Her flesh had become hard and scaly and hideous swellings and sores distorted her face and body.
How leprosy was introduced into New Brunswick, mainly Gloucester and Northumberland Counties, is unclear but one possibility is it was brought by the sailors. One fact is certain the horrible disease slowly spread from family to family to neighbour. People were not so concerned of death as of the living horror it left its victims to live in and the stigma that was attached to the outcasts as well as family members.
Like the leper of the Bible, the early New Brunswick leper was left unattended, living in a hut where the Overseers of the Poor deposited weekly rations of food and firewood.
On April 16, 1844, the New Brunswick government passed legislation entitled ‘An Act to Prevent the Spread of a Disorder now existing in Certain Parts of the Counties of Gloucester and Northumberland. The newly appointed Board of Health chose Sheldrake Island in the mouth of the Miramichi River for the lazaretto. On July 19, 1844 a group of 18 lepers, ranging in age from 8 to 46 were admitted to the lazaretto. Thus Lepers were forced to leave home and family and take up residence on the dreaded Sheldrake Island. Escapes from Sheldrake were not confined to only adults as ten year old Barnabe Savoie made it home but the terrified child was taken from his father and returned.
In 1849, 31 lepers were transferred to a new lazaretto at Tracadie.
The Religious Hospitallers of Saint Joseph came from Montreal, in 1868 to take care of the lepers at Tracadie and they continued this ministry until the last leper left in 1965.
The Historical Museum of Tracadie is the only museum in Canada which offers an insight into what was a leprosery in the 19th century. Nearby is the cemetery where the names of approximately 60 lepers can be found on crosses.
For those who are interested in learning more about leprosy in New Brunswick, I would suggest reading:
‘Unclean! Unclean! Leprosy in New Brunswick 1844-1880' by Laurie C.C. Stanley. The author states that she started this as an essay for a graduate seminar, matter-of-factly. A term paper to be completed, handed in and marked, but as she researched, it ceased to be a tedious exercise in scholarship and the story of the Lepers in New Brunswick began to unfold in her imagination.
‘Amanda Viger - Spiritual Healer to New Brunswick's Leprosy Victims, 1845 - 1906' by Mary Jane Losier is the saga of Amanda Viger who came to New Brunswick in 1868 at the age of twenty-three with five other nursing sisters to become the founder of the Hotel-Dieu Monastry in Tracadie.
‘Children of Lazarus - The Story of the Lazaretto at Tracadie' by M. J. Losier and C. Pinet uses the fictionalized voice of Marguerite Robichaud who was born in Tracadie in 1813, shortly before the symptoms appeared on Ursule Landry Benoit. She was only twenty-five years old, the mother of two children, when she first noticed the signs of the disease on herself. She lived with leprosy for nearly sixty years and tells what it was like for her and the others to leave their families and live in isolation, despised by strangers and feared by friends. Mention is made of the names of some of the lepers as well as the many government officials who were involved not only in their care but who theorized on the cause and cure of this disease.
The dedication in the book Children of Lazarus states: "To all those who suffered and died from Leprosy Disease, that your lost years may be returned to you, and your places restored in family histories."
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Boyd - Dyer - Read: My great-great grandfather was Arthur Henry Ainsley Boyd born about1867 to Thomas Edward Boyd from Sussex, New Brunswick who married Mary Catherine Dyer. They had two sons Arthur Henry and Melvin. Thomas died young and his widow married Gideon Palmer Read of Amherst in 1884 listing Studholm as her place of residence. They had at least one daughter Ada Read. Arthur Henry Boyd moved to Newton in the Boston area where my family has been since. I have all the relatives since coming to this area of the United States but none from Canada. Melvin Boyd moved to Alberta or Saskatchewan. Does anyone have any information on this Boyd family?
-Phyllis Ann Boyd. E-mail to email@example.com.
Ruby M. Cusack is a genealogy buff.
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