FRANCOIS BOURASSA, Junior
MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It pleases me to speak to you of FRANCOIS BOURASSA, junior, who was the first Member of the Federal Parliament from the county of Saint Jean.
Born at L’Acadie on the 5th of June l8l3, the Deputy (Member of Parliament), Francois Bourassa was the eldest child of Francois Bourassa and of Genevieve Patenaude, and he had received the same forename as his father as was the custom of the times. After having attended the elementary school of his native parish for a few years, he started young (about age 12) to work on the farm of his father who owned 336 acres of land, in order to provide to the needs of the family while his younger brothers and sister continued their education. This rudimentary education was not to be harmful to Francois Bourassa in the future, because he possessed by nature a quick intelligence and a great judgement.
Francois Bourassa was a farmer by profession. He had a farm at Napierville, then at L’Acadie, afterwards at St Jean, then again at L’Acadie before staying at last at St-Valentin.
Early on, Francois Bourassa, junior, had became interested in politics. Involved in the rebellion of 1837-1838 on the side of the Patriots with the title of Captain of a company of Freres-Chasseurs(Brother-Hunters ), he took refuge in United States when he ascertained the failure of the revolt. He was however arrested and incarcerated at the Montreal prison on his return to the country. But not having participated in affrontements against the British Volunteers, he obtained his freedom without a trial some days later. In 1847, he became Captain of the 3rd Battalion of Militia of the county of Chambly, rank that he maintained until 1859.
The 3rd of July 1850, he was elected Municipal Councilman of the Parish of Saint Jean by the Council of the County of Chambly, a function that he filled until 24 July 1854. Partisan of the abolition of the Seignorial System which had become at the time, burdensome and unnecessary, he was elected the 22nd of August 1853 at the same time as the notary Pierre Paul Demaray of St Jean, as one of the delegates to take part in the Convention for the abolition of the Seignorial Rights in the district of Montreal.
A year later, in July 1854, he ran with the support of Louis Joseph Papineau, the Chief Patriot, as the liberal or candidate of the “Reds” as they called the liberals at that time, in the new county of Saint Jean which had just been created following a overhaul of the electoral district. We can mention that the county of Saint Jean had been formed by carving a part of the territory of the counties of Huntingdon and of Chambly. It grouped the parishes of Lacolle, St-Valentin, St-Luc, L’Acadie and St Jean (parish and village) The electoral campaign lasted the whole month of July and the voting occured on several days. It is finally the 1st of August 1854 when Francois Bourassa was declared elected Member of Parliament of the County of Saint Jean in the Parliament of United Canada being carried by a majority of 434 votes over his opponent the notary Tom Robert Jobson of Saint Jean.
During some general subsequent elections, he was reelected by acclamation, in December 1857, on 11 July 1861 and on 15 June 1863. This was before the birth of the Canadian Confederation which was proclaimed the 1st of July 1867. Recall that before this date, Quebec was called Lower Canada and Ontario was then called Upper Canada and they formed together since 1840 a single Province called the Province of Canada or Province of United Canada. The Assembly of the Parliament of United-Canada alternated in the cities of Quebec and Toronto. It was in 1857 that Queen Victoria made the selection of the city of Ottawa as capital of Canada and that the governmental offices were fixed there permanently.
Francois Bourassa was among the Members of Parliament opposed to the proposal of Canadian Confederation who signed a petition addressed to the Secretary of the Colonies at London in 1866. This petition was rejected and the Canadian Confederation came to be in 1867. The Deputy Bourassa then made the decision to continue to champion the interests of his citizens of the county of St Jean at the federal level at Ottawa. He ran therefore as the Liberal Candidate in the general election of July 1867. His opponent was Charles Joseph Laberge, lawyer, who also was Mayor of the town of Saint Jean. The electoral contest, was very tight because Laberge was one of the chief politicians and most visible in the country in addition to being an excellent speaker and former Member of Parliament of County of Iberville. Finally, Francois Bourassa carried it however by a slim majority of 96 votes. He became, in this way, the first Federal Member of Parliament of the County of Saint Jean.
At subsequent elections, Francois Bourassa will always far outrun his political opponents. At the General Elections of July 20 1872, he was reelected by acclamation, over his opponent, Jean Louis Beaudry, Mayor of Montreal, having withdrawn from the contest before the ballot. A year and a half later, some new general elections were launched and he was again reelected by acclamation on 22 January 1874. This mandate of 4 years being expired, some new general election took place on 17 September 1878. Always a Liberal Candidate, Francois Bourassa faced a Conservative Candidate, Judge Charles Loupret of St Jean. Again a victorious time, Bourassa was reelected Member of Parliament by a majority of 197 votes. Thereafter, the Deputy Bourassa participated in 3 other general elections and defeated his Conservative opponents each time. Here are some details on each of these elections:
At the election of 20 June 1882, he carries a majority of 145 votes against Charles Arpin, insurance agent of St Jean;
At the election of 22 February 1887, he wins by 360 majority votes against Emilien-Zephirin Paradis, lawyer of St-Jean;
At the election of 5 March 1891, he finds himself reelected by a 228 majority vote against John Black, merchant of St Jean.
