Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Garneau, François Xavier

GARNEAU, FRANÇOIS XAVIER (1809–1866), historian of Canada, was a member of an old French family from the diocese of Poitiers. His grandfather was a farmer at St. Augustin, and his father, by trade a saddler, took part in speculations which seriously hampered the education of his children. In 1808 he married Gertrude Amiot, and on 15 June 1809 his son François Xavier was born in Quebec. François' early education was obtained at a small town school kept by a Mr. Parent, but in a short time he came under the care of Mr. Perrault, who was an advocate of the system of Lancaster. Thence he passed at an early age into Mr. Perrault's office, having declined to take orders in the Roman church (‘je ne me sens pas appelé au sacerdoce’). Leaving Mr. Perrault at the age of sixteen, he entered the office of Archibald Campbell, a notary, from whom he received great encouragement in the pursuit of his private studies. While he was in the office his patriotic ardour was often outraged by the view which the ordinary histories and his fellow-clerks took of the respective positions of the English and French settlers. He made up his mind to write a history which should give an impartial and accurate account (Casgrain, p. 26). A long time elapsed before his design was fulfilled. In 1828 he made a tour through the United States, in 1830 he was admitted a notary, and in 1831 (20 June) he started on a voyage to Europe, where he made a prolonged stay. After visiting London he went for a short time to Paris. On his return to London he was offered and accepted the position of secretary to Mr. Viger, then agent for Lower Canada, a connection which doubtless helped to bring him into contact with the radical party, with whom, indeed, he chiefly associated. On 10 May 1833 he started for home once more. In 1835 he became clerk at the hank of Quebec, having done but little notarial work. Shortly afterwards he was appointed translator to the Chamber of Assembly, and in 1844 obtained the office of greffier (town clerk) of Quebec, which he continued to hold till May 1864, when he retired on a pension. In 1841 he undertook with Mr. Roy the publication of a literary and scientific journal, entitled 'L'Institut.' Important though this publication was, from its connection with the educational movement in Lower Canada, its period of issue extended only from 7 March to 22 May. Till 1845 his literary reputation was that of a patriotic poet, whose productions appeared in 'Le Répertoire National;' but he began the compilation of his history as far back as 1840-1. From the beginning of the publication of his history its merits were abundantly recognised, and general appreciation of his talents was shown, in 1855, by his election as president of the Canadian Institute of Quebec, and by his appointment in 1857 on the council of public instruction. He died at Quebec 3 Feb. 1866, after a long illness. He was married, 25 Aug. 1835, to Esther Bilodeau, by whom he had nine children, five dying young.

His principal writings were:

  1. 'Histoire du Canada depuis sa découverte jusqu'à nos jours' 1845-6 (2nd edit, 1852).
  2. 'Abrégé de l'histoire du Canada depuis sa découverte jusqu'à 1840.'
  3. 'Voyage en Angleterre et en France, dans les années 1831, 1832, 1833.' This was originally published in the 'Journal de Québec,' 1854-5; then reprinted as a whole, 1855, but suppressed. Copious extracts appear in 'La Littérature Canadienne.'

[Casgrain's Un Contemporain; Memoir in 4th edition of History, by M. Chauveau; Voyage; Quebec Daily Mercury, February 1866.]

E. C. K. G.