The Dispensary is an inspiring story of dedicated women involved in the betterment of Montrealers. Since its founding in 1879, five women have impacted the evolution of our organization, each in their own distinctive way.
In 1879, Emily F. De Witt heads up a volunteer group that begins to provide a new service: preparation and distribution of nutritious meals (broth, meat jelly, wine jelly and bread pudding) to many destitute and ill Montrealers referred by a doctor. The first year help was given to 300 people. In 1885, there were 5,783 people being helped, and a cook was hired. Mrs. De Witt became aware that, besides donating food, a preventative approach was needed and ensured that a dietitian would succeed her in 1922. Jean Crawford, dietitian, initiated the nutrition counselling program. At this point, the high nutritional value of food is a priority: 21,670 litres of milk were donated in 1923!
Hired in 1924, dietitian Ann (Nan) O. Garvock carries on the cause. Throughout her 34-year career with the Dispensary, she strove to convince the needy to follow the principles of a balanced, nutritious diet and, critically, to help them do this on a limited budget. Under her leadership, the Dispensary hired more dietitians, added cooking courses, published a recipe book, worked with radio stations to make nutritional information available, instituted a nutrition week, published the results of the first Nutritious Food Basket in Canada and collaborated with public prenatal clinics.
Agnes C. Higgins, dietitian, began working at the Dispensary in 1948 and was Executive Director from 1959 to 1981. During her work with prenatal clinics, she observed that often undernourished pregnant women gave birth to small and sickly babies. Under her guidance, and quite against the practices at the time, the Dispensary began a battle against “low birth-weight”. She developed the “Higgins Method”© which coupled corrective nutrition, motivational strategies and extended support based on a special relationship between the expectant mother and her dietitian. She also ensured that this method was proven effective by instituting a study in collaboration with the Royal Victoria Hospital.
Marie-Paule Duquette, dietitian, was hired in 1969 and became Executive Director in 1981. Complementing counselling services based on the “Higgins Method”©, she instituted our group-activity program that has as primary goals to support breast-feeding mothers, foster the mother-child bond as well as promote sound parental skills. Under her leadership, the research and training facets of the Dispensary’s activities have undergone rapid development. Before retiring in 2013, she directed a team of nine dietitians, one technician in social work, two one perinatal educators, one child educator, a receptionist and two administrative assistants.
Do you want to know more of the Dispensary’s history ? Obtain a copy of the book “A Beacon of Hope” by Renée Rowan (2000 edition).