Hubert Prévost the entrepreneur: Power couple

Seventh of an eight-part series describing the real and imagined life of Hubert Prévost of Maisonneuve.

By the time of the census in 1891, Hebert and Héloise were living with Sem Alexandre and Alphonsine (Alvina’s children) and Joseph Hubert, their son. Also resident at their house were two labourers, Noel Roussel a widower and Amée Belec. Sem is also listed as an employee (most likely working with his father). Hubert’s daughter Eugenie Appoline is living next door with her husband J.B. Foisy.

In the latter half of 1890, Héloise becomes more involved in the business. It’s not known what prompted this shift in strategy, but it is certain that Héloise’s name increasingly appears on property transactions. Hubert also guarantees a mortgage of a property in Héloise’s name.

Hubert wins a substantial contract to build a Presbyterian church and school at the corner of Adam and Letourneau streets in Maisonneuve. The church was expanded in 1908, but later burned to the ground in 1925.

In 1891 Hubert forms a business partnership with Elzear Benoit, another contractor, called Prévost & Benoit. The business will provide all the necessary trades for building construction.

In October 1891, the town of Maisonneuve contracted with the Royal Electric Light Company to provide an electric light service for the municipality. Prévost & Benoit also signed a contract with the town for the construction of the electric light station and residence. The project faced legal challenges as an injunction was issued to stop work on the site, which was quashed by the courts. Then force was used to stop employees from working. The issue was that the town did not have the charter authority to grant the contract. The company (Royal Electric) sued and won a judgement for $4,861 with interest against the town.

It’s not certain what, if any, compensation Prévost & Benoit might have received from the settlement, or whether they sustained losses as a result. Whatever the cause, things started to go downhill in early 1892. First Hubert’s creditors were advised in a demande de cession notice of his impending bankruptcy. In April, bankruptcy proceedings got under way and an auction of business assets took place on April 26, 1892. Many of his lots in Hochelaga and Maisonneuve are put on the auction block to pay off creditors.

To make matters worse, the town of Maisonneuve brought a suit against Prevost & Benoit, demanding that the contractors stop work due to poor workmanship and materials used, and not meeting the specifications of the contract.

On May 2, 1892, Héloise forms H. Provost & Cie as sole proprietor. She is also recorded buying some of the auctioned properties from her husband’s bankruptcy sale. The lots in question appear to include the location of Hubert’s lumber mill. More interestingly, Hubert’s bankruptcy proceedings, the formation of a new carpentry business, and the purchase of the mill all took place just days before the town of Maisonneuve brought their suit against Prevost & Benoit.

Perhaps the few bright spots for Hubert that spring were the birth of a granddaughter, Antoinette, to son Michel and Ernestine Belliveau, and the marriage of Hubert’s son Sem Alexandre to Louisa Collin.

school building
Ecole St-Joseph

Their annus horribilus behind them, in 1893 Héloise purchases four lots on Ste-Catherine Street from Alphonse Desjardins for $1,800. Hubert then wins a contract from les Commissaires d’ecoles d’Hochelaga to build the first primary school in the ward. The school probably stood on the corner of Dezery and Duquette streets.

On May 8, 1893, Héloise’s father, Laurent Napoleon Desautels dit Lapointe dies in Mascouche. He is buried a few days later in the church crypt with Hubert attending as a witness.

In 1894, Héloise begins to have her own business issues. She has four lots in the Quartier Ste-Marie area on Ste-Catherine St which will be auctioned in October to pay for back taxes and an unpaid sidewalk assessment. Héloise reaches a settlement agreement with the town of Maisonneuve for her unpaid assessments about a year later in July 1895. However, her properties are still listed for sale in the papers of August 10 and again that fall. About that time they moved from 29 Desjardins (now occupied by Napoleon Turcotte (carpenter), John Wilson, Pierre Prince and Alcide Gendron (carter).

His son Michel is still at 1 Desjardins Street and Hubert still has a saw mill at 5 Desjardins. By 1900 the extent of Desjardins St now reaches to Ontario St. to the north.

