Dr. Armand Frappier

The Man

Armand, the first-born child of Arthur Frappier and Bernadette Codebecq ©Musée de la santé Armand-Frappier

His birth

Armand Frappier was born in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Quebec, on November 26, 1904. He was the oldest of eight children. His parents are Arthur Alexis Frappier et Bernadette Codebecq.

Arthur Frappier was a teacher and school principal in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield for twenty years. A talented artist, he was also the Cathedral’s organist, the local brass band’s director, and a music teacher. Bernadette Codebecq, Armand Frappier’s mother also came from a family of teachers. Her father even founded a model school and she taught school, as did her four sisters.

His studies

At age 6, Armand started school with the Sisters of Providence. His father insisted he repeat the fourth grade, judging that his marks were not up to par. Armand completed his classical studies at the Séminaire de Valleyfield, and finished among the top students in his class.

Anecdote: Up until “versification” (the equivalent of today’s Secondary IV) in his “études classiques”, Armand Frappier was, as he himself put it, an « undisciplined student ». Armand and his friend, Maximilien Caron, led the gang of unruly students. One day, a professor reprimanded them and told them what he thought of them. To Maximilien « You are nothing but a ton of pride »; and to Armand: « You are not true to yourself, you are but a sheep following the other unruly students ». The lesson would turn out to be beneficial: both men went on to have brilliant careers, one in medicine, the other in law. At this time, Armand adopted the motto Vox non echo which means « you will be the voice, not the echo ».

A career choice marked by pain

It was in college, from the first introductory courses in chemistry, that Armand Frappier discovered his passion for this branch of science. He even set up a laboratory in the stable behind his house, where he could conduct experiments at his leisure. He thought he had found his calling. Unfortunately, a dark shadow hovered over Armand Frappier’s life and family: tuberculosis. Without access to a vaccine to prevent the disease or treatments to cure it, Armand Frappier’s mother died from it in May, 1923, at 40 years of age. Armand Frappier was only 19 years old. During the same period of time, he suffered the loss of other close family members. He described these deaths as a « black and trying period in his life ». Armand Frappier would become not a chemist, but a doctor.

Le jeune Armand Frappier
The young Armand Frappier ©Musée de la santé Armand-Frappier
Drawing executed by Dr. Frappier during his protozoology course (1924-1925). ©Musée de la santé Armand-Frappier
Dr. Armand Frappier’s stethoscope. ©Musée de la santé Armand-Frappier
Dr. Armand-Frappier posing at the foot of the Trudeau statue in Saranac Lake in the state of New York. ©Musée de la santé Armand-Frappier
Armand Frappier was awarded the degree of Doctor of Medicine on May 30, 1930, at the Université de Montréal. This document is a duplicate of the original diploma; it was issued on June 30, 1994.©Musée de la santé Armand-Frappier
Dr. Armand-Frappier’s medical case ©Musée de la santé Armand-Frappier

His studies in medicine at the Université de Montréal

In 1924, having finished his studies at the Collège de Valleyfield and obtained a bachelor of arts degree, he registered as a student in the faculty of medicine at the Université de Montréal. From that moment on, he would pursue his fight against this « tueuse de maman » (mother killer), tuberculosis.

In June, 1930, after 5 years of study and work, he was finally awarded his doctor’s diploma. But there was still a long way to go in order to realize his dream of doing research. In order to improve his knowledge of the basic sciences, he enrolled immediately in a one-year program to obtain certificates in biochemistry, physical chemistry, and mathematics.

1931: An encounter that shaped his career

« One day, as I was talking with the physiology professor, Dr. Elie Asselin, he said: “If you want to find a solution to tuberculosis, you won’t find it with chemistry, but with microbiology. » Two days later I put my destiny in the hands of the Dean of Medicine of the Université de Montréal, Dr. Télesphore Parizeau, who welcomed me with open arms. He helped me get a scholarship from the Rockefeller Foundation so that I could go and study in the United States.»

Dr. Télesphore Parizeau had himself studied at the Institut Pasteur in Paris.

In the thirties, Quebec was unable to offer a more complete education to its graduates. The young Dr. Frappier had to look elsewhere – to the place where the development of science was beginning to accelerate – in order to acquire the knowledge he needed to attack tuberculosis.

