Hubert Prévost the entrepreneur: An urban generation

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

The Prévost and Reeves families were probably well-acquainted as Hubert and Alvina were not the first Prévost-Reeves union to take place. Several years before Alvina (aka Zoe) married Hubert (fils), she appears as a witness (the first time we see her signature) to Hubert’s sister Lucie’s wedding to Olivier Reeves – likely a cousin.
Did their courtship begin at this wedding? Did Alvina catch the bride’s bouquet (assuming that custom was followed)? We’ll never know. Their marriage would still be some years ahead. On the other hand, Hubert (père), twice a widower, tied the knot a third time in 1856 with Julie Forest in a wedding that took place in St-Roch-de-l’Achigan.

As Hubert (fils) and Alvina reached adulthood, urbanization and technological innovations were changing the fabric of urban life. In Hubert’s line of work, duplexes started to make an appearance in Montreal. Now ubiquitous, these two-story buildings became the housing standard and were a solution to providing low-income tenants with affordable housing. Other construction and public utility innovations included: iron or steel structures, elevators, electricity, natural gas service, streetcars and traffic lights. All of these accelerated the growth of suburban areas as industries moved farther out of the core and supporting infrastructures improved, aided by grand civil engineering projects like railways, canals, municipal water works and the Victoria bridge which opened in 1860.

In the east end of Montreal, these changes were pronounced and rapid. Industrialists and politicians embraced and encouraged modernization projects. In 1867, on rue Notre-Dame est, Catelli opened the first pasta manufacturing facility in Canada. The east-end area became home to cotton mills, shoe manufacturing and other mechanized factories.

The 1861 census provides a bit more clarity into the Prévost and Reeves families, both living in Pointe-aux-Trembles. Hubert (fils) is still at the family home (he will be married in the following year). He, like his father and brothers, is listed as a carpenter/joiner. The family of seven is living in a single-story house of wood construction. The Reeves are living in a single-story stone two-family house. Charles Reeves is still farming, and the household includes Alvina’s grandfather, Louis, who is 84 and retired, as well as her aunt Christine Reeves and uncle Hyppolyte Reeves.

Much of Pointe-aux-Trembles is rural in1861. An atlas of the city and suburbs of Montreal clearly shows the extent of the land Charles had under cultivation, about 191 arpents bordering on the St-Lawrence River. Nearby is the 186 arpent farm of cousins Joseph and Olivier Reeves (the husband of Hubert’s sister Lucie in 1855).

Map of Pointe-aux-Trembles
Detail from 1878 Montreal atlas showing rural land partitions in Pointe-aux-Trembles

1862 kicked off with the wedding of Hubert’s sister Dorimene to Louis Lafranchise in Montreal. Not long after, on May 1, 1862 Hubert and Alvina prepare for their nuptials by signing their marriage contract at the home of her parents with some family members present. Hubert is working as an entrepreneur menuisier – a business he will grow over the coming years. The contract details the property and goods each will bring to the marriage, including some tools of Hubert’s trade. With some exceptions, they will enter into a community of property agreement. The contract also stipulates how property will be disposed of if one predeceases the other, with or without children. The future bride signed as Zoe Reeves.

On May 12, Hubert & Alvina were married at St-Enfant-Jesus church in Pointe-aux-Trembles. Both the bride and groom signed the register, along with the following witnesses: Olivier Reeves (relationship to Alvina not defined, husband of Hubert’s sister Lucie), Charles Reeves (Alvina’s father) and Charles Reeves (her brother) as well as Leandre Tessier, presumably a friend. Before long, their first child is born. Marie Alvina arrives on September 20, 1863. Her godparents were grandparents Charles Reeves (Alvina’s father) and Marie Julie Foret dite Marin (Hubert Sr.’s third wife). The children of Alvina and Hubert will be the first generation in this family line to grow up in an urban setting.

In May 1865, Alvina’s brother Charles Reeves marries Justine Lamoureux. Hubert and Alvina sign the register as witnesses. Sadly, barely three years later, Charles is a widower and returns to the alter, with Hubert as a witness, to marry Emma Laporte on January 14, 1868.