The same day that Hubert’s father dies at 88 years old, Héloise arranges for a five-year mortgage with 10% interest on four lots for $2,900. The money is borrowed from the estate of Sir Georges Etienne Cartier, politician and Father of Confederation. Sir George Etienne Cartier’s estate was substantial enough that a group of executors managed the assets in order to provide an income for his heirs.

Hubert seems to have taken a less visible role in his contracting business. It could be that his son Sem had taken over or, judging from Héloise’s property buying and selling activities, living off profits from flipping property. Another possibility could be that the Prévosts were in financial difficulty. Without a deeper investigation of all the contracts this couple generated, we may never know.

We do know that Hubert kept an interest in municipal affairs. 1896 was an election year and Hubert Provost was one of many who signed a public endorsement of the candidacy of J.C. Robert for reelection as alderman for the Ste-Marie district of Montreal.

That same year, Héloise unloaded the troublesome lots on Ste-Catherine Street for $7,017.60 to A. Duperrault.

In 1897, the mill on Desjardins Street seems to have been leased to Tremblay & Gingras, who are now listed as operating 3 Desjardins as a saw mill and the property at 5 Desjardins no longer has any name associated with it.

Héloise’s mother Marie Olive Guerray dies on March 18, 1897 at the age of 79 in Mascouche.

The Prévost home on Desjardins Street, built by Hubert, is still in use today (current address is 591-605 rue Desjardins) . In May 1988, Héloise once again takes out a mortgage on the property from Joseph Desrosiers for $3,500 and again in June from the Cartier estate for $5,000.

row houses
Prevost-built row houses on Desjardins Street.

Still active in municipal affairs, Hubert was a member of a group tasked with setting a value for compensating owners of land to be expropriated to open up rue Lafontaine. Their report was submitted to the city for in 1899. But it appears that collecting honorariums for providing expertise to the town isn’t easy. On November 30, 1900 several businessmen file a writ of summons against the town for $395.

The town makes a settlement offer of $26 each, which was refused. Prévost is quoted saying “Tu peux les garder“. Two days later, the men file their claim in Quebec Superior Court.

Hubert attended two marriages in 1900. First his daughter Alphonsine married Wilfrid Alphonse Godin in Montréal, then his son Sem Alexandre, widowed, married Philomene Limoges, also in Montreal. All his children by Zoe Alvina have by this time left the nest.

The 1901 census gives us a picture of Hubert’s situation. He is still listed as an employer and living on his own means. He runs his business from home and earned $4,000 in the previous year, certainly a very respectable income for a member of the manufacturing bourgeoisie. Both Hubert and his son Joseph Hubert were bilingual.

More grandchildren arrived. One in 1901 to Sem Alexandre and Philomene Limoges, who had just purchased a lot on Adam Street (possibly for building his own home). Another, Marie Blanche Jeanette, was born in 1902 to Michel Hubert and Ernestine Belliveau and Gaston, to Sem and Philomene in 1902.

In April 1902, Hubert prepared a new will. In it he directs:

  1. That his debts and funeral costs including masses be paid by his executor
  2. His property (including any encumbrances) on Ste-Catherine street (including buildings) is bequeathed to his six children by Zoe Reeves, in consideration of their legacy from her estate. If they refuse, the property reverts to his general estate.
  3. The remainder of his belongings are bequeathed to his second wife, Héloise. If she predeceases him, then the estate goes to their son Joseph Hubert.
  4. Some notes about proceeds of sales to pay debts incurred in good faith (such as mortgages).
  5. He names Héloise as his executor.

The witnesses to his will were the Chief of Police Thomas O’Farrell and Urgel Vanier, shoe merchant. Hubert died the following month on May 3, 1902 in Maisonneuve. He was buried in the parish cemetery in Pointe-aux-Trembles. In addition to his three sons and brother Zotique, his funeral was attended by many of Maisonneuve’s business and civic leaders – including Mayor Trefflé Bleau, who was one of his pallbearers.

