Father Louis Lepage
By Joseph-Noël Fauteux
Industry Essay in Canada,
Chapter VI, Quebec, 1927
Because, better than any other, he embodies a common type in the history of New France that of the priest, manager of industrial enterprises, and also, because of the importance of its institutions, it should be granted a few pages peculiar to Father Lepage, parish priest and lord of Terrebonne, who, as we have seen, was among the King's timber suppliers, both for the shipyards of Quebec and for the ports of France.
Louis Lepage was the second son of a family of sixteen children, eight boys and eight girls. Born 25 August 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".
Pupil of the Quebec seminary, the young Lepage was destined for the priesthood. 6 April 1715, Mgr. De Saint-Valier ordained him orally and immediately sent him to minister as parish priest in the parish of Île Jésus, near Montreal. Father Lepage soon found himself struggling with the same difficulties that confronted most of the priests of the colony. The inhabitants, not very rich, scarcely able to meet their own needs, could not help their pastors. Endowed by the nature of an enterprising spirit, the parish priest of Île Jésus decided to create sources of income that would enable him to live on his own and to carry out the program of parish works he had planned. .
On 2 September 1720, he bought, for the price of 10, 000 books of Me François-Marie Bouat, advisor to the king and lieutenant general at the headquarters of Montreal, the Seigniory of Terrebonne, including two leagues in length by two leagues of depth, located on the north side of Rivière des Prairies, opposite Île Jésus, between the seigneury of Lachenaye and the lands of Sieur Petit and Langloiserie, with adjacent islands, islets and flats and a mill. The transaction was advantageous for Sieur Bouat, who had acquired the same seigneury 2 years ago from Dame Marie-Catherine de Saint-Georges, widow of Louis Lecomte Dupré, a Montreal merchant, for the sum of 5,268 livres.
The stages were burning at that time in the Canadian clergy. Satisfied with the zeal shown by the abbot Lepage and eager to encourage him, Bishop de Saint-Valier raised the young parish priest of Île Jésus to the dignity of canon of the chapter of the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Québec, l 9 june 1731, and charged him with the functions of vicar general of the diocese. The new canon obtained permission from his bishop to go and live on his lordship Terrebonne, which had been erected canonically parish in 1723, with the right of patronage for the priest in the church he proposed to build.
Perhaps it was the memory of a small sawmill that his father had built on a creek near his land, some time after he became lord of Rimouski, who encouraged the parish priest of Terrebonne to undertake on his new domain an institution of the same kind but more important.
Without personal resources, the canon had to borrow from side to side to put his project to execution. As he inspired confidence, he easily found people to bring him money or goods. The company Bouat-Lamarque lent him about five thousand pounds in various supplies. Ignace Gamelin, son, and Co., merchants of Montreal, also lent him 1,656 books in silver and in effects. With these and other funds, Father Lepage was able to build flour mills and various buildings. In 1729, he was a very important owner.
The care which the cure of Terrebonne brought to his industrial enterprises made him rather neglect his duties as grand vicar and canon. it was scarcely seen at the sittings of the Quebec Chapter. Things came to a point where the bishop was forced to make a complaint to the President of the Navy Council. On 12, April 1729, he wrote to Bishop Dosquet that an end should be put to the abuses that were pointed out to him, and that members of the Chapter who did not fulfill the duties of their office should be given notice to resign or to resign. give up 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 pursuing the temporal enterprises begun on his seigneury, he decided to resign from his position as canon and grand vicar. Moreover, he had incurred debts, and he was obliged to pay them before thinking of confining himself exclusively to his ecclesiastical functions.
Far from giving up his various exploitations, the abbot increased them. In 1731, he had two new mills added to his flour mills, bringing the number to four. moreover, he had made a contract with the king to supply oak and pine planking, which would help keep his sawmills active. 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 parish priest of Terrebonne found ways to build a church, to try to make tar and pitch, and to focus on fishing for cod and running a slate quarry at the bottom. of the St. Lawrence River.
Wood had become rare in the seigneury of Terrebonne. The abbot represented to Hocquart that it would soon be impossible for him to fill his supply contracts to the king as exactly as he had hitherto done, unless he were granted new forest limits. 22 July 1730, the intendant issued an order allowing the seigneur of Terrebonne to exploit the woods behind his lands in the depth of two leagues and to open the roads necessary for the transport. The concession was ratified by a royal patent on 10 April 1731.
It was a whole village that Father Lepage had created. Where practically only the forest existed ten years ago, many families were now established around the parish church. Their leaders could count on a stable livelihood by working on clearing or sawing and flour mills. One can believe that the priest of Terrebonne possessed the full sympathy of his flock.
The worthy priest could not fail to feel himself contented at the sight of the success of his establishments, especially since he knew that at the court of France his zeal and the services he went to the colony. His own family felt his prosperity. One of her sisters, Reine Lepage, having joined the Ursuline community of Quebec, he joined his brother, Germain Lepage of Saint-François, in 1730, to pay him a dowry of 2,000 books in the form of an annual pension of 100 books.