Dr. Armand Frappier

His career

The school of hygiene

In 1927, Armand Frappier set up the diagnostic laboratory at Saint-Luc Hospital; he managed it until 1943.

The thirties were hard and sad. The economic crisis dragged on. Institutions were just scraping by. In Quebec, the university and the scientific community had to fight for their survival. The construction of the new building for the Université de Montréal, on Mont Royal, was interrupted for lack of money. In the middle of these gray times, Armand Frappier returned from abroad, his head full of projects…

But his employer, the Université de Montréal, was unable to offer him a decent salary. To make a living, he had to take up a second position as chief of laboratories at the Hôpital Saint-Luc.

Elsewhere in the world, bacteriology was making big strides. After his studies in the United States and France, Dr. Frappier attacked head on the work of creating a modern bacteriology department in Montreal at the Faculty of Medicine of the Université de Montréal. During the reorganization of the department, he introduced the Master’s and Doctoral programs. From 1933 on, Dr. Frappier taught microbiology and preventive medicine there, and continued to do so for more than 35 years. He was the founder and dean of the university’s school of hygiene for 20 years. This school was the first and only French language university of its kind in the world. Armand Frappier was a pioneer in the school’s organization.

The tuberculosis bacillus ©Robert Alain, SME, INRS-Institut Armand-Frappier

BCG vaccine production

The Université de Montréal named Dr. Frappier assistant professor in bacteriology and director of the BCG laboratory. This laboratory would eventually become the most important one of its kind in the Americas and Canada was the second country, after France, to produce the BCG vaccine.

The BCG vaccine against tuberculosis contained no preservatives. The technique used allowed it to be prepared quickly and specific conditions ensured its preservation. Neither the vaccine nor the strain was ever contaminated in more than 50 years.

In March 1938, Dr. Frappier founded the Institut de microbiologie et d’hygiène de Montréal, and served as its director for 38 years.

In 1939, the lack of space and the need to build a « hyperimmunization stable » led the Institute’s administrators to buy a farm in Laval-des-Rapides, a suburb of Montreal. Over the years, the acquired land covered 168 arpents, which is equivalent to 142 acres or 6,213,723 square feet; on it now stand 24 buildings, including several laboratories.

It is this research center that since 1975 has been called the Institut Armand-Frappier.

Since 1998, this teaching and research institute has been part of the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS), a constituent of the Université du Québec.

©Musée de la santé Armand-Frappier

Foundation of the Institute

Despite the prevailing economic crisis, financial aid to found the Institute was sought from the Quebec Premier, Maurice Duplessis, with the support of Dr. Préfontaine and his friends. The Institute was initially housed in the Mount Royal building of the Université de Montréal. The Institute was on the 6th floor, and as there was no elevator, the personnel had to climb 240 stairs to get to it. Heifers used in research were carried up on men’s backs.

©Musée de la santé Armand-Frappier

The beginnings of the Institut in Laval

The beginnings of the University of Montreal’s Institut de microbiologie et d’hygiène at 531, boulevard des Prairies in Laval.

Located, at first, in the main building of the Université de Montréal on Mont Royal, the Institute moved to the present Laval campus in 1963. This land was part of a farm that had been bought in 1939 in order to keep the big animals (horses and calves) needed in the production of serums, diphtheria and tetanus toxoids, as well as smallpox vaccines. The food for the Institute’s numerous laboratory animals was also grown at the farm.

War effort

World War II broke out in 1939. The young director of the Institute (Dr. Frappier was only 35 years old) convinced the Red Cross and the National Defense minister that his team could take over the lyophilization of blood serum for the armed forces. This first big challenge was met with success: 150,000 units of serum were sent to the Canadian and allied forces. At the end of the war, in 1945, the Institute is in a good position and called to a promising future.

Red cross medal ©Musée de la santé Armand-Frappier

The Canadian Red Cross Society awarded Dr. Armand Frappier its highest distinction, the honorary member’s medal, to reward the team at the Institut de microbiologie et d’hygiène de l’Université de Montréal for their great effort during the Second World War.

Production of vaccines and antibiotics

In 1942, the Institute produced the diphtheria, whooping cough (pertussis), and tetanus vaccine (DPT), and the antibiotics gramicidin and penicillin.

