Dr. Armand Frappier: a trailblazer in medical research and public health

Les Carabins 1

This week I’ve been reading about physician and microbiologist Armand Frappier, one of Canada’s biggest contributors to the treatment and prevention of tuberculosis, a highly contagious bacterial infection that usually targets the lungs.

Frappier was born in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Quebec in 1904, the oldest of eight children. At this time, tuberculosis was the most common cause of adult death in Canada. Frappier’s mother, brother, and grandmother all died of the disease, and he decided to study medicine at the Université de Montréal to fight against it.

After graduation, Frappier received a Rockefeller Foundation grant to study at the Pasteur Institute in France, where he met Drs. Albert Calmette and Camille Guérin, the scientists responsible for the Bacille Calmette-Guérin vaccine (BCG vaccine). At the time, the BCG vaccine was not yet used in Canada. 

Frappier returned to Montréal in 1933 with a sample of the BCG vaccine in hand. He created the Institut de microbiologie et d’hygiène de Montréal and started producing the vaccine locally, the second lab in the world to do so. His research led to mass inoculation programs in Quebec, Newfoundland, and Labrador between the 1940s and the 1970s. The BCG vaccine is no longer widely used in Canada,  but it is still useful in preventing the development of severe forms of tuberculosis among infants in communities with high rates of tuberculosis.

Dr. Frappier also studied blood transfusions and fundamental aspects of infection and immunity. He demonstrated the effect of BCG vaccination in reducing mortality due to childhood leukaemia and made key contributions to the production of vaccines for tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough, as well as the antibiotics penicillin and gramicidin.


Armand Frappier died in Montréal in 1991. In 2012, he was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in Toronto. In 2000, Canada Post honoured Dr. Frappier with a postage stamp titled: Armand Frappier: Champion Disease Fighter.

The Armand-Frappier Prize is awarded by the Government of Québec every year as part of the Prix du Québec.It recognizes individuals in any scientific discipline who have excelled in scientific research and the promotion of public interest in science and technology. The 2021 winner was McGill University researcher and professor Morag Park for her work in understanding the cellular metabolism of cancer formation and genetic modifications. 

The Musée de la santé Armand-Frappier in Laval was founded in 1992 as an initiative of the Institut Armand-Frappier. It presents and explains human health sciences through fun activities and scientific workshops. 

In addition to his contributions to medicine and public health in Canada, Frappier was a keen musician. In this photograph, he is shown (third from the right) with Les Carabins, a musical ensemble he founded in the 1920s. 


Image: Les Carabins. Fonds Armand-Frappier – INRS

Catherine Fisher, blogger