Weaponry and Wartime Experience


Sir Eugene Fiset returns to service…

Sir Eugène Fiset

Caption: Sir Eugène Fiset

Marie-Joseph-Eugène Fiset was born at Rimouski on 15 March 1874. At the age of 16, while studying at the Rimouski seminary, he joined the ranks of the 89th Regiment, where his father was the surgeon. In 1894, having completed his classical studies, Fiset enrolled in the Université Laval faculty of medicine. The following year he rose to the rank of lieutenant, and in 1897 the Royal Infantry School awarded him a 1st Class certificate of qualification. Becoming a medical doctor in 1898, he replaced his father as surgeon to the 89th Regiment in May 1899. A few months later, however, he joined the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment and embarked for South Africa with the rank of major.

In mid January 1900, Fiset wrote to his father that he had grown accustomed to caring for the sick on the battlefield without worrying too much about the bullets whistling past him. "I still have not a single scratch and am beginning to think there is no danger," he wrote. This was not recklessness on his part, however, for he added: "I am working hard to do my duty."

On 18 February, Fiset distinguished himself in the Battle of Paardeberg when Captain H.M. Arnold collapsed with a bullet to the head. Three stretcher-bearers tried to get to him but were themselves wounded. Fiset then reached Arnold, bandaged him on the spot and brought him back behind the firing line. In later confrontations, Fiset often ran risks and earned the admiration of his comrades in arms, including a future minister of militia and defence, Sam Hughes, who viewed the "little French doctor" as something of a hero. Fiset was mentioned three times for his acts of gallantry in despatches to the minister, was awarded the Queen's Medal with four bars along with the Distinguished Service Order and rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel.

When his tour of duty ended in late 1900, Fiset spent a year interning at London's Nose and Throat Hospital and Paris's Hôpital Saint-Antoine. Back in Canada, he practised for eight months in Rimouski before being appointed, on 1 November 1902, to the position of Adjutant in the Army Medical Service. Several months later, on 1 July 1903, he was promoted to colonel and made Director General of the Service. On 22 December 1906 he was named deputy minister of militia and defence.

When the First World War broke out, Fiset was promoted to the rank major general. During that conflict, over and above his usual duties Fiset attended to the military interests of various Allies. In recognition, England made him first a Companion and then a Knight of the Order St Michael and St George, and France named him a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. Fiset also became a Commander of the Belgian Crown and an officer first class of the Order of St Sava (Yugoslavia), while Czechoslovakia awarded him its Military Cross.

Fiset retired in 1923 after serving for 17 years under seven consecutive ministers; at the time, he was the only French Canadian to hold the position of deputy minister in Ottawa. The next year, Fiset embarked on a political career that would be almost as long as his administrative one: From 1924 to 1939 he sat in the Commons as Liberal MP for Rimouski.

On 30 December 1939, Fiset was installed as lieutenant governor of Quebec, taking as his motto 'J'ai servi." In January 1941 and again in February 1942 he departed from protocol by opening the legislative session in his khaki major general's uniform rather than the ceremonial garb of a lieutenant governor to demonstrate his support for a greater Canadian war effort. As lieutenant governor, following custom, he received a number of honours: honorary doctorates from Université Laval in 1940, Bishop's College in 1941 and Université de Montréal in 1943. He was made a Knight of the Order of St John of Jerusalem in 1941 and a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons Canada in 1943.

Sir Eugene Fiset left office on 1 October 1950 and died a short time later, on 8 June 1951, at Rivière-du-Loup. On 20 May 1902 he had married Zoé-Mary-Stella Taschereau and they had four daughters.