Hilaire Béliveau: Urban Realities – Upward Mobility

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

The 1851 census is the first census where we see the Béliveau family enumerated. Hilaire père is a farmer and his family live in a single-story wood house.in St-Grégoire. With him in the household are his wife Eléonore Bernard, their children: Hilaire fils (18), William (16), Anna (14), Ephraim (12), Camil (10), Théodule (8), Ulduric (6), Louis (4), Jean (2), Artemise (a newborn). Sadly, Hilaire’s little sister Anna died in October of 1852. Her cause of death is unknown. She was 14 years old.

Living nearby is Hilaire’s mother Marguerite Bourque with the oldest son, Eusebe, a farmer and widower with two children and a servant. They also live in a single-story wood house.

In 1854, Hilaire’s uncle, Louis Joseph, owned a hardware store on rue St-Paul in Montréal. It’s likely that Hilaire decided to join his uncle’s business and by 1861 it appears he then set up his own hardware store in Montréal.

On September 13, 1859 Hilaire and Célina Cadotte sign a marriage contract stipulating their separate property rights . The contract established her irrevocable right to manage and administrate her assets and debts; if she survives her husband, the estate will pay her a pension for the rest of her life. To guarantee his financial obligations, Hilaire takes out a mortgage on his assets. Present at the signing of the contract were: Hilaire’s uncle Louis Joseph; Célina’s parents; and Charles L’Ecuyer, friend. The document was executed at the residence of Célina’s parents at 4 rue St-Denis at 8:30 p.m.

The wedding took place in the bride’s parish of Notre Dame in Montréal the day after the contract was signed. Hilaire’s father and brother Louis Pierre were named as witnesses. Both the bride and groom were able to sign the register.

At some point before the wedding, Hilaire’s parents and siblings had moved further east to Winslow Québec. With no known ties to the area, what could have been the impetus for that move?

The Béliveau family’s move may be been prompted by the end of the seigneural land distribution system in 1854. As a tenant farmer, Hilaire père was looking for his own land to farm. Crown lands were available in some of the new Québec townships being established (a.k.a. Eastern Townships) and he likely applied for one of these as did his son William. Hilaire and William were granted letters patent on September 28, 1863. The land he acquired was 180 acres, William acquired 90 acres.

In the same area are some Prince family land holdings. The Prince and Béliveau families will form several alliances through marriage in the coming years.

Hilaire’s brother William was the next to tie the knot. He married Julie Hebert, a native of Stratford Québec, on August 10, 1860. The wedding was witnessed by his father, the bride’s father, Antoine Beauvais and Antoine Doucette, among several others in attendance. It’s not known whether Hilaire travelled to Stratford for the wedding. Julie’s parents were Michel Hebert (a farmer) and Elize Prince. William was a farmer like his father and, unlike some of his other siblings, was not able to sign his name.

Back in Montréal, Hilaire and Célina welcomed their first child, Hilaire Gustave, on June 19, 1860 and the next day he was baptized in Notre Dame parish. His godparents were Hilaire’s uncle Louis Joseph Béliveau and Vitalline Larue.

The following year, as the spring snows melted, disaster struck the city. The great inundation, as it was called, flooded about 25% of Montréal’s downtown—including the area on rue St-Paul where Hilaire’s hardware store stood. It was caused by an ice jam that blocked the flow of the St-Lawrence. The water rose so fast (24 feet above normal levels) that many residents were caught unawares, and businesses had to close until the waters subsided.

Engraving Montreal floods
Montréal flood, wood engraving, 1850-1885. John Henry Walker / McCord Museum. Montréal Gazette.
https://Montréalgazette.com/sponsored/mtl-375th/from-the-archives-if-theres-a-flood-it-must-be-spring-in-Montréal

On May 1, Hilaire’s young family move into a three-story brick dwelling in the St-Louis suburbs (adjoining Champ de Mars). Hilaire signs a five-year lease on the home for a rent of 11 pounds 5 shillings payable quarterly. The residence is at 63 Champ de Mars, close to a francophone bourgeois district that formed near Place Viger. It was described in the 1861 census as a 2-storey, 2-family residence of wood construction. There are five other people living in the house – all between the ages of 17 and 21. Their relationship to the young family is not known, but they might have been lodgers or employees of Hilaire’s hardware business.

Engraving of moving day in Montreal
Moving Day in Montréal, as depicted by Henri Julien, 1876.
« Une scène de déménagement, à Montréal, le 1er mai », frontpage of ”L’Opinion publique”, Montréal, vol. VII, no 20, jeudi 18 mai 1876, p. 1. http://bibnum2.banq.qc.ca/bna/illustrations/htm

Hilaire’s hardware business appears to be well-established. He has taken over his uncle Louis Joseph’s storefront at 105 rue St-Paul in Montréal and begins to appear in city and business directories.

Present day image of 105 rue St-Paul
105 rue St-Paul in 2018.
https://goo.gl/maps/o3qgkj3TLyKbQL2E7

His uncle has opened a hardware store down the road at 153-155 rue St-Paul and lived at Cornwall Terrace on St-Denis Street – between LaGauchetière and Dorchester.

In 1861, Hilaire’s parents and siblings are in Compton, living in a log house. Hilaire’s brothers William and Joseph, also farmers, have established their own households and are also living in log houses.

Artemise, the youngest, is attending school. The Compton school system has 21 schools and according to Journal de l’instruction publique the students are doing well and the school’s finances are in good shape.

What about our other two families in 1861? In Montréal, Célina’s family are living in a 2-story, 2-family home. Two of her younger siblings are attending school. The Beaudry family in Pointe-aux-Trembles are living in a single-story single-family wooden house. Aglaë, Hilaire’s future second wife, is not shown as attending school.

Sources