LABILLOIS (La Billois), CHARLES-MARIE, surgeon; b. 8 July 1793 at Ploërmel (dept of Morbihan, France), son of Jean-Pierre Labillois, a district secretary, and Périnne-Louise Gaillard; d. 16 Sept. 1868 at Restigouche, Que.
Charles-Marie Labillois was a surgeon in the French Marine before arriving in 1816 at Miguasha, Lower Canada. That year he married Émilie Meagher, sister of John Meagher, who was later mha for the county of Bonaventure; they were to have ten children. He practised medicine for more than 30 years, then in 1849 was invited to look after the sick in the leper hospital at Tracadie, N.B.
Leprosy had probably appeared in Gloucester and Northumberland counties at the beginning of the century but the provincial authorities did not take an interest in the fate of the unfortunate people stricken with it until the 1840s. In April 1844 they created the first county board of health; its members included Joseph Cunard, an influential shipbuilder, and François-Xavier-Stanislas Lafrance, parish priest of Tracadie. In that year a lazaret was established on Sheldrake Island in Miramichi Bay; five years later, in July 1849, a leper hospital was opened at Tracadie.
Although their living conditions had improved, the lepers, with the support of their families and the inhabitants of neighbouring parishes, demanded the appointment of a doctor for the establishment. The new board of health set up in April 1849, agreed that Dr Labillois, who was well known for having cured several lepers in the Baie des Chaleurs region, should visit the hospital and treat the sick. However, as no provision had been made to remunerate a resident doctor for his services, the board refused to guarantee Labillois a salary. He none the less cared for the 31 patients in the hospital from September 1849 to January 1850. According to the secretary of the board, James Davidson, Labillois cured a fair number of lepers and improved hygienic conditions in the establishment. With no further guarantees, Dr Labillois worked there for six more months in 1850.
On 19 Dec. 1850, soon after his departure, Labillois wrote to the board of health to say that “almost all the sores of both old and new patients have been cured.” Nevertheless, following an inquiry conducted by Dr Robert Gordon – who, as it happened, was to replace Labillois in 1851 – the board concluded that Labillois had hospitalized some non lepers, to “make people believe that there had been cures,” and rejected Labillois’ assertions. Labillois in turn contradicted the conclusions of the report of a medical commission which had been set up in 1844 by the lieutenant governor of the province, Sir William MacBean George Colebrooke, and included Dr Gordon; Labillois maintained that the sick at Tracadie were suffering from syphilis and not leprosy. However, when certain patients whom he had declared cured returned to the hospital he was further discredited. Judged incompetent, but to some extent the victim of a coterie, Labillois is thought to have left Tracadie without ever having been remunerated. His activities until his death in 1868 are unknown.
In any event, Labillois’ stay at Tracadie benefitted the sick. His presence, devotion, and treatments effected many improvements, which were confirmed both by James Davidson and by the chaplains of the leper hospital, Abbés Lafrance and Ferdinand-Edmond Gauvreau*, and by the lepers themselves. The medical aid he gave was certainly appreciated, for in 1860 Abbé Gauvreau and 212 other signatories were still demanding his return.
Archives départementales, Morbihan (Vannes), État civil, Ploërmel, 8 juill. 1793. Archives judiciaires, Bonaventure (New Carlisle, Qué.), Registre d’état civil, paroisse Saint-Joseph-de-Carleton, 18 sept. 1868. N.B., House of Assembly, Journals, 1850–53. Les Couriers des Provinces maritimes (Bathurst, N.-B.), 12 juill. 1894. Le Moniteur acadien (Shédiac, N.-B.), 16 oct. 1868. Patrice Gallant, Les registres de la Gaspésie (1752–1860) (6v., s.l., s.d.), III, 300. Heagerty, Four centuries of medical history in Can., I, 161–67. F.-M. Lajat, Le lazaret de Tracadie et la communauté des Religieuses hospitalières de Saint-Joseph (Montréal, 1938), 19–155. [J.-]É. Lefebvre de Bellefeuille, “Les lépreux de Tracadie,” Revue canadienne (Montréal), VII (1870), 545–74.