The most ancient Hindu legends speak of this disease. Several characters from the Bible were afflicted by this same disease which was perceived with terror. In one of its books, Leviticus, Chapter XIII, Moses speaks of the disease in great detail stating that it spared no one: men, women or children.
Leprosy's scientific name is mycobacterium leprae humanum. It is also named "Hansen's disease" after its discoverer, G-A Hansen, a Norwegian researcher. He discovered the leprosy bacillus in 1873. It is a slowly developing cutaneous infection that is not very contagious. There are two kinds of leprosy: "the tuberculoid and the lepromatous". The first kind is its most common form.
How does leprosy spread? According to Father Damien de Veuster, ss. cc <!-SCT-->(1840-1889), having himself died from this disease, believed that "leprosy is contracted via respiration and inoculation. It is not contagious, but infectious. This can occur in different ways, for example : vaccination, contact of the bacteria with a wound, a scratch, wearing the same clothes worn by the lepers, sleeping in their beds, smoking the same pipe or using the same tools as the lepers." A noteworthy fact, the Religious Hospitallers of Saint Joseph took care of the lepers from 1868 to 1965, not one of these nuns ever contracted leprosy.
A group of 15 lepers at the lazaretto
Tracadie, New Brunswick, Canada
Beginning of the leprosy in New Brunswick
The most plausible theory that explains the appearance of leprosy in New Brunswick seems to be linked to two Norwegian men. La Florida, a schooner, was sailing between Caraquet and Quebec. Circa 1817, during one of its voyages, two Europeans got unboard to reach Chaleur Bay. As the trip progressed, the captain noticed that both travelers were covered in ulcers and emitted a putrid odour. The captain warned his crew to avoid them as he did not know which sickness had infected them.
The two travelers disembarked in Maisonnette. They had reached the region of Tracadie a few days later. Obviously, they stayed with Acadian families. Amongst these families, a woman named Scholastique Ursule Landry became infected and died of leprosy in 1828. Her husband also became infected and died in 1834. Her sisters, Isabelle and Françoise, as well as others, all died of <!-SCT-->this disease in their own homes before 1844. This oral tradition, also speaks of two Norwegian travelers that had escaped from a lazaretto in their homeland.
Father François Xavier S. Lafrance, first resident pastor of Tracadie
Tracadie, New Brunswick, Canada
Acknowledgement of the disease by the Province of New Brunswick
Father Lafrance arrived in Tracadie in early 1842. He immediately noticed that a large number of people suffered from a strange disease that they called the "sickness" or "la maladie". He had himself studied medicine before joining the priesthood. He decided to inform the provincial government about the dangerous state of the disease that was taking hold of his parish. At the request of the government, he wrote a report to the province's Lieutenant-Governor in which he stated that this disease was similar to leprosy tuberculosis which had spread rampantly through Europe in the 18th century. Lazarettos had been constructed to stop the disease; hence, he suggested that a lazaretto be built in Tracadie and that an annual subsidy be granted for its upkeep.
He also asked that a committee be named with the authority to quarantine <!-SCT-->the sick suffering from leprosy. He obtained that which he seeked in the creation of a "Bureau of Health" which was the first of its kind in the province and in Lower Canada. Its members, Joseph Cunard, president, Francois Xavier S. Lafrance, chaplain and Charles J. Peters, received the authority to find a site that could welcome the sick of the region.
Feet X-Ray of a leper
Tracadie, New Brunswick, Canada
X-Ray illustrating the effects of leprosy.
An act preventing the spread of a disorder in certain parts of Gloucester and Northumberland.
13 April 1844
Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada
Order in Council
An Act to Prevent the Spread of a Disorder now Existing in Certain Parts of the Counties of Gloucester and Northumberland
"To the Honorables Joseph Cunard, Alexander Rankin, esq. , Alexander Key, doctor, Rev. F. X. Lafrance, George Kerr, Charles J. Peters, esq.".
"By an Act of the Legislative Assembly, called: " An Act to Prevent the Spread of a Disorder Now Existing in Certain Parts of the Counties of Gloucester and Northumberland", made and passed on the thirteen day of the Month of April of the V111 th year of the reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria,".
"Be it therefore enacted that the Lieutenant Governor, have the power to appoint three or more persons to constitute a Board or Boards of Health, to have authority in the said Counties or <!-SCT-->in either of them, or in such Parish or Parishes, District of Districts of them, or either of them, that the Lieutenant Governor may deem necessary, and such Board to be called the Board of Health of such County or Counties, Parish or parishes, District or Districts".
"And secondly, that the Lieutenant Governor have equally the power to displace all or any such persons , and appoint others in the place or instead of such displaced person or persons, and also to increase the number of the members of such Board or Boards of Health".
"Now, and be it enacted that by virtue of the foresaid Act, you had been appointed: Hon. Joseph Cunard, Alexander Rankin esq., Alexander Key, doctor, Reverend F. X. Lafrance, George Kerr, esq., confident in your fidelity and wisdon to constitute the Board of Health of the Counties of <!-SCT-->Gloucester and Northumberland and be a member".
"And be it enacted, that by the power of the aforementioned Act, I confer to you full power and authority with the consent and approbation of His Excelllency the Lieutenant Governor and Administrator of the Province, or until other person or persons be appointed to displace you".
"The members of the Board of Health and other subjects of His majesty are urged to acknowledge the Rules and Regulations hereinafter mentioned and act accordingly".
"That was the first Board of Health in New Brunswick, Lower Canada".