GADBOIS, ALBINE, dite Marie de Bonsecours, Sister of Providence of Montreal, foundress and directress of the Institution des sourdes-muettes de Montréal; b. 22 Jan. 1830, daughter of Victor Vandandaigue, dit Gadbois, of Belœil (Verchères County), L.C., and Angélique Daignault, of Longueuil (Chambly County), L.C.; d. 31 Oct. 1874 at Montreal, Que., and buried 3 Nov. 1874 in the cemetery of the community at Longue-Pointe.
Albine Gadbois belonged to a family that came from French Flanders to Quebec around 1675. Her father cultivated a rich, spacious farm at Belœil, bordering on the Richelieu River and at the foot of Mont Saint-Hilaire. He had a fortune which allowed him to give his eight children a private education in French, English, and deportment. As the children grew up, Victor Gadbois kept them informed of his affairs. Unknown to himself, he thus contributed to the establishment of a charitable institution for deaf and dumb girls. The story of Albine Gadbois and of three of her sisters who joined the Sisters of Providence is identified with that of the Institution des sourdes-muettes de Montréal.
In 1846 Abbé Charles-Irénée Lagorce, parish priest of Saint-Charles-sur-Richelieu, through the help given by Mother Marie-Émélie-Eugénie Tavernier*, foundress of the Sisters of Providence, opened a school for the deaf and dumb of both sexes in a room of the Asile, then the mother house of the sisters at Montreal. With the members of the house, Albine Gadbois, who was still a novice, attended the Sunday catechism lessons, and showed a particular interest in them. She remembered a deaf-mute whom her parents had welcomed to their home, and the keen desire she had experienced to help children afflicted with deaf-muteness; she had said: “I will become a nun and care for these unfortunate ones.” She joined the Sisters of Providence on 17 March 1847, and made her profession on 31 March 1849. Appointed then to the boarding-school at Longue-Pointe, Marie de Bonsecours found there quite by chance a deaf and dumb girl eight years old, and was appointed to devote herself exclusively to her education and that of the daughter of a friend of her family. On 19 Feb. 1851 the charitable organization for deaf and dumb girls was thus started.
As she saw her activity on a large scale, the foundress asked to go to study at L’Industrie (Joliette), where the Clercs de Saint-Viateur had just set up a class for deaf-mutes. This was in 1852, when Abbé Lagorce, who had recently joined the Clercs de Saint-Viateur, was returning from a study leave in France. Seven weeks later the young schoolmistress returned to Longue-Pointe with a third pupil. Then in 1853, when there were 10 deaf and dumb girls at the institution, she left for New York. As an ordinary student, in secular costume, she spent a year at the Peet Institution (New York School for the Deaf). With new theoretical and practical knowledge, Marie de Bonsecours resumed her teaching at Montreal in July 1854. She brought new pupils back with her, and thus increased the number to 20. She spent eight more months in New York in 1858, and went to the United States for several more study leaves.
The growing institution was already suffering from its inadequate quarters at Longue-Pointe. On 8 July 1858 her 32 pupils were therefore transferred to Saint-Joseph house, the community house of the Sisters of Providence, near the Asile. A government grant of $480 had by now been obtained, as well as contributions from some municipalities. The public responded generously to the institution’s annual collection, but during its first 30 years it lived above all on the generosity of the parents and friends of the foundress. It is therefore true to assert that the Institution des sourdes-muettes owes its existence to the Gadbois family. Following their sister, Azilda, Malvina, and Philomène Gadbois gave to it the best part of their lives. The parents assigned all their wealth to it, even converting their farm, which had become a burden with the entry into religion of their seven daughters and the accidental death of their only son, into a branch establishment. The hospice La Providence Saint-Victor, at the foot of Mont Saint-Hilaire, still stands as a testimony to a family’s generosity.
In its turn, Saint-Joseph house became too small. On 17 July 1863, a Montreal lawyer, Côme-Séraphin Cherrier*, gave it a piece of land in Rue Saint-Denis, in the Saint-Jacques district, on the edge of his property. The community of the Sisters of Providence was in poverty; Marie de Bonsecours had only $300 with which to put up a building. Fortunately, a gift of a few thousand dollars enabled her to meet the legitimate requirements of the undertaking. In July 1864 a house of rough stone opened its doors to deaf and dumb girls, at the spot where the present Institution des sourdes-muettes de Montréal stands.
Marie de Bonsecours spared no effort to forward her endeavours. At the beginning, under the influence of the Clercs de Saint-Viateur, she had adopted the mimic method of Abbé Charles-Michel de l’Épée. This famous 18th-century French educator had created for deaf-mutes a language of conventional signs. But Sister Marie de Bonsecours went to Europe in May 1870, to study a method of teaching which had been developed in Germany. This so-called oral method is based on the principle that the mutism of deaf-mutes is most often due to inability to hear, and not to lack of vocal organs. It is therefore possible to enable a deaf-mute to perceive speech through sight and touch, and thus to teach him gradually to pronounce sounds, syllables, words, and sentences. From May to July 1870, Sister Marie de Bonsecours visited institutions similar to her own in Belgium, France, England, and Ireland. In the autumn of 1870, in her own institution, she gave priority to the oral over the dactylological method, keeping the sign method for extreme cases only.
Sister Marie de Bonsecours’ establishment was improved and expanded. In January 1872 a wing was added to the house in Rue Saint-Denis. It was the last building operation supervised by the foundress. In August 1874 she came back ill from a mission at Missoula (Montana), afflicted with cancer of the throat. She returned only to die at home, at the Institution des sourdes-muettes de Montréal, an establishment she had herself created, organized, and developed with tenacious will power and indefatigable charity. Of the 44 years of her life, Albine Gadbois, dite Sister Marie de Bonsecours, had devoted 24 to the education of deaf and dumb girls. By bringing them out of their intellectual and moral isolation she had restored them to themselves and to Canadian society.
Nécrologies des Filles de la Charité Servantes des Pauvres, dites sœurs de la Providence de Montréal (1847–1891) (2e éd., Montréal, 1921), 124–43. Institution des sourdes-muettes (Montréal), Au pas de la Providence; les étapes d’un centenaire, 1851–1950 (Montréal, ). “L’Institution des sourdes-muettes, à Montréal,” La Semaine religieuse de Montréal, 20 févr. 1892. La Minerve (Montréal), 5 nov. 1874 (obituary of S. Marie de Bonsecours).