International Leprosy Association -
History of Leprosy

  • International Leprosy Association -
    History of Leprosy


    City of Victoria Archives


    Category Institutional Archive
    Country Canada
    Address #8 Centennial Square, Victoria, BC, Canada
    Telephone (250) 361-0375
    Fax 250.361.0367


    The records of the City of Victoria Archives include documents, research notes, and newspaper clippings related to the management of leprosy in British Columbia and specifically the lazarettes on D’Arcy and Bentinck Islands. They also contain some material on the lazarette at Tracadie and reports created by Dr A C Smith (the doctor at Tracadie). This material has been assembled by Chris Yorath for his book, A Measure of Value: The Story of the D’Arcy Island Leper Colony (Victoria, BC: Touch Wood Editions, 2000).

    The material in this collection dates from 1886, a time which marks a period of growing alarm about the spread of leprosy in the Province of British Columbia. (The Quarantine Service were responsible for apprehending and confining people with the disease from 1880.) The collection documents measures that were taken to contain mostly Chinese immigrants on D’Arcy Island from the 1890s. After 1908, Chinese with the disease were repatriated to China, and the lazarette on D’Arcy Island was retained as a holding place for those who were awaiting deportation, until it was closed in 1924. Then Bentinck Island was used as a lazarette, until it was closed in 1957. The collection gathers together excerpts from Health Officer Reports and extracts from Annual Reports and other correspondence pertaining to the lazaretto at D’Arcy Island, British Columbia. It contains copies of material pertaining to leprosy from the Records of the Federal Government of Canada held at the Public Archives of Canada, including records of the Department of Health and Welfare, records relating to the Quarantine Division, Immigration Medical Services and Sick Mariners Service, 1867-1957, and records of the Medical Services Branch, 1885-1978.

    There is also an extensive collection of files organized by years (dating from 1891-1924) consisting of press clippings, interspersed with local council minutes and correspondence and medical reports to and from various health officials at the local, provincial, and dominion levels of responsibility. The press clippings are from the following newspapers: the Daily Colonist, Daily Times, Vancouver Daily World, the Victoria Daily Times, and the Vancouver Province.

    In addition, there is also a copy of a ten-page medical article with photographic illustrations of patients and the lazaretto by Ernest Hall, M.D., and John Nelson entitled “The Lepers of D’Arcy Island”, Victoria, BC, which was published in both the Dominion Medical Monthly and the Ontario Medical Journal, 11.6 (1898). The Bentinck Island newspaper clipping file includes material from the 1980s through to 2000 from the Vancouver Sun, The Islander, and the Daily Colonist. There is also a file of contemporary newspaper clippings on D’Arcy Island.

    Material held by the Public Archives of Canada and duplicated here includes correspondence from Rev H P Wright, author of Leprosy an Imperial Danger (London: Churchill, 1889) to Prime Minister John A Macdonald, 8 October 1886, concerning leprosy in British Columbia.

    The excerpts from Health Officer Reports date from 1892 to 1906 and include medical reports on the health and the cost of upkeep of those on D’Arcy Island. Correspondents include G L Milne, MD; R L Fraser, MD; and Hermann M Robertson.

    Extracts from annual reports and other correspondence pertaining to the events of 1907 and 1908 document the decisions that led to the D’Arcy Island colony being taken over by the Dominion Government. This includes documentation around the return of people with the disease to China and into the care of the Presbyterian Mission at Canton. The collection also includes a copy of the legislation, An Act Respecting Leprosy. 6 Edward VII, Chap. 24. (26 June 1906). This act gave the Dominion of Canada (Governor in Council and Minister of Agriculture) control over the identification, treatment, and housing of people with leprosy in Canada.

    The Medical Services Branch records (1885-1978) include “records relating to the history and treatment of leprosy in Canada.” These include ledgers concerning Tracadie Lazaretto (1900-1908), articles and records relating to the history and treatment of leprosy in Canada, the papers of Chester P Brown (the quarantine officer in charge of the William Head Quarantine Station and Leper Colony), and a map of the Caraquet area of New Brunswick.

    Correspondence dating from 18 May 1891 makes it possible to map concerns about the increase of leprosy in British Columbia. Much of this involves debates about whether the lazarette is dominion, provincial, or state responsibility. There is correspondence organizing the deportation of people with the disease to China, the notification of individual cases in various places such as Austin, Toronto, Montreal, and Winnipeg, and reports relating to the financial responsibility and the administration of the lazarette.

    Correspondents include Hon John Carling, Ottawa; D Oppenheimer, Mayor of Vancouver; J Lowe, DMA, Ottawa, the Director General of Public Health; Rev Andrew Beattie; a succession of Sanitary Officers such as B Bailey, Murray, M J Conlin, Chipcase, Wilson; and the following Medical Officers: G L Milne, George H Duncan, R L Fraser, A T Watt, H Rundle Nelson, and Chester Brown.

    Details concerning the origins of the lazarette can be found in documents describing A C Smith’s visit to Victoria to investigate leprosy cases, the subsequent removal of the lepers from Victoria, and the establishment of a leper colony on D’Arcy Island as a temporary measure by the city.

    Newspaper clipping and correspondence between members of parliament and government ministers trace the reluctance of the authorities to assume responsibility over the treatment of two Chinese lepers shipped from New York to Vancouver on their way to China. This controversy extends from July 1891 and continues until December of that year.

    After 1924, the Bentinck Island officially came into use, but records for patients recording names, nationality, province of origin, date of admission, and remarks are dated from 1916.

    The more recent newspaper clippings on Bentinck Island connect the history of the island to its contemporary use by the Department of National Defence as a demolition range. They also include an interview with Dr Roy Jenkins, a former head of the federal health and welfare department’s quarantine division at William Head and administrator of Bentinck Island, about conditions and treatments on the island.

    The press clippings on D’Arcy Island record its creation as a “Class A” Marine Park in 1967 or they recap its history as a lazaretto. In addition, there are press reports that describe the actions of the Mayor of Victoria, Alan Lowe, who placed a plaque on the island in commemoration of those who died in the colony.

    Entry made April-June 2002


    Organization City of Victoria Archives
    Address City of Victoria Archives, #1 Centennial Square, Victoria, BC, Canada, V8W 1P6.
    Telephone +1 (250) 361-0375
    Fax 250.361.0367

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