His studies at the University of Rochester

In the early 1930s, a grant from the Rockfeller Foundation opened doors for him in the American laboratories. Armand Frappier went to the University of Rochester, a rich and well-equipped establishment, financed by Kodak, to study microbiology. Compared to the Université de Montréal which was poor and decrepit, and where research was poorly developed — the contrast was enormous. Instead of being discouraged, Armand Frappier told himself that he would have a stimulating challenge in order to improve things when he returned home! During this learning period in the United States, he interned in the microbiology laboratories of several renowned researchers, many of whom were staunchly opposed to the BCG vaccine.

His trip to the Institut Pasteur

The BCG vaccine, developed and perfected at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, was the first live weakened vaccine to be used. The Americans, led by Dr. Petroff, were unenthusiastic about its widespread use. They feared that, given time, the bacillus would regain its virulence (its power to cause the disease). Even after decades of being used in total safety, the fear of the BCG vaccine persisted in the United States.

Dr. Petroff, a great opponent to the use of BCG, died of tuberculosis. Dr. Frappier trained in his laboratory in 1932. Dr. Frappier trained in his laboratory in 1932.

When Dr. Frappier arrived at the Institut Pasteur, the BCG vaccine had been in successful use for eight years. Dr. Nègre’s experiments, after those of Calmette and Guerin, had proven the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine, and had shown that the Americans’ great fear of seeing the virulence reappear was unfounded. The Institut Pasteur was at the very heart of microbiology and of the fight against tuberculosis. This was quite an experience for Dr. Frappier, because this was when he learned to produce the BCG vaccine. Convinced that he finally had an efficient weapon against tuberculosis, Dr. Frappier returned to the country with very precious baggage: a flask containing a strain of the famous BCG!

« We arrived in Montreal on January 1, 1933, after a transatlantic crossing during which the Carinthia met such a storm that water was entering by the windows in the living room. »

« During these studies abroad, I had not only opened my mind, but I also became more familiar with the experimental method. I had become friends with my professors and they had promised me their help. I followed their advice and kept in touch with them until their deaths. I brought a strain of BCG from the Institut Pasteur back with me.»

Wishing to understand for himself both sides of the issue regarding the use of the BCG vaccine, Dr. Frappier decided to visit the vaccine’s discoverers, Calmette and Guérin. ©Musée de la santé Armand-Frappier

His post medical studies

He pursued his post medical studies, taking courses in advanced mathematics, biology, and biochemistry. At the beginning of 1933, he obtained his Bachelor of Science, composed of three study certificates, from the Université de Montréal.

In 1933, Dr. Frappier was the first North American researcher solicited by the National Research Council of Canada to confirm the quality and effectiveness of the BCG vaccine and to develop a safe production process. The Institut Pasteur entrusted Dr. Frappier with a BCG strain that he brought back to Canada in order to produce a live but attenuated vaccine here. Dr. Frappier was a supporter of the rational application of antituberculosis vaccination by BCG in Canada.

His family

Economies were crumbling. The world was in crisis. Democracies were trembling. Perspectives were daunting. But Armand Frappier did not let this drag him down. He was already used to providing for his own needs and accepted the family responsibilities that destiny forced upon him when his father died while he was still a student. They would not live in wealth, but they would get by.

Mariage d'Armand Frappier
Wedding of Thérèse Ostiguy and Armand Frappier on June 29, 1929. ©Musée de la santé Armand-Frappier
Lise Frappier et ses parents Portrait
Lise Frappier with her parents: Thérèse Ostiguy and Armand Frappier. ©Musée de la santé Armand-Frappier
Les enfants d'Armand Frappier
Armand Frappier’s children ©Musée de la santé Armand-Frappier

His wedding

On June 29, 1929, he married Thérèse Ostiguy, second eldest of 10 children born to Noël Ostiguy, a fur trader from Salaberry-de-Valleyfield. The honeymoon took place on the Richelieu, a boat where Les Carabins, the group of musicians of which he was a member, provided entertainment.

Another family responsibility

A few months later, Armand Frappier’s father died suddenly at the age of 58. He left behind 4 young children. At age 25, newly married and still a student, Armand took on the responsibility of supporting the family.

The Frappier family ©Musée de la santé Armand-Frappier

His children

In May 1930, one month before he obtained his medical degree from the Université de Montréal, his daughter Lise was born. Armand Frappier had to deliver his daughter himself because the doctor arrived too late. Her birth was later followed by the births of three other children, Monique, Michèle, and Paul.

