Duplessis Orphans: A dark history revealed
During the reign of Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis in the 1940s and 1950s, an alarming number of healthy children living in sanctuaries were hastily diagnosed as mentally incompetent, psychotic patients. The diagnoses were always swift — the children went to bed orphans and woke up psychiatric patients. The reason? Shrewd fiscal planning; federal subsidies paid out more to hospitals than to orphanages. Some children allegedly endured lobotomies, electroshock, straitjackets and abuse. For the rest of their lives they would struggle to bring attention to their story and demand compensation. They called themselves the Duplessis Orphans.
• From that day forward, Bertrand and many other children were pulled from their classes. Genuine psychiatric patients moved into the converted orphanages and lived side by side with the children. Some children were sent out to work with farmers while other children performed maintenance within the hospitals. Bertrand recalled harsh discipline if he refused his orders. "I was beaten, I was tied up, I was made to work," he told the Toronto Star in an article Aug. 15, 1992.
• The estimated number of Duplessis Orphans ranges enormously from 1,500 to 20,000 according to source. Some argue that those who were misdiagnosed as mentally retarded were technically Duplessis Orphans. Others say the group should include all orphans during this time period.
• Between 1945 and 1960, the federal government paid out 70 cents a day per orphan to orphanages. Psychiatric hospitals received a subsidy of $2.25 per day, per patient. - as reported in the Gazette, July 4, 2002
• Many of the Duplessis Orphans were in fact not orphans but simply children born out of wedlock or to extremely poor families.
• A 1961 commission on Quebec's psychiatric hospitals uncovered a startling figure. More than one-third of the 22,000 patients didn't belong in a psychiatric institution. Illegitimate children comprised the majority of those incorrectly diagnosed.
• Maurice Duplessis was premier of Quebec from 1936-39 and 1944-59. Duplessis was not personally implicated in the plight of the Orphans but their institutionalization did transpire under his leadership and his authorization. His term has been derisively referred to as la grande noirceur, the great darkness, because of his iron-fisted rule. For more, please visit our topic on Maurice Duplessis.
Program: Canada at Five
Broadcast Date: Aug. 14, 1992
Guest(s): Etienne Lapointe
Reporter: Laurent Lavigne
Last updated: July 16, 2013
Page consulted on December 6, 2013
All Clips from this Topic
The Duplessis Orphans organize and protest some four decades after the...
The religious orders respond to charges of abuse.
Duplessis Orphans demand a public apology and prepare their class-acti...
The Duplessis Orphans publicly challenge the Catholic Church with thei...
Quebec premier offers an apology and compensation to the Duplessis Orp...
Quebec ombudsman Daniel Jacoby calls premier Bouchard's reconciliation...
When the church says it can only offer compassion, the Duplessis Orpha...
The Roman Catholic Church will not offer an apology or compensation fo...
A new drama about a Duplessis Orphan debuts.
Sixty-three high-profile Canadians file a petition in support of the D...
A Duplessis orphan and a five-year-old child form an unlikely partners...
The Duplessis Orphans at long last accept an offer of compensation.
The Duplessis Orphans demand a further investigation into alleged medi...
During the reign of Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis in the 1940s and ...