Tuesday, April 30, 2019  

Published 2 pm



Voice editor submission to designate the  town as a Francophone heritage site was successful

Staff/Voice Wiki photo/notes Jules Maurice Quesnel



ast year the BC government put out the call apply to designate French Canadian Heritage sites, towns and cities throught the province. So I too it upon myself and went through the process of applying on behalf of Lumby, BC. Last week, I was notified my application was one of 23 sites chosen by panels from a list of 111 and added to an interactive map.


Lumby is a village of about 1,500 people in the North Okanagan Regional District. This place is of heritage value to the Francophone community because of its association with the French Canadian people logging the area and cleared enough land to farm.


In 1808, Simon Fraser's job with the Hudson Bay Company was to find a freight route to the ocean from Fort George south through the interior of New Caledonia. Jules Maurice Quesnel, my gr-gr-grandfather, was Clerk and kept the logs on the Simon Fraser expedition. Fraser named the Quesnel River after J.M. Quesnel to whom the BC City later acquired its name. The community that eventually grew up at the fork of the Quesnel and Fraser Rivers also came to be called Quesnel. They had a job to do and they did it — even barefoot.

A few years ago I was there to spread my grandmother's ashes. At the time I photographed 25 Quesnel family headstones with names like Napoleon and Josephine. My Christian name "Alphonse" was after the first Mountie Alphonse Quesnel. As an aside, I married Marie Guylaine Magin de Cardon de Sandrans.



Below is a letter from Jules Quesnel about the trip in 1808 to friend Lamontagne in Montreal and later appearing in the issue of Caledonia News May 1, 1809.
Dear Friend,

"I received your Letter from Last Year on October 1 and I was gratified to learn that your good health has continued; that it will continue is the wish that I make to you with all my Heart! I congratulate you, Dear Friend, on the approval which you have had in Montreal and you do well to benefit from it as much as it is in your capacity."

"For me, it may be a long time without my being able to have the same approval, my Interests forcing me to remain in the North for a long time."

"Since I have regretted having come here, and in spite of the little hope that there is for young people coming to this Country, I am resolved to continue until the end of the career which I had the misfortune to undertake, unless it damages my health, in which case I will voluntarily sacrifice my Interests to preserve my health, without which it is impossible to be happy."

"There are places in the North which, in spite of the disagreeableness attached to the Country in general, it is however, possible to spend time sometimes agreeably; but in this case, there is nothing but misery and trouble. Cut off from all the world, we do not only not have the pleasure to know the news of other places, we live entirely on sun dried salmon made by the Savages, which is also their only dependence to live on, and as for animals, there are none, and we often live without shoes, if we don’t procure the leather from the Peace River, and, to cap it all off, we will not be making a good return or profit because there are very few beavers."

"The Savages, accustomed to living on salmon, are too lazy to work like those of any other place. Thus you can judge without saying more if my situation is agreeable, but I would not look at the misery of tiredness, nor even the bad food, if the salmon with the bad quality of having a very BAD taste, did not also have what it takes to wreck health, because the most Robust Men who have been in this Country 3 Years are already barely able to do their duty, and although I am of an ebullient temperament I already notice that my health is declining."

"This is enough on this subject – I must teach you that I was a Discoverer this summer with Simon Fraser, and John Stuart, whom you met, I Believe."

"We were accompanied by 12 men in three canoes, descending this River which up to now was thought to be the Columbia. But very quickly finding the river un-navigable, we left our canoes and continued our route on foot, in the most dreadful mountains, that we would have never have been able to pass if the Natives who received us well, had not helped us."

"After having passed through all these bad places, not without a lot of misery as you could imagine, we found the river again to be navigable, and we all embarked in the wooden boats and continued our route with more satisfaction, until the river discharged into the Pacific Ocean. When we arrived, as we were going ahead of the local Savages, who are very numerous, they reflected opposition to our passing, and it took the greatest godsend of the world to get us out of this bad action, without being obliged to kill or to us all being killed."

