MELANÇON (Melanson), MARIE-VÉNÉRANDE, named de Sainte-Claire, hospital nun of the Hôtel-Dieu in Quebec and superior; b. 11 Nov. 1754 in Annapolis Royal, N.S., daughter of Jean-Baptiste Melançon and Marie-Anne Robichaud; d. 13 Oct. 1817 at Quebec, Lower Canada.
Marie-Vénérande Melançon, who was of Acadian ancestry, came to Quebec with her family, probably towards the end of 1757. Like many other Acadian families emigrating at that period, the Melançons had to suffer the famine prevailing in Quebec, as well as the rigours of the Seven Years’ War, and to live in poverty through the beginnings of the British régime. In 1760 and 1761 they were residing at Charlesbourg, where the parents had two children baptized.
Marie-Vénérande entered the convent of the Hôtel-Dieu on 10 Aug. 1774 at the age of 19 and on 25 Feb. 1776 was permitted to take her vows under the name of Sainte-Claire. However, as the American revolution had led to the invasion of the province of Quebec [see Benedict Arnold; Richard Montgomery*] and the city had been besieged since the beginning of December 1775, the ceremony of profession was delayed. It took place on 17 June 1776, after the Americans had lifted the siege. The Melançons were accorded exceptional terms for the dowry of their daughter, who was admitted for 2,400 livres instead of the 3,000 livres usually required for a choir nun. Nevertheless, only 1,200 livres, the gift of some benefactors, had been paid by the beginning of June 1776, and the parents were exempted from paying the remaining 1,200 livres in exchange for making over to the community of the Hôtel-Dieu their daughter’s future share in their estate. In addition, Abb. Joseph-Mathurin Bourg*, vicar general of Acadia who two years earlier had promised to give 600 livres, had paid 532 by 9 Sept. 1777. The reduction of her dowry can be explained not only by the Melançon family’s modest circumstances, but also by the community’s need for new members. Since 1755, as a result of the small number of recruits and of illness, the size of the community had decreased and the average age of its members had risen; in some 30 years only 12 postulants were taken in as choir nuns and hence in 1787 there were only 26 professed.
Until 1787 Marie-Vénérande de Sainte-Claire, who “was skilful in all things [and] was very successful with artificial flowers,” contributed through the income from her handiwork to the community’s efforts at liquidating heavy debts. In October of that year Bishop Hubert* named her depositary for the poor, a post she held until her election as assistant in 1799. In the latter office she worked with the superior Marie-Geneviève Parent, named de Saint-François d’Assise, to plan the rebuilding of the chapel, which had been destroyed in a fire at the Hôtel-Dieu in 1755, and to get construction under way in the spring of 1800. When she was elected superior in 1801 the work was still not far advanced, but the consecration ceremonies were held two years later, before the end of her first term.
Marie-Vénérande de Sainte-Claire was in charge of the community for two consecutive three-year terms, the maximum period allowed, and then became assistant again in 1807; she served in this capacity until she took charge once more in November 1813. Her name is associated with a project that took shape in the spring of 1816: the rebuilding of the hospital. In the period just after the fire of 1755, which had destroyed the hospital and the convent as well as the chapel, the nuns had had only the convent rebuilt, the ground floor of its east wing being used for the sick. The British troops occupied that floor in 1759, and not until they left in 1784 was the hospital, still located in the convent, able to open its doors to the civilian population. At that time it had ten beds for men and eight for women, fewer than under the French régime. The increase in population quickly made it too cramped, but lack of funds prevented any thought of a new building. In 1812 the nuns appealed for government aid to meet ordinary expenses and obtained an annual subsidy of £300 for the relief of the sick. For four years they saved part of this sum, and finally in the spring of 1816 the rebuilding project took shape. After debates within the community about the size of the future hospital, Marie-Vénérande de Sainte-Claire assured the bishop that her community would respect whatever decisions he took. Bishop Plessis* considered it unnecessary to use an architect and suggested they rely upon the masons’ advice. The work began on 8 Oct. 1816, but after some progress had been made the hospital nuns realized that their means were insufficient.
On 7 Feb. 1817 Marie-Vénérande de Sainte-Claire presented a petition to the House of Assembly requesting help from the government. However, some property owners on Rue des Pauvres (Côte du Palais) disapproved of the nuns’ project. They alleged that the hospital’s proximity to the street made the neighbourhood unpleasant and unsanitary, and that in well organized towns hospitals were relegated to outlying areas. Not only was the air unhealthy, they said, but there would be a depreciation in the value of their properties. A counter-petition signed by 209 citizens supported the nuns. Finally the assembly yielded to the Hôtel-Dieu’s request, but the bill was rejected by the Legislative Council. In April 1817 a public subscription was organized to meet the expenses of the work for that year and enable material already delivered to the building site to be utilized. The following year the nuns were successful in pressing their claim for government aid and with this assistance work went on until 1825.
Marie-Vénérande de Sainte-Claire, however, never knew the outcome of her endeavours for a malignant fever earned her off on 13 Oct. 1817 after a week’s illness. During the 41 years she spent in religious life she was assistant for eight and superior for almost ten; she held the latter office at the time of her death. She had also been counsellor since 28 Jan. 1788.
Arch. of the Diocese of Yarmouth (Yarmouth, N.S.), Saint-Jean-Baptiste-de-Port-Royal (Annapolis Royal), Reg. des baptêmes, mariages, et sépultures, 15 janv. 1755 (mfm. au CÉA). Arch. du monastère de l’Hôtel-Dieu de Québec, Actes capitulaires, I: ff.57–64; Corr., Clergé séculier, Arthur Melançon, 26 sept. 1899; Évêques, Pierre Denaut, J.-O. Plessis, et A.-B. Robert, nos.7–11; B.-C. Panet, A.-B. Robert, no.1; J.-O. Plessis, nos.1, 2; Dossier des vœux, no.116; Élections triennales et annuelles, I: 190–212, 214, 220; II: 3–21; Hôpital, Copies de lettres, requêtes, états de comptes, Législature, 1801–92: 6–10, 14–21, 23–24; Notes et mémoires des anciennes mères, armoire 5, cahiers 2/1–2; Notices biographiques, M.-V. Melançon. Tanguay, Dictionnaire, 5: 587. Arsenault, Hist. et généal. des Acadiens (1965), 1: 466–67. H.-R. Casgrain, Histoire de l’Hôtel-Dieu de Québec (Québec, 1878), 401, 430, 446, 470–72, 506–7, 591. Raymonde Landry Gauthier, “Les constructions de l’Hôtel-Dieu de Québec (1637–1960)” (travail présenté à l’univ. Laval, 1974), 28.