Captain Francis Bourassa
Great Settler and first Mayor of L’Acadie
First, in the name of the Bourassa Monument Committee, I would like to express my sincere acknowledgements to the “Societe d’Histoire du Haut-Richelieu” and in particular its president, Mrs. Nicole Poulin, for her moral and technical support during the fund drive. Without this support we would be even farther from the set goal.
Before speaking to you about Francois Bourassa, I must remind you of some distant family ties between the Bourassa’s and the Brault’s. Indeed, after the death of his father Albert Bourassa, which occurred in l786, his mother Marie Janot-Lachapelle remarried nine years later in l795 with my ancestor at L’Acadie, Amand Brault widower of Marie Magdeleine Dupuis; Marie Lachapelle was in her 3rd marriage and Francois was no older then 10 years old, since he was born in l785. It can therefore be said that Amand Brault was in some way his adoptive father. But it was not for a long time.
In a conference of Henri Bourassa made on the 13th of October 1943, of which some extracts have been published in the Anniversary-Edition of the newspaper “Le Devoir”, printed on 25 October 1952, Henri Bourassa says in talking of his ancestor: “My grandfather Bourassa departed for the United States at the age of 14, his mother had remarried and he did not get along with his step-father (already his spirit of independence was showing) He went therefore to Vermont and was in the service of a Presbyterian family where he learned to read and to write in English. He never knew how to write in French.” Just the opposite, his eldest son, Francois never learned English well, even though he was a Deputy to Ottawa. (A deputy was a Member of Parliment - similar to a Congressman in the U.S.)
Still, according to Henri Bourassa, he returned to Canada when he was 25 years old, in 1810. “He at that time took three pieces of land, 336 acres of it being woods and wetlands; they had named the place Bon-Jarret because you needed to have a strong leg calf to cross it (it is the present southerly part of the “Chemin des Ormes” street. In the space of 30 years, he completely cleared his lands, irrigated them with ditches and enclosed them. The last years of his life, he harvested at L’Acadie where he lived, 3,000 minots of barley and 1,500 minots of wheat. (A minot was about 8 gallons volume, about a bushel.
Two years after his return, he married on the 6th of September l8l2, at L’Acadie, Genevieve Patenaude, of Chambly; his signature appears on the register and denotes a comfortable writing. Of this wedding, were born:
Francois in 1813, of whom Monsieur Fortin will talk about later.
Genevieve, born in 1815; she was first married at L’Acadie in 1832, to Hubert Senecal, merchant; and her 2nd marriage in 1835 was to Francois Ranger, also a merchant, again at L’Acadie. Genevieve Bourassa is the mother of Alphonsine Ranger who was a nun at the convent “Hospitalieres of the Hotel-Dieu” of Montreal and who was better known under the name of Mother Maillet. She will found the college of Saint-Basile in New-Brunswick and she will never be forgotten, but will always in the memory of the people of the “Republic of Madawaska”.
Medard, born in 1818, who was the first priest born at L’Acadie, and ordained there in the church on 5 March 1844 by Mgr Remi Gaulin, bishop of Kingston who was the founding pastor of Saint-Jean, Quebec. But Francois Bourassa couldn’t attend the ceremony and for a very good reason; he was dangerously ill and had received the Last Rites the evening before by the pastor Father Charles LaRocque. Also when N. LaRocque arrived, to bid his farewell, adding: “We will meet again in the other world”, M. Bourassa answered him back at once: “I hope that we will meet again in this world”. He lived for another 25 years. Father Medard was the Pastor of Montebello for 30 years.
The 4th child of the couple, Domitilde, was born in 1821 and she married the notary Edouard Rene Demers who became the 1st Mayor of Henryville in l848.
Then Vital, born in 1823, married Emilie Hebert at L’Acadie in 1845: he will inherit the paternal lands, becoming the largest landowner of L’Acadie as noted in the first tax assessment of 1863.
Finally, Napoleon, born in 1827, artist-painter, architect and writer, married at Montebello in 1857 to Azelie Papineau, the daughter of Louis Joseph Papineau and of Julie Bruneau. He is the father of Henri Bourassa and the ancestor of Mrs. Anne Bourassa, who is present here.
A beautiful family in truth to whom Francois Bourassa had known how to instill a sense of duty and of honor. He was himself a disciplined man , his political ideas will put him in jeopardy at the moment at the time of the Troubles of 1837. As Roger Le Moine writes citing Henri Bourassa: “He was horrified by the revolt and he was rather conservative. What complicated the situation, was the fact that his son Francois rejoined the Patriots and that he was obliged to take refuge in the United States. But as he was young, and because he was not found bearing arms, he was not worried.”
Francois Bourassa, senior, was taken captive and delivered to Robert Nelson at the Napierville camp in 1838, but Nelson, knowing Francois’ reputation, recommended that they take good care of him all the more so, since he had rendered good services to prisoners interned at Montreal the previous year.