"We were well received by all the other savages while going back, and arriving all in perfect health in our New Caledonia. The discharge of this river is at Latitude 49 (degrees) nearly three degrees north of the veritable Columbia. This voyage did not change the direction of the Company, and will be of no advantage to them, this river not being navigable, but we have carried out the goal for which we undertook the voyage, so in this way we do not have any Reproach to make on ourselves. I am out of Paper, thus I Conclude, and am your sincere friend. J. Quesnel"    - End

The voyeurs could use the three freight canoes for a certain amount of time but they hit the wall in the Fraser Canyon and had to leave them behind and pack in. At points in the portages the voyeurs had no shoes unless they could get Peace River leather.

Once on the other side they built log rafts in order to continue to travel down the river to the ocean.

Usually a Native person was sent on ahead to let a tribe know the voyeurs were coming and were always "well-received" by the interior tribes. However, in the Lower and Upper Fraser River they were unwelcome and had to stay ahead of the tribes on the way down, but coming back was a different story and they were fortunate to have escaped with their lives.

Quesnel stayed in New Caledonia until 1811.

Simon Fraser's Account of The Trip Down The river

Simon Fraser Bio


Break-up was late in 1806; it was 20 May before the Peace was clear of ice and Fraser and Stuart could start up the river. The travellers encountered many difficulties. Most of the rivers and creeks they followed were in freshet and swift currents impeded their progress. Good bark for canoe-building was lacking at the Portage, and the old and makeshift craft with which they set out had to be replaced at Trout Lake. Their ten crewmen were an unskilled and unsatisfactory lot; most of them suffered from illness or injuries along the way. Fraser evidently had a copy of Mackenzie’s journal, and in his own indulged occasionally in derogatory remarks about “the Knight’s” explorations. Mackenzie had failed to notice either the Pack River or the Nechako, and Fraser remarked on 5 June that he “could prove that he seldom or ever paid the attention he pretends to have done . . . .” But when he himself struggled over the height of land and encountered the rapids, rocks, fallen trees, and other hazards on the Bad River (as Mackenzie had named James Creek), he was compelled to admit on 10 July that Mackenzie had described it “with great exactness. It is certainly well named and a most dangerous place . . . .”

Fraser faced further difficulties at Stuart Lake, which he finally reached on 26 July. A post (the future Fort St James) was built there, but few goods were available with which to barter for furs. The salmon run was late and the Indians were near starvation; Fraser and his men were soon in a like state. He had intended to return to the Fraser River and trace at least part of its course before winter, but lack of goods and provisions forced him to postpone this major part of his mission. Instead, he sent Stuart to visit Fraser Lake, which the Indians had described, and later he and Stuart built there the post subsequently called Fort Fraser. The whole area Fraser named New Caledonia, because, it is believed, the country reminded him of his mother’s descriptions of the Scottish Highlands.

To his distress, no supplies or additional men reached Fraser until the autumn of 1807, and the exploration of the river had to be postponed until 1808. All he could do in the interval was establish Fort George (Prince George), on the river near the mouth of the Nechako, which was both a good site for a trading post and a convenient starting point for the trip downstream.

The party of 24 that left Fort George in four canoes on 28 May 1808 included Fraser, Stuart, Jules-Maurice Quesnel*, a young clerk, 19 other company employees, and two Indians. From the start they were greeted by Indian reports that the river below “was but a succession of falls and cascades” which they would find impossible to pass. Even the portages were extremely difficult, so much so that they tempted Fraser’s crews to run rapids almost regardless of danger in order to avoid the immense labour of carrying canoes and cargoes around obstructions. In many places steep, high banks made it impossible to leave the river, once launched upon it, and the canoes would have been helpless if they had come without warning to rapids or falls. The river was in freshet; at one point it rose eight feet in 24 hours. By 10 June, Fraser was convinced at last that the Indians were right in contending that it was madness to descend the river itself. Some distance above the site of Lillooet the canoes were stored on a scaffold in a shady spot, goods that could not be carried were cached, and the party pressed forward on foot.

