Marie-Victorin, Frère 1885-1944

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MARIE-VICTORIN, Frère 1885-1944


Born Conrad Kirouac, April 3, 1885, in Kingsey Falls, Québec, Canada; died in an automobile accident July 15, 1944; son of Cyrille (a grain merchant) and Philomène (Luneau) Kirouac. Education: University of Montreal, Ph.D., 1922. Religion: Roman Catholic.


Secondary school teacher, Mont-de-la-Salle de Maisonneuve seminary and elsewhere; College de Longueuil, 1905-44; University of Montreal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, professor of botany, 1920-44. Member, Biological Board of Canada, 1927; Canadian representative, Congress of the Pacific, 1933, 1939; cofounder, Cercles des Jeunes Naturalistes, 1931, and L'Eveil (nature school for preschoolers), 1935; founder, Jardin Botanique de Montreal (Botanical Gardens of Montreal), 1939.


Association Catholique de la Jeunesse Canadienne, Association Canadienne pour l'Avancement des Sciences (cofounder, 1924), Société Canadienne d'Histoire Naturelle (cofounder, 1924), British Association for the Advancement of Sciences.


Royal Society of Canada fellow, 1924; Societe Botanique de France fellow, 1932; Prix Coincy, French Academy of Sciences, 1935, for Flore laurentienne.


La flore du Témiscouata: mémoire: sur une nouvelle exploration botanigue de ce comté de la province de Québec, Laflamme (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1916.

Récits laurentiens, Frères des Écoles Chrétiennes (Montreal, Quebec Canada), 1919, translated by James Ferres as The Chopping Bee and Other Laurentian Stories, Musson (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1925.

Croguis laurentiens, Frères des Écoles Chrétiennes (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1920.

Les filicinees du Québec, Populaire (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1923.

Charles le Moyne; Drame canadien en trois actes, Frères des Écoles Chrétiennes (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1925.

Peuple sans histoire fantaisie; dramatigue en un acte et trois tableaux, Frères des Écoles Chrétiennes (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1925.

Flore laurentienne, Imprimerie de la Salle (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1935.

(With Frère Léon) Itinéraires botaniques daps file de Cuba, 3 volumes, Frères des Écoles Chrétiennes (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1942, 1944, 1956.

(With Frère Rolland-Germain) Flore de l'Anticosti-Minganie, Presses de l'Université de Montréal (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1969.

Pour l'amour du Québec, edited by Hernias Bastien, Éditions Paulines (Sherbrooke, Ontario, Canada),1971.

Confidence et combat: lettres, 1924-1944, edited by Gifies Beaudet, Lidec (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1969.

Marie-Victorin's scientific correspondence is held by the University of Montréal.


A French-Canadian botanist and literary figure, Frère Marie-Victorin helped to establish the place of science—formerly neglected in favor of the humanities—in French-Canadian higher education. His greatest work, Flore laurentienne (1935), classifies and names the botanical species of the St. Lawrence valley. He was also a tireless popularizer of science and founded several programs to encourage children's scientific curiosity, as well as establishing the city of Montreal's botanical gardens.

Born Conrad Kirouac to Cyrille and Phiomene Kirouac, Marie-Victorin and his family moved from Kingsey Falls in Québec to Québec City. He attended primary school in St.-Saveur and secondary school at the Academie Commercials de Québec, which was run by the Christian Brother at the time Catholic religious orders dominated education in French-speaking Canada.

Kirouac took the name Marie-Victorin when he joined the religious order of the Christian Brothers (Frères Chretiennes) in 1901 and entered the Mont-de-la-Salle de Maisonneuve seminary. Although he had not received a diploma, he began to teach at the Brothers' schools, and after several brief posts, he settled permanently in Longueuil, just across the St. Lawrence River from Montreal, in 1905. Marie-Victorin was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1903, and his interest in botany began when he began to take walks around the St. Lawrence River, at the recommendation of his doctor. He took his students on field trips to study local vegetation and began to study botany with other interested members of his religious order. Through his walks and studies, he became well acquainted with local plants and with the principles of scientific methodology.

In 1908 Marie-Victorin began to publish as a botanist, and in the next dozen years published more than forty papers. During this period, he also published three books: his first book on botany, La flore du Temiscouata: memoire sur une nouvelle exploration botanigue de ce comte de la province Québec (1916). His short story collection, Recits Laurentiens (1919), translated as The Chopping Bee and Other Laurentian Stories, drew from childhood memories, and he also wrote a book of essays about natural sites in Québec titled Croguis laurentiens (1920). Each of these works, as Michel Gaulin pointed out in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "evince a talent for the close observation and meticulous attention to detail which is the hallmark of the later Flore Laurentienne."

When the University of Montreal was founded, along with the first French-Canadian science faculty, Marie-Victorin secured a position as associate professor of botany. Because he did not have a university degree, he submitted as part of his application a study of the ferns of Québec as a doctoral thesis. Thus Marie-Victorin not only got a job, but he also received the first doctorate awarded by the university in 1922. He held the university's chair in botany until his death, and also directed its botanical institute.

Marie-Victorin built the botanical institute on the grounds that later became the municipal Jardin Botanique de Montreal in 1939. The Jardin Botanique serves as a public garden as well as a research and teaching facility, and is considered one of Marie-Victorin's greatest accomplishments. The Jardin Botanique brought the public into contact with a wide variety of plant species as the same time that it advanced professional knowledge.

Marie Victorin was a vital figure in establishing the field of science at the university level. He helped found the Association Canadienne pour l'Avancement des Sciences and the Societe Canadienne d'Histoire Naturelle in 1924, both of which offered French-Canadian scientists a forum for discussing ideas across disciplines. His reputation attained an international stature.

At the same time, he popularized science for both adults and children, and he took part in many naturalist organizations. One of his pet projects was to promote scouting for children. He believed that children need contact with nature as much as they require more conventional studies. He was, as affirmed by Gaulin, "sensitive to the drawbacks of a purely bookish knowledge" and believed that young people "should be awakened early to the beauty and poetry of nature." The Cercles des Jeunes Naturalists movement began in 1931, largely due to his efforts, and Eveil, a nature school for preschool age children, started in 1935. Marie-Victorin also developed summer field-training programs for teachers to enable them to integrate field trips into their schools' curricula.

In 1935 Marie-Victorin published his Flore laurentienne, a lavishly illustrated study of the flora of the St. Lawrence Valley, in which he describes, classifies, and provides French names to about two thousand species, featured in roughly 2,800 illustrations. Gaulin called it "his most enduring work, and one which strengthened the bonds French Canadians felt to the land settled by their forebears." The work updates Abbe Leon Provancher's Flore canadienne (1862). Demonstrating the same attention to detail as did his earlier writings, the book won him the French Academie des Sciences' Prix Coincy.

Marie-Victorin was on his way home from a botanical expedition when he died, at the age of fifty-nine, in a car accident. While his primary achievements were in the field of botany, his contributions to the discipline of science went beyond his specialty. A Notable Twentieth-Century Scientists contributor called him "the most visible scientist in French Canada" for the last twenty years of his life. As scholar, naturalist, and writer he shared his enthusiasm for botany and for his native region with children and adults, laypersons and professionals, Canadians and the world.



Dictionary of Literary Biography Volume 92: Canadian Writers, 1890-1920, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1990, pp. 228-231.

Notable Twentieth-Century Scientists Gale (Detroit, MI), 1995, pp. 1321-1322.*

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Marie-Victorin, Frère 1885-1944

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