It is at the moment of the launching of general elections of 23 June 1896, that Francois Bourassa decides to take his retirement. At this date, he was 83 years old and he had to his name an astonishing career of 42 years of political life “marked, as underscored in the newspaper “Le Canada-Francais” of 15 January 1897, with a honesty which was never denied and a strict observance of his duty.” It would seem that Francois Bourassa has attained a record of political longevity by being Member of Parliament of the same county, without interruption, for 42 years. For the sake of statistics, let us mention that he had run in 11 general elections in the course of which he was reelected 5 times by acclamation. As Member of Parliament he had participated in 45 Parliamentary sessions of periods varying from 2 to 6 months each. It goes without saying that he has witnessed at multiple changes or events in Canada. We mention among others: The abolition of the Seignorial System, the founding of the townships of parishes and of counties, the choice of Ottawa as the Capital of Canada, the advent of the Confederation, the development of the Canadian West, the uprising of the Metis half-breed of Saskatchewan, the execution of the Chief Metis half-breed Louis Riel, and the question of schools of Manitoba.
After the death of Sir John A. Macdonald in 1891, Francois Bourassa was considered the Dean of the Federal Parliament and he was nicknamed “The Father of the Chamber of Commons.”
What do others say of the career of Deputy Bourassa? First, that he didn’t quit during all these years of defending the interests of the farmers of the County of St Jean to Ottawa. Also, that Bourassa never knew how to speak English. Also that starting in 1854, he had recourse to Felix-Gabriel Marchand as interpreter to deal with his anglophone constituency who were concentrated for the most part at Lacolle. Concerning his failure to master English, here is an anecdote concerning the answer which Francois Bourassa gave to Sir John A. Macdonald, when the latter made a comment concerning his ignorance of the English language. While underlining the assiduity of M. Bourassa to the meetings of the Chamber of Commons (“M. Bourassa was always the first at his seat and the last one to leave it”, Sir John A. Macdonald, the Premier of Canada, said to him: “don’t you find these proceedings boring, M. Bourassa, especially seeing that you do not understand english? “Ah, retorted the venerable Member of Parliament, I would perhaps find them more boring if I understood your tongue.”
We mention that in addition to the commission of Deputy, Francois Bourassa was Mayor of L’Acadie during 7 months, from the 1st of February to the 6th of September 1858. In beyond, he met only one electoral defeat, that being in 1862 when he ran as candidate to the position of Legislative Counselor. He had been defeated by Jacques-Olivier Bureau who had obtained a majority of 236 votes.
As far as his personality is concerned, one can say of Francis Bourassa that he was talented and of a fine and sensitive mind, of a charming good nature, of a good communicative mood. He also was a gracious man, hospitable, and generous.
After his withdrawal from political life, Francois Bourassa had returned to live at St-Valentin in the 3rd rang. (A rang is a basically a row of houses, each on a road farther out from the first, in the town) It is in this parish that he died on 13 May 1898 at the age of 84 years, 11 months and 7 days. His funeral ceremony took place on 16 May 1898 in the church at L’Acadie in the middle of a grand assembly of relatives and of friends, of notables and political personalities one of which was Felix-Gabriel Marchand, then Premier of Quebec.
Francois Bourassa was married at St Jean on 28 February 1832, to Sophie Trahan. She survived him by 3 years and died on 5 April 1901. Of the Bourassa-Trahan marriage was born 14 children of which eleven attained the age of adults, being 5 sons and 6 daughters. Nearly all his descendants by his sons are today in the Canadian West and the American West while his descendants by the daughters are very numerous in the Upper-Richelieu.
By SOPHIE BOURASSA married to Moise Bourgeois and who had an only daughter named Azelie Bourgeois, married to Pierre Amedee Hebert, is descended the Heberts of St- Valentin, Napierville, and St-Jean-sur-Richelieu;
By JOSEPHINE BOURASSA is the Marceau Family of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu;
By ERMINE EMILIE BOURASSA is descended the Guay Family of Lacolle and St Bernard;
By ROSALIE VITALINE BOURASSA is descended the Patenaude Family of Lacolle;
By HELENE MALVINA BOURASSA is descended the Bouchard Family of St-Valentin.
Some among these descendents were interested also in politics and became Mayors, Municipal Councilmen, and School Commissioners.
To conclude, it is evident to me that Francois Bourassa rightly deserved, because of his tireless devotion throughout 42 years, to the title of Member of Parliament of St Jean, and that his memory perpetuates in our collective memory and that his name remains immortalized on the gravestone inaugurated today.
This talk given by Lionel Fortin, Historian and Biographer, on the 27th of June 1993 at the church of L’Acadie, under the auspices of the “Societie d’Histoire du Haut-Richelieu”, on the occasion of the unveiling of the new Bourassa Monument at the L’Acadie cemetery.
Any reproduction of this text is authorized under reservation of always mentioning the name of Lionel Fortin as author.