Joseph-Henri-Albiny Paquette, soldier, doctor and politician (born 7 October 1888 in Marieville, QC; died 25 September 1978 in Mont-Laurier, QC). Dr. Paquette served as a medical officer in Europe during the First World War and subsequently enjoyed a distinguished career in politics. He was the first Minister of Health of Québec.
Albiny Paquette was born in Marieville, Québec, to Wenceslas Paquette, a school teacher, and Marie Lareau. He studied at the Collège Mont-Saint-Louis, a classical college in Montréal, and in 1909 he was admitted to the Faculty of Medicine at the Montréal campus of Université Laval (known today as the Université de Montréal). He worked in a pharmacy to help pay for his studies. In 1912, he was elected president of the medical students’ association.
Medical Officer During the Great War
Paquette graduated in 1913 and worked for the Red Cross in the Near East. He then worked for the Canadian Army in Paris when the First World War broke out. In 1915 he volunteered to go to Serbia after learning that a typhus epidemic was raging there. While serving in Serbia, he met two other Québecois doctors: Irma LeVasseur and Raoul Brault.
In 1916, Paquette became a medical officer with the 69th Regiment based in Shorncliffe in the English county of Kent. In 1917, he returned to France and, at the age of 28, was promoted to the rank of senior medical officer in the 10th Reserve Battalion at the Saint Cloud Military Hospital. He became adjutant-major of the Hospital in 1918 and then returned to England to serve as a radiologist at Princess Patricia’s Canadian Red Cross Hospital in Eastbourne. On one of his many trips between England and France, he met Marcelle Lévy-Génard. They were married in Paris on 15 May 1919 and would have three children: Gisèle, Jean-Claude and Gilbert. Marcelle died in 1933 at the age of 37, and six years later, Paquette married Rose Daviault.
Country Doctor, Mayor, and Member of the Legislative Assembly
After his first marriage in 1919, Paquette returned to Québec and practised medicine in Mont-Laurier. He would soon add a very active career in politics to that of medicine, serving as mayor of Mont-Laurier from 1926 to 1935 and warden of Labelle County from 1929 to 1932. In 1935, he was elected as Action libérale nationale (ALN) member of the Legislative Assembly for the constituency of Labelle. In 1936, he joined the Union Nationale, a new party led by Maurice Duplessis and formed through a merger of the ALN with the Conservative Party of Québec. Paquette was re-elected as a Union Nationale member of the Legislative Assembly in the 1936, 1939, 1944, 1948, 1952, and 1956 elections.
Minister of Health
Following the Union Nationale victory in the 17 August 1936 general election, Paquette became Provincial Secretary of Québec. Two of the Secretary’s areas of responsibility were education and culture. On 12 November 1936, Maurice Duplessis created the Department of Health and appointed Paquette as its first minister. He served as Minister of Health from 1936 to 1939 and again from 1944 to 1958 after the Union Nationale regained power. Achievements during his tenure included setting up parish clinics for maternal and infant health as well as mobile tuberculosis screening units (see Public Health). He helped found Dr. Armand Frappier’s Institut de microbiologie et d’hygiène (today known as the Institut Armand-Frappier) at the Université de Montréal.
In addition to serving as a politician for many years, Dr. Paquette started a newspaper, Le Flambeau, and bought a printing house. He ceded both businesses to his son Gilbert in 1950.
Dr. Paquette had a deep attachment to the Catholic religion and its values. One of his first acts as Provincial Secretary was to have crucifixes placed above the chairs of the speakers of the Legislative Assembly (today the National Assembly) and the Legislative Council (Upper House, abolished in 1968).
Honours and Awards
Dr. Paquette received many awards in his lifetime. He was awarded the Médaille de Mons for his work in the Near East (1918), the French government’s Croix d’honneur (1919), the British government’s Military Medal (1920), the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal (1953), and the Canadian Centennial Medal (1967).
The Catholic Church made him a perpetual member of the Holy Land (1937) and a member of the Latin Order (1938), and it awarded him the Jerusalem Cross (1946). He died in 1978 at the age of 89.