Stanstead's Doctor Bouchard Retires

Bouchards awardSTANSTEAD: On July 1, 2013, the Town of Stanstead lost what could very conceivably be called one of the town’s most valuable historians, Dr. Gilles Bouchard. No, I am not saying that Dr. Bouchard has passed away but many are feeling his loss as he finally closed his office doors to residents of Stanstead and the surrounding area. Not only did he prove to be the last hope for medical assistance for many on the Canadian side of the border, especially when the local CLSC was not taking walk-ins or proved be short on doctors, sadly a frequent occurrence but HIS door was always open to anyone from Derby Line, Vt and neighboring towns on the American side of the border as well. You would be surprised to hear just how far people would come to seek help from this conscientious doctor!

As you walked into Dr. Bouchard’s small office waiting room, you find the walls lined with pictures painted by the doctor himself or members of his family, usually of town landmarks or the family dog, a huge Saint-Bernard, during its day. Many will recall a particular photo that hung on display for so many years of Doctor Bouchard answering a call in mid- winter, relying on his trusty little Volkswagen to get him to his destination, regardless of how high those drifts of snow were! And in those days, those drifts proved to be really deep!

Dr. Bouchard has cared for visiting astronauts, sports stars, a professional wrestler, and an assortment of fifty or so other doctors all of whom heard of the friendly family doctor living on the border. "NHL Players, Guy Lafleur and Mad Dog Vachon, the wrestler, have been in my office".

Even after being officially retired, according to Canadian records, Bouchard worked five-and-a-half days per week, treating patients independently, having opted out of the official Quebec health plan. The void left in the community will certainly have an impact on health services for residents of Stanstead and beyond. Both Canadian and American patients visited him as they considered him to be more accessible than their own local doctor. Dr Bouchard's office was more like a country walk-in clinic.

As to finding any resemblance of a replacement for this conscientious country doctor, this presents a difficult situation as Dr. Bouchard’s contribution in recent years to the overall equation, as interpreted by the government, does not exist on paper and it is “their numbers” that government decisions are based on, leaving many people in limbo and facing a serious problem in terms of finding accessible medical assistance.

A historian, indeed - many couples over his 50 years of continuous practice had either had their children Doc Bouchard -1delivered by this small town doctor or had been delivered themselves during the years when Dr. Bouchard acted as obstetrician at a little hospital, just across the border, in Newport, Vermont, U.S.A. Several years ago, there was a big controversy at the Border about just which of these families had followed through on the proper papers allowing these babies born in another country to be recognized as Canadian citizens (looking for info on documents that more often than not had been filled out and forgotten/lost over the years, a trying time which sent many scrambling to Dr. Bouchard for corroboration of their birthplace.

During the early days of his practice, it had been a common occurrence to deliver babies in the Newport Hospital (Newport, Vt. USA), as it was the closest one for this border community. Dr. Bouchard also vividly recalls having delivered numerous babies at homes or times where he had no choice but to deliver the occasional baby right in his office. He did note, however, that pregnant mothers with specific health issues found their way to a hospital in Sherbrooke, but this was generally considered an exception to the rule. It proved very reassuring to be able to tap into the years of memories which are carefully and firmly stored in this dedicated doctor’s mind.

Dr. Bouchard had a very unconventional medical practice. He had no receptionist, and his waiting room relied on the honour system to decide the queue. His rate was $15 per patient, but a sign hung in his office to the very last day, a sign familiar to patients from near and far, which read, “No one must pay. If you are short of money just say, ‘Thanks Doc’.” The reasoning behind this sign apparently came after treating a patient who should have come sooner to treat an infection but didn’t because he had to wait until pay day!

He estimates having treated around 500,000 patients from both sides of the border and delivered roughly 1000 babies mostly at the Orleans County Memorial Hospital in Newport, across the border. Those newborns, whose parents were Canadian, now are able to claim dual American-Canadian citizenship.

Dr. Bouchards family- 2012Upon his retirement at 65 years of age, or should we say – semi-retirement, the Vermont Senate and House honored Dr. Gilles Bouchard “for his role as a caring, compassionate physician who had treated patients in southern Quebec and northern Vermont for more than 40 years”. In 2012, he also received the Governor General’s Award from the Canadian Government in appreciation for his many years of service to the Stanstead and surrounding areas.

At a recent Stanstead Council meeting, it was announced that a granite bench would be placed in Place Henry Seth Taylor, at the center of town, as a sign of appreciation for the many years of service that Dr. Gilles Bouchard had given to his community and the surrounding regions.

"For Dr. Bouchard there was no border between our two countries" said one former patient from Newport. "He did not question patients as to citizenship, ethnicity, gender, creed, or financial status. He was there for whoever needed him".