In the fall, Alvina and Hubert have a second child, Michel Hubert, who is born on September 30, 1865. This time the godparents are the other grandparents: Hubert Prévost (père) and Zoe Desautels, Alvina’s mother. On February 9, 1867, Eugenie Appoline Prévost was born. Her godparents were Hubert’s sister Lucie and her husband Olivier Reeves.

On March 14, 1868, Sem Alexandre Provost, Hubert and Alvina’s fourth child, was born. His godparents were his uncle and aunt, Charles Reeves (fils) and Emma Laporte, his second wife. Next, a daughter, Marie Ezilda Prévost, was born on August 11, 1869. Her godparents were her aunt and uncle Dorimene Prévost and Louis Lafranchise. Another daughter was born on November 2, 1870 – Alphonsine Hortense – only to die about nine months later on August 9, 1871. it appears that her grandfather witnessed her burial (usually the father is the witness) as the register notes that Hubert Prévost could not sign. Hubert (fils) was known to be literate.

By the time Alvina and Hubert’s last child, Marie Alphonsine, was born on March 10, 1873 , the Hochelaga district of Montreal was expanding rapidly and its population almost quadrupled. Over the next decade, road and tramway expansions, cotton mills, a tobacco factory, and other industries meant jobs for many workers – and they needed housing, creating opportunities for those in the construction trade. New roads were laid out – such as Pie-IX Boulevard and Jeanne-d’Arc street – and the growth of railways meant terminals and shops were set up in western Hochelaga. This rapid growth came with some challenges. Municipal finances were drained by the construction of infrastructures such as streets, sewers and an aqueduct, so the idea of facilitating urbanization by annexing Hochelaga to Montreal took hold.

The newly constituted Dominion of Canada’s first census was taken on April 2, 1871. In just 10 years, Hubert and Alvina’s household grew to include six children. Their three oldest children are attending school.


Sources

 

Hubert Prévost the entrepreneur: Intro

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

In the mid 19th century, Montreal was the largest city in British North America. As a prosperous financial and manufacturing centre, it witnessed dramatic socio-economic change, first with the waves of immigration and then with the shift from rural subsistence farming to wage-paying factory jobs.

This period saw the emergence of French-Canadian entrepreneurs and industrialists, many of whom set up businesses in Montreal’s eastern sector and then became civic leaders as these areas grew to become municipalities.

It’s in this era that Hubert Prévost, son of Hubert and Lucie Archambault of Pointe-aux-Trembles, came to become our first industrialist ancestor. His presence on earth is well-documented, yet each piece of discovered evidence generates many other questions about his motivations, successes or failures as a businessman. A life story worthy of additional research that we’ll save for a sequel.

A CHILD OF THE VICTORIAN ERA

Hubert’s life (1836-1902) spanned the same period as the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1902). He would have witnessed the emergence of Canada from colony to Dominion and the impact of the industrial revolution first-hand.

He was born on October 17, 1836 to Hubert (père), a woodworker (menuisier) living in Pointe-aux-Trembles, and Lucie Archambault, originally of St-Roch-de-l’Achigan, about 40km north of Pointe-aux-Trembles. At the time of his birth, he had an older sister, Luce, born in 1834.

A couple of years later, Marie Zoe Elvina Rive was born to Charles Reeves and Zoe Desautels dite Lapointe on March 4, 1839 in Longue Pointe, a municipality not far from Pointe-aux-Trembles. Zoe Elvina would become Hubert’s wife in 1862.

The origins of the Reeves (also Rive, Rives) family remain a bit of a mystery. Despite what one would assume, the Reeves family (at least this one) had no Irish roots. Instead, it’s believed that Joseph Reeves (Zoe Alvina’s great-grandfather) was born in Port au Basques (Newfoundland) in 1727 and was later baptised in the community of St-Marie in Maryland. Maryland was a haven for Catholics and could be reached by sea without encountering hostile (to the French) British ships patrolling the waterways around Quebec and Acadie.

When Alvina’s brother Charles was born in 1840, the Reeves family appear to be living in the Pointe-aux-Trembles area. Charles (fils) would die six months later. Another brother Louis Charles was born in 1842. At the Provost home, Hubert’s sister Anne Dorimene was born in 1840 followed by a brother Joseph in 1843. These family events occurred against a backdrop of political change that eventually led to nationhood. In the aftermath of the Mackenzie-Papineau rebellions, Upper and Lower Canada were united in 1841 to become the Province of Canada and were renamed to Canada East and Canada West. In 1842, in order to determine parliamentary representation after the Act of Union, a major census of Canada East and West was undertaken. Unfortunately, listings for the Prévost and Reeves families have not been found, possibly because not all the returns survived.

