Canada's History with Leprosy

   By: effect:hope

Many Canadians are often surprised to learn that leprosy still exists. Leprosy is not something we often hear about at the doctor’s office or see people struggling with on the streets of our cities. Although leprosy is still around in many other places in the world, it is rare in Canada. There were no cases of leprosy in Canada in 2017 and seven cases in 2016 (according to the Public Health Agency of Canada).

Did you know that Canada once had colonies in New Brunswick and BC for people affected by leprosy?

Sheldrake Island (New Brunswick) - From 1844 to 1849, Sheldrake Island was home for people affected by leprosy and notorious for its poor conditions. After five years, the remaining people affected by leprosy went to Tracadie Island, which had much better conditions.


Tracadie Island (New Brunswick) – From 1849, almost all people affected by leprosy came here, where they received care from the Religious Hospitallers of Saint Joseph until 1965.

The Tracadie leprosy hospital (The Lazaret or Hôtel-Dieu of Tracadie) offered treatment and medical care not only to people struggling with leprosy, but to other sick people in the area. 

Nuns took care of the sick for almost 100 years. In total, 367 leprosy patients received treatment and the last patient passed away in 1964. The Lazaret closed its doors the following year after being in operation for 121 years. Many leprosy patients were buried in four different cemeteries, with one solely for the burial of people affected by leprosy.

D'Arcy Island (British Columbia) – From 1891 to 1924, Chinese people affected by leprosy, despite where they lived in Canada, were sent to D’Arcy, where they were left to fend for themselves and die alone, whereas non-Chinese were sent to Tracadie.

"It was a terrible experience, they didn't have anybody to care for them so they had to care for each other,” said Paulsson. “Imagine there is this pre-built shack that they drop you off at and they say ‘good luck' and drop off food every three months. That's it."

D'Arcy Island is located off the coast of Vancouver Island. Here is a short video looking back at a forgotten chapter of our past. - Shaw TV

D'Arcy Island was pretty much perfect for keeping those sent there at an arm's length. The 180 hectare island was essentially a prison because of the strong current and low temperatures of the water made it pretty much inescapable—a few people tried but were never able to beat the current. – Article from

Canada’s history with leprosy is much the same as what you’ll see around the world. While some stigmatize and isolate the affected due to misunderstanding or fear, you’ll also find people – like our partners - who demonstrate compassion and care, risking their own health and comfort to provide for those in need. Learn more about our partners and the work we do together.