Travel on land proved to be almost as great an ordeal as travel by water. “I have been for a long period among the Rocky Mountains,” Fraser wrote, “but have never seen any thing equal to this country, for I cannot find words to describe our situation at times. We had to pass where no human being should venture.” Occasionally it was practicable to take to the river again, but they were then involved in the difficulties of borrowing, or, on at least one occasion, virtually commandeering canoes from the Indians.

Fraser showed great skill in dealing with the Indians. Friendly relations had to be established with those encountered along the way, and there was also the delicate matter of passing from the territory of one tribe to that of another. By means of the two Indians he had with him, he saw to it whenever possible that the tribe next to be visited had been warned of his coming and assured that his intentions were friendly. Nevertheless he was ever on the alert for trouble. “However kind savages may appear,” he wrote on 20 June, “I know that it is not in their nature to be sincere in their professions to strangers .... It is certain the less familiar we are with one another the better for us.” The natives were numerous; crowds numbering hundreds were met several times and on one occasion Fraser estimated that 1,200 had assembled.

All went reasonably well until he reached the mouth of the river, where the Cowichans were first suspicious and then openly hostile. Fraser was unable to go as far into the Strait of Georgia as he wished to do, and when he hurried back up the river the Indians pursued and harassed his party as far as the vicinity of Hope. Scores of canoes closed in repeatedly with the intention of upsetting Fraser’s canoe, but each time they were fended off successfully and without casualties on either side. The Indians finally abandoned the chase, but Fraser’s men were left completely exhausted and discouraged.

The supreme test of Fraser’s leadership came when many of his men determined to leave the river and try to find their way back to Fort George independently. He “remonstrated and threatened by turns” and insisted that the only hope of safety lay in keeping together. His journal for 6 July records the sequel: “After much debate . . . we all shook hands, resolving never to separate during the voyage; which resolution was immediately confirmed by the following oath . . . : ‘I solemnly swear before Almighty God that I shall sooner perish than forsake in distress any of our crew during the present voyage.’ After this ceremony was over all hands dressed in their best apparel, and each took charge of his own bundle.” Fort George was reached safely on 6 August. The journey down the river had taken 36 days and the return trip 37 days.

There has been considerable debate as to whether Fraser actually reached the mouth of the river, largely because he expressed in his journal his “great disappointment in not seeing the main ocean, having gone so near it as to be almost within view.” But the Musqueam Indian village, which he visited, was at the mouth of the Fraser River and he paddled some distance beyond it in the direction of Point Grey.



Fraser’s remark was made under the impression that the ocean was near at hand, whereas in fact it was still about 140 miles away, beyond Vancouver Island.

The journey that had been carried through with such effort and heroism ended for Fraser in disappointment and a sense of failure. The river would be of no use as a travel route, and at its mouth he discovered that the latitude was about 49°. “This River, therefore, is not the Columbia,” Fraser wrote sadly. “If I had been convinced of this fact where I left my canoes, I would certainly have returned from thence.” Like Mackenzie’s journey to the Arctic, the expedition had been a useless enterprise from the point of view of the North West Company.

Jules Maurice Quesnel Bio



(baptized Julien-Maurice), fur trader, militia officer, businessman, office holder, jp, and politician; b. 25 Oct. 1786 in Montreal, fourth child and second son of Joseph Quesnel* and Marie-Josephte Deslandes; d. there 20 May 1842.

The son of a cultivated merchant, Jules-Maurice Quesnel, like his older brother, Frédéric-Auguste*, was educated by the Sulpicians at the Collège Saint-Raphaël in Montreal, but he was a student there for only two years (1797-99). By 1804 he was a clerk for the North West Company at Fort des Prairies, or Fort Augustus (Edmonton).

In the winter of 1805, as an assistant to David Thompson*, he freighted goods into the Rocky Mountains in preparation for an expedition westward. He was at Rocky Mountain House (Alta) in October 1806 and the following month conducted an exploratory expedition into the mountains. In the late summer of 1807 he was sent to New Caledonia (B.C.) with supplies and instructions for Simon Fraser* to follow the Columbia River to its mouth.