His obituary in La Presse reveals much about the service he gave to his community:

  • Deacon and founder of his parish in Pointe-aux Trembles
  • Vice-president of the Montreal St-Vincent-de-Paul society
  • School trustee
  • Alderman/town councilor.

Sources

Hubert Prévost the entrepreneur: H. Prévost et Cie.

Sixth of an eight-part series describing the real and imagined life of Hubert Prévost of Maisonneuve.

Hubert’s business was in the wood and construction materials sector, and he operated a small plant providing wood for construction, probably employing about 10 to 20 people. Hubert and Héloise were likely part of the new French upper middle class that was emerging during the late 19th century in Montreal. They had access to financial resources with the founding of local banks like Banque Jacques-Cartier and Banque d’Hochelaga that supported this cohort of entrepreneurs with capital. In 1887 these businessmen founded the Chambre de commerce du district de Montréal [Montreal District Chamber of Commerce] as an alternative to the (anglophone-centric) Montreal Board of Trade.

1887 also marks the year when the next generation of Provosts begin to appear. Hubert and Alvina’s first grandchild, Ernest, is born to Michel and Ernestine Beliveau in August. Then Hubert and Héloise welcomed their own baby boy – Joseph Hubert – born in October, just a couple of months after his ‘nephew’. In 1889, his daughter Marie Ezilda married Delphis Couillard In Montréal.

By 1888, Hubert is buying and selling property in the Maisonneuve district. As a building contractor, he likely profited from building workers’ housing and renting them out, spurred by the growing industrialization of the area.

Map of Notre Dame St.

The volume of transactions in Hubert’s name increases as well. Not all of the notarized records are for building contracts and land transactions – several hint at legal challenges, some brought by Hubert and others brought against him. Could the continuing recession have had a financial impact on Hubert’s fortunes? The answer to that isn’t clear.

It’s sometimes challenging to determine if our Hubert Prévost is correctly the subject of some of these records. There was at least one other businessman named Hector Prévost operating a business under the name H. Provost & Cie. in the Montreal area who was a merchant selling novelties and other dry goods in 1888. Yet another Hubert Provost has appeared in census records in the town of Ste-Julie, in this case a farmer.

Among the transactions found in Hubert’s name is a mortgage release between the Seminaire de St-Sulpice de Montreal, Banque Jacques Cartier, V. Hudon and H. Provost. While Hubert’s association with Victor Hudon is known, the document text only mentions a Gilbert Provost throughout with respect to transactions (the inconsistency might be an error on the part of the clerk).

In order to attract industry to the area, the town of Maisonneuve offered generous tax concessions to manufacturing businesses which Hubert took advantage of. He was given a 10-year tax exemption to operate a lumber manufacturing plant as long as he employed at least 12 men. The concession was revoked in 1897 when he didn’t meet the condition.

1890 seems to have been a busy and eventful year. Hubert Prévost resigned his role as an advisor to the town council after a suit alleged he took a financial interest in a subcontract to provide materials for the town hall construction. According to the article that appeared in La Presse on the 25th of April 1890:

HISTORY OF A RESIGNATION of an advisor of Maisonneuve
Mr. Hubert Prévost gave his resignation as adviser of Maisonneuve. If we are to believe M Bennett who, on April 5, took a writ of quo warranto for the said adviser, the latter would have taken an interest in a sub-contract for the construction of the Maisonneuve Hotel de Ville and allegedly sold materials, under the name of his son. It was on hearing that he was the subject of a lawsuit that Mr. Hubert Prevost, not at all happy, hastened to resign, which was accepted without delay. The ex-counselor paid with pleasure the costs of the actlon which proves his lack of love for justice.

The building in question – the Hotel de Ville – was one that was inspired by the City Beautiful movement. It was one of the first public buildings erected in 1888. It’s possible that this was the project that led to the allegation of corruption.