I pass quickly on the functions that he performed at L’Acadie. In 1845, the law “8th Victoria” created municipalities which coincided with the parishes. Francois Bourassa, then aged 60 years, was elected mayor of the municipality of Ste-Marguerite-de-Blairfindie. No doubt, this man’s strong personality had influenced its citizens into their selection. He had been captain of the militia in the 1830’s, trustee during the construction of the present rectory in 1822 and of the “Maison du Bedeau” (Custodians House)in 1831, and Head Church Warden in 1833. Finally, he will act several times in the future as a special procurer of the Fabrique. (The Fabrique being the corporation of the church)
Francois Bourassa had retired with his wife at the rectory of Montebello about 1858 at the time when his son Medard was named pastor there. The “Franco-Canadian” formerly the “French Canada” (of Saint Jean), in its edition of September 1860 reports a fact that is qualified as an “incident”. In an article that alludes to M. Papineau, the orator, and of his retirement in the captivating scenery of Monte-Bello, in his seigniory of “La Petite-Nation”, the author quotes the following words: “There, not too long ago, Mr Bourassa took refuge (went into retirement). That cheerful and witty man whose memory will always be dear to this locality, where he was one of the first to bring agriculture and which he enriched through his enegetic and persistent labor.”
After having made the eulogy of his very replete career, the author adds, regarding the visit of Prince of Wales, the future Edouard VII, occurred in the year 1860, this which follows:
“The Prince, on his way to Ottawa, had to pass before “La Petite-Nation” where a tender and pleasant surprise awaited him. M. Bourassa greeted him with a Royal 21 Gun Salute which he had improvised for the occasion. M. Papineau, whose chateau was crowned with the flags of ten nations presented his respects to the Royal Prince, as he saluted him from his home; Mrs. Papineau had a magnificent bouquet of flowers gathered from the woods and her garden brought to him.”
Captain Bourassa died at Montebello on the 18th of September l869; his body was laid to rest temporarily in the vault of the chapel of the family of the Honorable Louis Joseph Papineau. He was to be buried at L’Acadie three months later, in other words on the 28th of December 1869. Genevieve Patenaude, his wife, survived him by three years and died in 1872. The “Franco-Canadien” in a obituary section renders him another tribute when writing: “Francois Bourassa, senior, Esquire. died at Montebello the 19th of last September (in fact it was the 18th as one can ascertain by consulting the register of Montebello) aged of 84 years. After have spent part of his life in the parish of “L’Acadie” where he had acquired a substantial fortune and a most honorable reputation, he decided ten years ago to repair to Montebello so that he could be close to his son, the Reverend Medard Bourassa, pastor of the place. “
“Driven by his spirit of enterprise, M. Bourassa, in spite of old age, began to clear around his new home a considerable domain that he succeeded in bringing to a high yield when death stopped him in his laborious career.” It is therefore not astonishing that the funeral monument carries his motto:
“Faith, Virtue, Work”
His son Napoleon, in a letter dated from MonteBello, the 26th of September 1869, narrates to his excellent cousin and good doctor “, the Dr Joseph Leman, the last moments of his life.
“During my stay at the town, you know how beautiful the weather was; the grains were ripening, and the harvesters were not more numerous because of that. Dad was fidgety and could not stay put in the house. It was very hot; yet he was spending the whole day in the fields. On Thursday, he came back to the house to dine only at about 4 o’clock of the afternoon. He had waded into the river for a few hours to gather the wood that the big downpours of the preceding days had carried away to the river. After a dinner which he ate with appetite, he was cheerful and fresh until the moment of retiring for the night. The following morning, the family found him in his bed, unable to speak and almost incapable of moving. He attempted to get up but didn’t regain his speech. He passed away about 9 oclock in the evening the following day, Saturday. He had taken his last breath. The torch from which my own life was lit had just been extinguished.
Further on, he adds: “He leaves nothing in my memory which does not deserve respect; for me, the name that he bequeaths us is an honor. I have the satisfaction of having seen in him a man who accepted all the duties that life imposes and who accomplished them as they must be, generously, without weakness for oneself and for the others.” What more could one add to their filial tribute.
(Text spoken at the church of L’Acadie on 27 June 1993, following the unveiling of the new Bourassa Funeral Monument.)
Bernard, Antoine, “Les Hospitalieres of Saint Joseph” and their work in Acadie, Vallee-Lourdes, N-B., s.‚., 1958, 303 p.
Bourassa, Adine, Letters of an Canadian Artist: N. Bourassa, Bruges, Desclees de Brouwer & Co, 1929, 499 p.
Le Moine, Roger, Napoleon Bourassa, the man and the artist, Ottawa, Editions of the University of Ottawa, [l974], 258 p.
Moreau, S.A., History of L’Acadie, Province of Quebec, Montreal, s.‚ 1908, 107p.
Lefebvre, Jean Jacques, ([pseud] Constant Philippe), The family Bourassa of Laprairie, Montreal, s.e. 197l, 55 p.
National Archives of Quebec, Events of 1837-1838,# 1262.
Tribute to Henri Bourassa, reproduction of “Anniversary-Edition” , Le Devoir, 25 October l952, 216 p.
The Franco-Canadian, years 1860 to 1870.
Registers of the parish of Sainte-Marguerite-de-Blairfindie of L’Acadie
Registers of the parish of Notre Dame de Bonsecours of Montebello.