He accompanied Fraser on his perilous voyage in 1808 down what turned out to be the Fraser River, not the Columbia, and back. The first major tributary they reached was named the Quesnel; later the lake it drains and the town which developed at the confluence of the Fraser and Quesnel rivers would be named for him as well.

In the summer of 1811 Quesnel  left the NWC and returned east. He was commissioned an ensign in Montreal’s 2nd Militia Battalion on 2 April 1812 and promoted lieutenant on 14 July. He may have fought in the War of 1812, but if so he did not let his participation interfere with the development of his commercial interests. By 1813 he was resident in Kingston, Upper Canada, and engaged in trade there, and by 1814 he had settled in York (Toronto), where he was warned by his brother about the dangers of speculating in rum on his own account. From 1815 until 1818 Quesnel spent time in both York and Montreal, but after his marriage to Josette Cotté on 10 June 1816, in Montreal, he apparently wanted to settle in that town, and by 1818 he seems to have done so. His wife was a daughter of the late fur-trade merchant Gabriel Cotté* and a sister-in-law of former fur trader François-Antoine La Rocque*; the couple probably did not have children.

In the spring of 1815 Quesnel and John Spread Baldwin, a brother of William Warren, had joined in partnership with Laurent Quetton* St George, by whose firm, Quetton St George and Company, Quesnel had previously been employed. St George left that year for his native France and did not return until 1819, leaving the business in the hands of Quesnel and Baldwin. Quetton St George and Company was a small firm by Montreal standards though substantial for Upper Canada.

In Montreal, Quesnel purchased wholesale from the city’s importers a wide array of foodstuffs, drinks, and merchandise; as well he sold Upper Canadian produce, particularly flour and potash, on behalf of a store in York operated by Baldwin and another in Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake). The extension of credit was a necessary operation, and by 1819 the firm was owed £18,000-£19,000, largely by farmers, a sum greater than its net worth.

In May 1820 Quesnel and Baldwin bought out St George for four annual payments of £1,000 plus interest at six per cent. Baldwin tried to assert primacy and at one point backed out of the new partnership. He soon conceded, however, and the reorganized firm was known as Quesnel and Baldwin. It carried on the wide variety of commercial and financial activities conducted by its predecessor, possibly dealing at times direct with British firms and adding timber to its exports.

The economic context was difficult, and in August 1821 Quesnel was elected to an 11-man committee of Montreal merchants which was to press the British government to admit Upper and Lower Canadian grain and flour without restriction into the British market. Flour was the firm’s main export, but fluctuating prices on the English market frequently caused the company losses; the mark-up on imports provided more reliable profits. Quesnel and Baldwin prospered enough to allow the partners to pay debts amounting to several thousand pounds by 1825. However, the firm showed little growth, the volume of trade remaining relatively constant; for example the company appears to have shipped regularly 1,000-1,500 barrels of flour and 75-125 barrels of ashes per annum to Montreal.

In April 1825 its net worth was £15,200, of which £10,642 was in debts, and in 1832 that worth was evaluated at only £19,134, including £9,215 in debts. From 1820 to 1832 the company provided Quesnel with an average income of £693 a year.

Quesnel and Baldwin also engaged in ancillary activities. Both partners were shareholders in the Company of Proprietors of the Lachine Canal and in the Bank of Upper Canada. They declined having an agency for the Bank of Canada, however, because Baldwin feared the bank would harm their reputation. The firm owned a share in a steamboat on the Kingston-York route and took a one-tenth share in a 120-ton steamboat launched at York in 1825 for the York-Queenston run.

The partnership agreement forming Quesnel and Baldwin expired in 1832 and was not renewed. Quesnel seems to have retired from active business and lived comfortably thenceforth as a rentier. He was, however, involved in the operations of the port of Montreal and concerned with navigation on the St Lawrence. From 1830 to 1839 he was a warden of Trinity House, Montreal, a government-appointed body which controlled pilots, pilotage fees, lighthouses, and navigation markings on the river; in 1839 he became deputy master, and he served until 1842.

