Hilaire Béliveau: Urban Realities

First of a seven-part series describing the real and imagined life of Hilaire Béliveau of Montreal.

Norbert Hilaire Béliveau (Hilaire) was born on June 6, 1834 in St-Grégoire (Nicolet), Québec, to Charles Hilaire Béliveau and Eléonore Bernard. Hilaire was not their first child, but the first to survive infancy. In 1832 a sister, Marguerite Odile, died a scant three days after her birth. Hilaire’s godparents were his grandmother, Marguerite Bourq, and Antoine Desrosiers. At the time of Hilaire’s birth, his father was a farmer in St-Grégoire – a village that counted a sizable population of Acadian refugee descendants.

These Acadian refugees (most were from Beaubassin) found their way to the Bécancour region from about 1758. They founded the village of Ste-Marguerite, later known as St-Grégoire. Hilaire’s great-grandfather David Béliveau arrived after 1766 with his parents by way of exile in Boston – which makes Hilaire the third generation of his line to live in the area.

RURAL BEGINNINGS

In this rural setting, the Béliveau family grew and farmed land that was probably part of the Linctot seigneurie. In 1836 a brother, Joseph William, was born and two years later a sister, Anna. In January 1840, a baby brother arrives – Antoine Ephrain. He will live to be 81. Another brother, Narcisse Camille, arrives very quickly after Antoine in September 1840.

Hilaire’s grandfather, David Béliveau, died in St-Grégoire on October 20, 1842. He was 68 years old and lived and farmed his entire life in the Nicolet area. Another brother to Hilaire is born, Théodule, in December 1843. In October 1845, Joseph Uldéric joins the Béliveau family in St-Grégoire and is baptised the following day sous condition which means it was likely he was baptized by the midwife or other authorized person before the ceremony could be performed by a priest. This is sometimes the case if the newborn had a difficult birth or seems to be at risk of not surviving before a proper baptism can be done. He is followed by Louis Pierre who is born on September 1, 1847, then Jean Baptiste on September 29, 1850. Artemise is the youngest and was born around 1851.

FORMAL EDUCATION TAKES ROOT

Hilaire and Célina Cadotte (his future wife) are the first generation in their families to have been educated, both their parents were illiterate. It’s possible that Hilaire attended the Nicolet Seminary at some point (founded in 1803), a top-tier institution. That Hilaire received an education is in itself remarkable and seems to have bucked the prevailing view of farmers – especially in Nicolet – of paying taxes to fund public education.

La Guerre des Éteignoirs was a movement that took hold in 1836 to protest the closure of over 1600 schools in Lower Canada. From 1836 to 1841, organized schooling was practically nonexistent. The only schools to remain open were subsidized by Fabriques (parish building committees). The government wanted to restructure the public school network and fund it with taxes. As a result, many parents took their children out of school in protest and refused to pay the taxes or elect school boards.

In 1850 tensions rose when a new school tax law is imposed on taxpayers regardless of whether they have children attending school. Fanning the flames of discontent are politicians and leaders of the Éteignoirs who try to link the issue to the plight of Irish refugees escaping the famine. The tactic hits home in Nicolet where a large contingent of Irish refugees settled.

In 1851, as the embers and hostilities of the Éteignoirs movement die down, we find Hilaire and four of his brothers are attending school. They didn’t have far to go – their neighbour in St-Grégoire, Joseph Paré, had a schoolhouse on his property, so it’s likely that’s where they went. By 1857 a boys’ school and a girls’ school were established in St-Grégoire.

Returning to 1836, the Éteignoirs movement wasn’t the only cause of public discontent. The Patriote rebellion found supporters in the Nicolet area with assemblies and confrontations taking place between Patriote sympathizers and loyalists. Two local men were arrested in connection with the Patriote movement but were later released. To restore calm in the region, the government sent officials to Nicolet where they also took oaths of allegiance to the Queen from over 800 Nicolétaines.

Le Populaire 1838-02-14

Sources

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