The Institute’s clientele was composed of more than 14 countries, all the Canadian provinces, the federal government and all its civil services, its military services and its aid programs to developing nations, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies.

After the war, penicillin and streptomycin were put at the disposal of civilians. It was at that time that the Institut Armand-Frappier, along with industry, allowed these antibiotics to be distributed to Canadians.

At the time, penicillin was only distributed for military use. One day, when a civilian patient was on the verge of dying, Dr. Frappier was asked to determine the nature of the infection from a microbial point of view. He took action and showed the test results to a committee. The committee was satisfied and made penicillin available to him. Within just a few hours following treatment, the patient’s condition was remarkably improved and within a few days he was in perfect health. Dr. Frappier was thus the first civilian doctor in Quebec to treat a civilian patient with penicillin by injection. Since then this treatment has been used to cure numerous infections!

The new great challenge of the Institute: the fight against two great viral diseases which are a menace to public health: influenza and poliomyelitis. Dr. Vytautas Pavilanis developed the virology department of the Institute and managed the team that produced vaccines against polio and influenza. With time running out, the Institute was able to produce, beginning in 1957, the anti-polio Salk vaccine as well as the vaccine against Asian flu.

Vaccination campaign

In 1946, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada asked Dr. Frappier to conduct sanitation studies of the First Nations communities of Quebec and Canada.

The mission given to Dr. Frappier consisted of studying the opportunity and feasibility of vaccinating the nomadic First Nations people against tuberculosis. The first region he visited in 1949 was Waswanipi, north of Senneville. Dr. Frappier participates in vaccination campaigns with First Nations by administering the tuberculosis vaccine himself.

Dr. Frappier demonstrated to the authorities the importance of vaccinating indigenous populations, who were being ravaged by tuberculosis. In 1950 and 1952, he went to the Mistassini and Manawan reserves to convince the populations to accept vaccination and to teach the technique to the nurses. BCG vaccination succeeded in eradicating the tuberculosis epidemic in these populations at the time.

Candler ©Musée de la santé Armand-Frappier
Production of vaccines ©Musée de la santé Armand-Frappier
Production of vaccines ©Musée de la santé Armand-Frappier

Candling device used in the production of the influenza vaccine : In 1957, the Institute became the only continuous influenza vaccine producer in Canada.

Production of vaccines : Production of the Salk and Sabin vaccines for the prevention of poliomyelitis. Rotating system for stirring tubes containing tissue culture of monkey kidneys and viruses for the production of Salk vaccine against poliomyelitis by the Institut de microbiologie et d’hygiène de l’Université de Montréal.

His retirement

A well-deserved retirement!

Armand Frappier was a welcoming, joyful, and dynamic man. His tenacity and perseverance allowed him to achieve the goals he set for himself. He was a philosopher of lively spirit and sound judgment. Moreover, he always looked at both sides of the coin before giving his opinion. At his conferences, his charisma was apparent and he excelled in the art of making even the driest subject matter seem interesting. He was a good speaker and could easily make the transition from seriousness to frank light-heartedness. cc In business matters, he had a good sense of organization and administration. His files were always well prepared. He was also a tireless reader. During his numerous travels, he would take the time to read up on the major and the less major historical aspects of cities and towns.

Dr. Frappier retired in 1974, at the age of 70.

Retirement ©Musée de la santé Armand-Frappier

Photograph of Dr. Frappier sitting at his desk at the Institut Armand-Frappier.

©Musée de la santé Armand-Frappier

A gift for Dr. Frappier

A photograph of Dr. Frappier with bound copies of his writings, a gift from the personnel of the Institut de microbiologie et d’hygiène de Montréal when he retired

His awards

The hard work that leads to the realization of a great dream is, in itself, its own reward. The Canadian and Quebec governments have shown their appreciation for the Institute’s services to the population, by awarding to Dr. Frappier their highest awards. Six universities (of Montreal, Laval, McGill, Quebec, Paris, and Krakow) have given him honorary doctorates. Several science academies and medical associations have given him medals and honorary diplomas; he is one of the rare foreigners to have received the Jean-Toy award from the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France.

Consult the table below for more information on some of Dr. Frappier’s awards.

Learn more about Dr. Armand Frappier’s life

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