At the same time, from 1830 to 1836 he was on the harbour commission with George Moffatt*, a sometime business associate, during a period when merchants were pushing for greater expenditures on port improvements; several Canadian merchants served on that body in the 1830s and 1840s. In 1832 he lobbied his brother Frédéric-Auguste, who was a member of the House of Assembly, on behalf of St Lawrence steamboat operators and Montreal merchants. Four years later he succeeded George Auldjo as chairman of the Montreal Committee of Trade; Austin Cuvillier replaced him in 1837.

In the 1830s promotion of port development meant taking a stand on some of the great political issues of the day, and Quesnel’s sympathies lay primarily with the English party, of which the Montreal merchant community was a major element. Early in his term on the harbour commission Quesnel had briefly resigned in protest against the assembly’s refusal to vote money for port improvements, believing that his presence on the commission was among the reasons inciting the Patriote majority to deny funding.

As the positions of the English and Patriote parties grew more polarized in the early 1830s, Quesnel joined concerned merchants, British and Canadian, including Cuvillier, Joseph Masson, and Horatio Gates*, in calling for retention of the constitutional status quo. Having been appointed a justice of the peace in 1830, he was among a number of Canadian magistrates, including Pierre de Rastel de Rocheblave, Louis Guy, and Pierre-Édouard Leclère*, who in November 1837 warned the Canadians that those “who push you to excess” would abandon them and that they should follow those “who call you to peace.”

In January 1838 along with Cuvillier, Rastel de Rocheblave, and other moderates, he formed the Association Loyale Canadienne du District de Montréal to oppose the resort to arms. His appointment to the Special Council in April 1838 and his reappointment in November for the life of that body indicate his standing with the government, and his willingness to serve is eloquent testimony to his views. He, seigneur James Cuthbert, and John Neilson were the only members to vote against the union of the Canadas, pressed on the council by Governor Lord Sydenham [Thomson]; however, in accepting an appointment to the Legislative Council in 1841, he indicated his reconciliation to union and his pro-imperial sentiments.

Since his return to Montreal Quesnel had accumulated various honours and appointments. He had been promoted captain in the 2nd Battalion of militia in 1825, and he remained willing to serve until at least 1830. A warden of the House of Industry in 1829, he was appointed a commissioner for the relief of destitute emigrants in 1835 and a commissioner of foundlings and indigent sick in 1841. He accepted an appointment from Bishop Jean-Jacques Lartigue in 1838 to act as a lay administrator of the revenues of the Association for the Propagation of the Faith. He was an appointed city councillor from 1840 until his death in 1842. His burial in the parish church of Notre-Dame was witnessed by his old friend La Rocque and by judge Jean-Roch Rolland*.

Jules-Maurice Quesnel’s business activities paralleled those of many of his Scottish merchant contemporaries and, like them, he developed an attachment to the British empire and its institutions. It was clear to him and to Canadian colleagues that the imperial connection was essential to their prosperity. He therefore rejected as political folly the radical notions of petit bourgeois Patriote leaders as he did the more extreme political proposals of British tory merchants.

Of his 13 children, 2 became widely known: Frédéric-Auguste as a member of the legislative assembly of Lower Canada and Jules-Maurice as an explorer after whom the British Columbia city Quesnel is named. Quesnel's charming works are among the first operas written in North America; based on French models they reveal melodic inventiveness and technical competence. Quesnel remained active as a writer of poems (of which at least 34 survive), including 'Lecture to young actors' ('Adresse aux jeunes acteurs du Théâtre de Société à Québec,' 1804).

Bio Joeseph Quesnel, father of explorer Jules Maurice Quesnel


QUESNEL, JOSEPH, businessman, composer, militia officer, playwright, and poet; b. 15 Nov. 1746 in Saint-Malo, France, third child of Isaac Quesnel de La Rivaudais and Pélagie-Jeanne-Ma rguerite Duguen; d. 3 July 1809 in Montreal, Lower Canada.