One person with whom Hubert had several business dealings was Alphonse Desjardins, who became mayor of Montreal from 1893-1894 and was a founder of the Jacques Cartier Bank (later Banque National). In 1890, when Hubert purchased 16 lots from him, he was the federal member of Parliament for Hochelaga


Sources

Hubert Prévost the entrepreneur: City builder

Fourth of an eight-part series describing the real and imagined life of Hubert Prévost of Maisonneuve.

In the years following Confederation, Canada felt the effects of the Long Depression that afflicted world economies, particularly England. Between 1874 (the year the Montreal Stock Exchange was established) and 1896 there was widespread unemployment and a rise in bankruptcies. Protectionist policies in the United States and Britain hurt trade, and demand for Canadian resources and goods slumped. Despite this, industrial expansion in Montreal’s new east-end towns was getting well under way, led by prominent French-Canadian businessmen and landowners like Hudon, Barsalou, Viau, Desjardins and others. When the depression ended, investment from Britain resumed in Canada, immigration grew and manufacturing expanded.

For almost 100 years Montreal was the financial capital of Canada with many ‘emerging tech’ businesses like railways and telecommunications establishing their headquarters there. Banking and leading businessmen were early adopters of the telephone and by the end of 1880, Montreal was the most wired city in Canada – with 546 telephones in use.

Hubert’s business was expanding into multi-family dwellings and some commercial projects. He also had several business dealings with Victor Hudon, one of Hochelaga’s leading industrialists, who established a large cotton mill among other businesses. It’s also clear that not all of Hubert’s contracts went smoothly, as there are records regarding dispute settlements and lawsuits.

In 1881 Hubert and Alvina’s family of six children are recorded in the census as living in the district of Hochelaga (Montreal) in the village of Côte-de-la-Visitation. They have four children attending school: Michel, Sem, Ezilda and Alphonsine.

Two years later, Hochelaga was annexed to Montreal. That spurred a group of French-Canadian landowners to found Maisonneuve – a city inspired by the City Beautiful movement . Its developers planned to build grand civic buildings and factories – and at one point Maisonneuve became known as the “Pittsburgh of Canada”. Judging from the numerous property transactions and contracts for work in the area, it’s clear that Hubert Prévost was among those early industrialists of Maisonneuve.

In 1882 Victor Hudon was expanding his textile manufacturing business and planned to build a new mill (St. Ann Spinning Co.) with authorized capital of $300,000 and an exemption from taxes for 25 years from the town council of Hochelaga. Hubert Prévost was among those named to the board of directors. V. Hudon’s mill and the St-Ann Spinning company later merged to become the Hochelaga Cotton Mill.

Cotton mill
Proposed plant for Hochelaga Cotton Mill

Victor Hudon’s mills were an important part of the area’s economy. In 1874 it employed 250 workers – including many women and children, some as young as 10. Conditions were harsh – a situation that led to a Royal Commission in 1888 to investigate child labor in the mills. It was learned that many children worked barefoot because they had no shoes, most had not attended school and the majority could neither read nor write. While the factory still carried Hudon’s name at the time of the commission, he no longer owned the business.

Article in Gazette

On June 11, 1883 an application to form a joint stock company is announced led by Victor Hudon and with Hubert Prévost and others as provisional directors. The stock offering is for 2,000 shares of $100 each. The company is called La Compagnie de Filature Saint-Joseph, Beauharnois and will manufacture cottons into various fabrics.

It seems that the Beauharnois town council were willing to grant a tax exemption to the new mill for 20 years, a subsidy of $8,000 and free access to hydroelectricity. They also committed to purchase $80,000 in shares of the new company. But for some reason the project never got off the ground.

In 1883, Hubert’s father, now 76, decides to make provisions for himself and his wife Lucie in their old age. He made a living donation to his son Eugene in advance of his inheritance of a lot in Pointe-aux-Trembles for his use (possibly the family home). In return Eugene must clothe, feed and lodge his parents. If they can’t perform these duties satisfactorily, then the property reverts to the parents and they may sell it to pay for their ease and care.

Quebec Gazette clippingOn December 26, 1884, Hubert (fils) achieves a measure of status when he is among a group of men who are named Justices of the Peace in the District of Montreal. He holds this post until 1894 and only appears to have been active during 1889, when he heard seven cases.

