Father Louis Lepage
By Joseph-Noël Fauteux
Industry Essay in Canada,
Chapter VI, Quebec, 1927
Because, better than any other, he embodies a type frequent in the history of New France that of the priest, manager of industrial companies, and also, because of the importance of his establishments, it is appropriate to grant a few pages specific to Abbé Lepage, parish priest and Lord of Terrebonne, who, as we have seen, was one of the king's wood suppliers, both for the Quebec shipyards and for the ports in France.
Louis Lepage was the second son in a family of sixteen children, eight boys and eight girls. Born August 25, 1690, in St-François, one of the five parishes of Île d'Orléans, near Quebec, he was six years old when his father, René Lepage, moved to Rimouski, where he became the first lord with the title of "sieur de Sainte-Claire".
A student of the Quebec seminary, young Lepage was destined for the priesthood. On April 6, 1715, Bishop de Saint-Valier ordained him to be a priest and immediately sent him to exercise his ministry, as pastor, in the parish of Île Jésus, near Montreal. Father Lepage soon found himself grappling with the same difficulties which then confronted most of the priests of the colony. The inhabitants, not very rich, barely sufficient for their own needs, could not come to the aid of their pastors. Gifted by the nature of an enterprising spirit, the parish priest of Île Jésus decided to create sources of income that would allow him to live on his own and to carry out the program of parish works that he had drawn up for himself. .
On September 2, 1720, he bought, for the price of 10 livres from Me François-Marie Bouat, king's adviser and lieutenant general at the siege of Montreal, the seigneury of Terrebonne, comprising two leagues in length by two leagues in depth, located on the north side of Rivière des Prairies, opposite Île Jésus, between the seigneury of Lachenaye and the lands of Sieurs Petit and Langloiserie, with the adjacent islands, islets and flats and a mill. The transaction was advantageous for Sieur Bouat, who had acquired the same seigneury 000 years earlier from Dame Marie-catherine de Saint-Georges, widow of Louis Lecomte Dupré, merchant of Montreal, for the sum of 2 pounds.
The steps were taken at that time in the Canadian clergy. Satisfied with the zeal shown by Father Lepage and eager to encourage him, Bishop de Saint-Valier elevated the young parish priest of Île Jésus to the dignity of canon of the chapter of the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Québec, June 9 1731, and entrusted him with the functions of vicar general of the diocese. The new canon obtained permission from his bishop to go and live on his seigneury of Terrebonne, which had been canonically erected into a parish in 1723, with the right of patronage for the parish priest in the church he proposed to build.
It was perhaps the memory of a small sawmill that his father had built on a stream near his land, some time after he had become Lord of Rimouski, that prompted the priest of Terrebonne to undertake on his new domain an establishment of the same kind but more considerable.
Without personal resources, the canon had to borrow from both sides to put his project into execution. As he inspired confidence, he easily found people to advance him money or goods. The Bouat-Lamarque company lent him about five thousand pounds in various supplies. Ignace Gamelin, Jr., and Cie, Montreal merchants, also lent him 1,656 pounds in money and effects. Armed with these funds and others, Father Lepage was able to build flour mills and various buildings. In 1729, he was a very important owner.
The care that the parish priest of Terrebonne brought to his industrial enterprises caused him to neglect his functions of vicar vicar and canon. he was hardly seen at the meetings of the Chapter of Quebec. Things got to the point where the bishop was forced to file a complaint with the President of the Marine Council. On April 12, 1729, he wrote to Bishop Dosquet that the abuses reported to him had to be put to an end and that the members of the Chapter who did not fulfill the duties of their office should be put on notice to resign or to resign. waive the supplement they would receive from the king.
The choice of Father Lepage was soon made. Seeing that he could very well serve the spiritual interests of his parishioners while continuing the temporal undertakings begun on his lordship, he decided to resign from his office as canon and grand vicar. Moreover, he had contracted debts and he was obliged to discharge them before thinking of limiting himself exclusively to his ecclesiastical functions.
Far from renouncing his various exploitations, the sieur abbé increased them. In 1731 he had two new mills added to his flour mills, bringing the number to four. in addition, he had made a contract with the king to supply oak and pine planking, which would help keep his sawmills in operation. In short, the establishment was growing in importance and Hocquart could say that it was the most beautiful of this species in the colony. In the meantime, the priest of Terrebonne found a way to build a church, to try the manufacture of tar and pitch, and to take an interest in cod fishing and in the exploitation of a slate quarry in the lower part of the city. of the St. Lawrence River.
Wood had become scarce in the seigneury of Terrebonne. The abbot represented to Hocquart that it would soon be impossible for him to fulfill his procurement contracts to the king as exactly as he had done until then, unless he was granted new forest limits. On July 22, 1730, the intendant launched an ordinance allowing the lord of Terrebonne to exploit the woods behind his land in the depth of two leagues and to open the roads necessary for transport. The concession was ratified by a royal patent on April 10, 1731.
It was a whole village that Father Lepage had created. Where practically only the forest existed ten years before, many families were now established around the parish church. Their leaders could count on a stable livelihood by working in the clearings or in the saw and flour mills. One can believe that the priest of Terrebonne possessed the entire sympathy of his flock.
The worthy priest could not fail to feel satisfaction himself at the sight of the success of his establishments, all the more so since he knew that, at the French court, his zeal and the services he was highly appreciated. was going to the colony. His own family felt the effects of his prosperity. One of his sisters, Reine Lepage, having joined the Ursuline community of Quebec, he joined his brother, Germain Lepage de Saint-François, in 1730, to pay him a dowry of 2,000 pounds in the form of an annual annuity of 100 books.