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