In 1885, Hubert begins to focus on public sector projects. He submits a bid for the construction of a market – one of six firms to bid on the construction contract. His bid of $19,800 was unsuccessful, and just $1 higher than the winning proposal.

Zoe Reeves obituary clippingOn March 14, 1886 Zoe Alvina Reeves passed away afer a long and difficult illness. Could she have been a victim of the smallpox epidemic of the previous fall? That epidemic killed 1,391 Montrealers, 1,286 of which were French Canadian, despite a mandatory smallpox vaccination program that was protested by angry mobs. Her death was announced in La Presse.

Less than a month later, their oldest daughter, Alvina, is the first of the children to marry. Her husband Joseph Christin appears to also have had an interest in property, as the name Christin is tied to some lots in St-Mary Ward.

In September, probably in accordance with Alvina’s will, Hubert arranges for an inventory and valuation of their matrimonial property. The inventory provides a good insight into their means and the degree to which Hubert’s business was entwined with the household finances. The home had an office, sitting room, dining room, kitchen, and bedroom on the main floor. Upstairs were three other bedrooms and an attic space. There was also a workshop, outbuilding and barn.

Apart from the usual array of household furnishings and small goods were the following items:

  • A piano made by L & E Fisher of New York ($250)
  • A wine press and bird cage ($2.50)
  • A carriage (voiture) valued at $60 along with an assortment of wagons and a sleigh
  • Two horses – un presque ruiné ($100)
  • One cow ($20)

The total valuation of their communal property was $1,168.70.

Zoe’s personal belongings (such as clothing) were divided among the daughters and not included in the inventory. The inventory took seven hours to complete on the first day.

The next day, Charles Reeves and Joseph Chretien (husband of Alvina Provost) supervised another inventory session in Maisonneuve. Before that got underway, Hubert added a declaration to the effect that he undertook on behalf of Alphonse Desjardins the construction of 6 houses in the Pie IX area of Maisonneuve for the sum of $7,880 – due the following April. Because he did not keep records of actual expenses incurred to date for the work, he proposed a separate evaluation to assess the amount of profit/or loss to be added to the inventory valuation. The valuators assessed the value of the work completed to date at $4,730 and the remaining work at $3,150, with a calculation of the expected profit. The result, along with other building materials added $1,399.10 to the estate valuation.

The inventory continued a third day with an accounting of finances (cash and deposits $10.20). Money owed (from business transactions and property rentals) amounted to $5,154.67, of which $1,500 was expected to be a write off (Victor Hudon). As a note to the evaluation, Hubert intended to sue the School Board for $1,000 for breach of contract. He had a life insurance policy that he paid over 25 years amounting to $1,000; Zoe also had a life insurance policy of $1,000 which was claimed.

On the liability side, debts totaled $11,811 consisting mostly of loans related to business and property transactions. Zoe’s funeral costs were $67.72 and the notary fees for the inventory were $142.25.

Real estate holdings accumulated during their marriage included:

  • Property in Point-aux-Trembles with house, workshop, barn and other buildings in good condition
  • 5 lots in Pointe-aux-Trembles without buildings
  • 4 lots in Hochelaga Village
  • 3 lots in Hochelaga with houses
  • 1 lot in Hochelaga on Notre Dame Street

The inventory concluded on the fourth day with a review of titles and legal documents and additional declarations by Hubert regarding:

  • The donation of $500 from Zoe’s parents per the marriage contract
  • Property in Hochelaga that was sold
  • Additional bank deposits of about $2400
  • About $4000 in payables due
  • Additional debts bringing the total owed to $16,080.80

On September 21st, there was a double wedding in Pointe-aux-Trembles. Brother and sister Michel and Eugenie are married the same day in Pointe-aux-Trembles. Michel marries Ernestine Belliveau daughter of Hilaire and Marie Célina Cadotte; and Eugenie marries Jean Baptiste Foisy, son of Urgel and Elmire Lavoie.


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