A wave of immigration flowed into Montreal as the effects of the Irish potato famine drove the Irish diaspora, and when the U.S. doubled passage fees to American ports many immigrants chose Canada as their destination. The influx strained the local resources. French Catholics were encouraged to adopt orphaned children and, over time, marriages between the French and Irish populations resulted in a mixed bag of Canadians who had Irish surnames but were raised in French and vice versa – a literal definition of mother tongue. Perhaps the family myth about the Reeves being Irish started around this time.

In 1846 and 1847, two more brothers, Zotique and Eugene, are born, completing Hubert’s (père) and Lucie’s family. As Hubert (fils) approached his mid-teens, Montreal was spreading out to the east. By 1850 Longue Pointe was becoming increasingly urban and industrialized due to the expansion of Montreal’s port and the creation of the Lachine Canal. With industrialization came innovation and new ways of working. As a carpenter (menuisier), Hubert’s father might have seen the replacement of pitsaws (or straight saws) for circular saws driven by steam or water power at sawmills. Perhaps his son Hubert was already learning the trade and dreamt of modernizing the family business with steam-powered equipment.

Illustration of a circular saw invention
Illustration of a circular saw invention published in Scientific American, 1855

Lumber was a big business. In 1851 there were 1,631 mills worked by steam and water power producing 7.7 million board feet of lumber and 4.6 million planks per year. Canada East craftsmen included 379 chairmakers, cabinetmakers and upholsterers; and 8923 shipwrights, carpenters and joiners.

In 1851 we learn a little more about the families of Hubert and Zoe Alvina through the Canada East census of that year – dubbed the first thorough Canadian census. The Provost family – Hubert, Lucie and their six children are still living in Pointe-aux-Trembles. Also in Pointe-aux-Trembles are Charles Reeves, cultivateur, his wife Zoe Lapointe (Desautels), and their children Alvina and Charles (fils). Living with Charles and his family was his father Louis who was 78 years old and retired.

According to the agricultural census of the same year, brothers Louis and Charles Reeves were farming over 200 arpents. Charles’ farm consisted of 102 arpents, with 88 arpents cultivated, of which 76 arpents produced a harvest. 12 of his arpents were en paturage, and 12 arpents were forested or woodlot. Together they produced about 260 minots (bushels) of wheat. When the seigneurial system was abolished in 1854, many tenant farmers bought or acquired the lands they worked. It’s not clear whether the Reeves were tenant farmers or owned their acreages.

In 1852, an event occurred that likely had an impact on Hubert’s (fils) future business career as a building contractor. 1,100 homes on the east side of Montreal went up in flames, leaving more than 10,000 people – about 20% of the population – homeless. As a result, new fireproofing standards were introduced for house construction.

At the end of 1852, Hubert’s mother Lucie Archambault passed away. Hubert was 16 years old. The youngest in the family, Eugene, was only five. Two years later, Hubert’s father married Emilie Chartier. Emilie was 36 at the time, the daughter of Antoine Chartier and Desanges Pepin. Their marriage was short-lived as Emilie died in 1855. By then, Hubert was 19.


Sources

  • 1842 Canada East census. Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa. http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca
  • 1851 Census of Canada East, Canada West, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. Library and Archives Canada
  • Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec
  • Great Fire of 1852. Wikipedia. 2018-12-17. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Fire_of_1852
  • Institut Généalogique Drouin; Montreal, Quebec, Canada. http://www.institutdrouin.com
  • Pound, Richard W.; Editorial Director; Canadian Facts and Dates; 3rd Edition. 2005.
  • Reeves, Chs-L. (fr. Damien O.F.M.). The Rives… and Reeves families in New France; translated by Gail Moreau. https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Reeves-3207
  • Scientific American; Old Series (1845–1859); Volume 11 Issue No. 50 19 January 1855. Munn & Co.
  • Scott, Marian. The Montreal Gazette; August 12, 2017. “Montreal-refugees-and-the-irish-famine-of-1847”