Lise would go on to pursue medical studies at the Université de Montréal and a Master’s degree in public health at Harvard University in the United States. She became an epidemiologist, taught at McGill University and at the École d’hygiène de l’Université de Montréal, and worked for more than 30 years at the Institut Armand-Frappier. Lise Frappier married Dr. André Davignon, a professor at the Université de Montréal and a renowned cardiologist at Hôpital Sainte-Justine. Mrs. Frappier-Davignon died in May 1999.

Monique studied in the Faculty of Social Science of the Université de Montréal and earned her Master’s degree in economics. She married Gilles Desrochers and together they adopted two children. She completed her first year of doctoral studies in economics at Cambridge, England, followed by two years at McGill. She held, among others, the position of Economic Research Director in one of the Quebec government ministries. She passed away in April 2017.

Michèle obtained her Bachelor of Science in dietetics and nutrition from the Université de Montréal. She worked in the field of dairy products in Quebec and then in fisheries in Ottawa. Working for the federal government, she contributed to the commercialization of Canadian fishery products in Canada, the United States, Europe, and in Asia before taking on contracts with the largest governmental and industrial organizations. She married Jacques Daignault, an international financier. They had two children together.

After college, Paul pursued his studies as a chartered evaluator and became a businessman in building valuation. Paul Frappier and his wife, Diane Berthelet, also in the business world, had two children. Paul died in 2005.

His leisure activities

Music

From an early age, Armand Frappier learned to multitask: juggling his studies and musical interests, all the while making time for friends and leisure. His father introduced him and his brother, Irénée, to the violin, cello, and clarinet. Barely 7 years old, he was already appearing on stage in regional parish halls and social settings, as part of the « Trio Frappier » with his father and his brother. Though he initially played for the sheer pleasure of it, Armand Frappier eventually played the violin to earn money while in school.

In 1924, even though he had no money, Armand Frappier enrolled in the Faculty of Medicine of the Université de Montréal. His father had told him: « I paid for my studies with my music, you’ll do the same. » After having unsuccessfully looked for a position as a music teacher, Armand started his own orchestra: « Les Carabins ». They played in restaurants, for parties and receptions and, in the summer, on the ships of the Canadian Steamship Line.

Music didn’t make him forget his passion for chemistry. He took a job as an assistant at the chemistry laboratory of the Université de Montréal and, in addition, he took on the responsibility of the chemistry laboratories of Hôpital Saint-Luc and Hôpital de la Miséricorde.

Dr. Armand Frappier’s violin ©Musée de la santé Armand-Frappier
Photograph of Dr. Frappier playing the violin ©Musée de la santé Armand-Frappier
©Musée de la santé Armand-Frappier
Les Carabins on the S. S. Richelieu. ©Musée de la santé Armand-Frappier
Armand Frappier playing the piano. Music was a part of Armand Frappier’s life ©Musée de la santé Armand-Frappier

Hunting and fishing

Dr. Frappier spent his leisure time hunting and fishing with his good friends throughout the province of Quebec.

Gardening

He grew plums and cherries in his garden, and made jams for his family. He was an avid reader, and enjoyed playing the violin, listening to music, and relaxing with his family at their home, named la Pointe.

A day in the schedule of the student Frappier…

  • 8 h 00 – Laboratory at Hôpital Saint-Luc
  • 8 h 30 – Courses at the university
  • 12 h 15 – Music at the restaurant at Dupuis et Frères
  • 13 h 30 – Courses at the university
  • 17 h 00 – Laboratory at Hôpital Miséricorde
  • 18 h 30 – Music at Kerhulu et Odiau
  • 1 h 00 – Return home

But where does the student study? Behind the piano, during breaks.

Armand Frappier et sa femme
Dr. Armand Frappier and his wife, Thérèse Ostiguy. ©Musée de la santé Armand-Frappier

His death

Dr. Frappier was a real family man, as intensely concerned with his marriage as he was with his children’s lives and those of his other family members and friends. After more than 60 years of marriage, Dr. and Mrs. Frappier took pleasure in getting together with their children and their spouses, their 10 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

At the end of his life, he dedicated himself to writing his autobiography, Un rêve, une lutte, from his office in the research institute which today bears his name. On the evening he finished writing, he visited each of his laboratories, to see the researchers, employees, and students. Dr. Frappier then confides to them: « For the first time in my life, I have no project on my desk ». He died in the following days in Montreal at 87 years of age, on December 18, 1991.

Découvrez-en plus sur la vie du Dr Armand Frappier

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