Élisabeth Bruyère, the story of an Ottawa nun

Nun Élisabeth Bruyère made a very thorough contribution to the development of Ottawa in the 19th century. On her initiative, the Society of the Sisters of Charity was founded, the first town general hospital was opened, as well as the first bilingual school in the entire province of Ontario. In the 21st century, no person in Canada’s capital city would not know of Sister Bruyère’s activities. Find out more on ottawanka.com.

Élisabeth Bruyère’s life journey

Élisabeth Bruyère was born in the territory of Quebec back in 1818. Elizabeth changed her name in 1824 when her father died and the whole family moved to another Canadian town. Her father passed away when Élisabeth was only six years old. She spent her entire childhood in the large Canadian city of Montreal. Her mother was constantly at work, trying to earn a living and feed her children. At that time, young Élisabeth took care of her two younger brothers. Taking care of her brothers played a significant role in Bruyère’s destiny. That all prepared her for the primary mission of her life, to serve the poor.

Soon after, in 1839, Elizabeth decided to become part of the Sisters of Charity, affiliated with the Montreal General Hospital. In Canada in the 19th century, the Sisters of Charity were known as the Community of Grey Nuns. Having walked her spiritual path, she recited her religious vows in 1841. Elizabeth proved herself well enough that in 1845 the Grey Nuns sent her to Bytown to establish a new community of Sisters of Charity there. Nun Bruyère founded a Roman Catholic school, the first town general hospital and several orphanages in Canada’s future capital city. She made tremendous contributions to the development of Bytown. Thanks to her, in particular, Bytown developed a hospital system. Before Nun Bruyère moved to Bytown, there was no hospital system like it, nor any hospital itself, in Canada’s future capital city. There was only one small hospital with a few beds.

Within a few years, the Community of Grey Nuns in Bytown was developed so much that it became independent from the Montreal community. Such successes were possible owing to the sensitive leadership of Nun Bruyère.

The Sisters of Charity and Nun Bruyère faced a terrible ordeal in their life’s journey, the typhus outbreak of 1847. Sister Bruyère has cared for every sick Bytown resident, regardless of their confessional affiliation or other things. In 1850, under Bruyère’s leadership, the first Protestant General Hospital in Bytown was opened and eventually became Ottawa’s Civic Hospital. In the 21st century, it became the premier hospital in Canada’s capital city.

In the second half of the 19th century, it was one of only two private schools for the entire city of Ottawa.

It was also under Sister Bruyère’s leadership that the town’s first institutions for senior citizens were established in Ottawa.

The life of Sister Élisabeth Bruyère was cut short in 1876. She died at the age of 58. Despite her short life, she had time to make tremendous contributions to the town of Bytown, its hospital and educational systems, religion and much more.

The eternal memory of Nun Élisabeth Bruyère

The work of Sister Élisabeth Bruyère in the 19th century couldn’t go unnoticed. The site, which in the 19th century was the site of the Bruyère initiated general hospital, was named after her in the 21st century, as it was she and the Grey Nuns of Bytown who worked hard to develop medical care in the town and created hospitals.

Furthermore, in Ottawa, a street was named after the prominent Nun Bruyère. On it, the Ontario Heritage Foundation installed a plaque in honor of Élisabeth Bruyère near the chapel of the Sisters of Charity.