Joseph Quesnel, the son of a prosperous merchant, attended the Collège Saint-Louis in Saint-Malo. When he had finished his studies, he took ship for Pondicherry (India) and visited Madagascar. In 1772 he travelled to French Guiana, the West Indies, and Brazil. After that he took up residence in Bordeaux, France, where he went into partnership with his uncle, Louis-Auguste Quesnel.

In the autumn of 1779 Quesnel embarked on the French privateer Espoir for North America. According to tradition he was in command of this vessel, which was carrying war supplies and munitions to help the American colonies in their revolt against Britain. Whatever the case, the ship was captured off Newfoundland by the Royal Navy and taken to Halifax, N.S. Quesnel avoided imprisonment but had to remain in British North America until the end of hostilities. He arrived in Montreal bearing a safe conduct issued by Governor Haldimand.

There, on 10 April 1780, he married Marie-Josephte Deslandes, who also came from Saint-Malo but whose mother, Marie-Josephe Le Pellé Lahaye, had come to Montreal after her husband’s death and had married the merchant Maurice-Régis Blondeau.

Quesnel was active in commercial life as Blondeau’s partner. He signed a number of petitions from merchants to the government, including one in 1784 calling for a new constitution and one in 1790 asking for settlement of the problems that Montreal merchants were experiencing because of the lack of a customs office there. Quesnel was also interested in the cultural and social life of his adopted town.

In 1780 and 1783 he played in amateur theatrical companies. He is supposed to have composed a piece of music that was performed in public at a Christmas party; he lamented, however, that “they call my music sprightly [and] say it is made for the theatre.” In 1788 he was an ensign, and from 1791 to 1793 second captain, in the local Canadian militia; at the same time he was serving as a churchwarden in the parish of Notre-Dame.

In October 1788 Quesnel had sailed for England; he then spent the winter in Bordeaux. The purpose of his trip was to establish commercial relations with his family in France, particularly with his brother Pierre, who was in business at Bordeaux. Quesnel also took advantage of the voyage to attend theatrical performances. If he had intended to examine the prospects of returning to France for good, the events of the revolution would have put an end to any such hopes.

In November 1789, after his return to Montreal, Quesnel founded a theatrical company, the Théâtre de Société, with his friends Louis Dulongpré*, Pierre-Amable De Bonne, Jean-Guillaume De Lisle, Jacques-Clément Herse, Joseph-François Perrault*, and François Rolland. On 11 November Dulongpré undertook to transform his spacious house into a temporary theatre and to supply three stage settings painted on canvas, the lighting, music, wigs, tickets, playbills, caretaker, and ushers. On Sunday 22 November the parish priest of Montreal, François-Xavier Latour-Dézery, preached a vehement sermon denouncing theatrical performances and declared that the church would refuse absolution to those who attended them.

At the conclusion of the high mass Quesnel and some of his partners, including De Lisle, protested against this zeal which they termed misdirected. Vicar general Gabriel-Jean Brassier*, who was caught off guard by the firmness of these theatre supporters, all prominent people, wrote to Bishop Hubert* for advice. Hubert censured the conduct of Father Latour-Dézery, by implication acknowledging that his critics were right. The incident was closed in December but a controversy developed in the Montreal Gazette over the morality of the theatre: Quesnel joined in the fray with a long letter published on 7 Jan. 1790 defending both the utility and morality of the theatre.

Between 29 Dec. 1789 and 9 Feb. 1790 the company gave four evening performances, producing six plays in all, among them Colas et Colinette, ou le Bailli dupé, a comic opera by Quesnel. The public and the critics acclaimed this comedy in three acts intermixed with 14 songs. In its second season the Théâtre de Société decided to limit the audience “to a very small number of persons of high birth or noble blood”; but an anonymous correspondent questioned the validity of this decision, given the members’ desire to participate in the colony’s cultural development.
The new policy may have been dictated by the hostile reaction of the clergy. Whatever the case, the company shut down temporarily.

In 1791 and 1792 Quesnel made several trips to the pays d’en haut. At that period the sale of furs in London was suffering a serious decline and business was becoming difficult. Furthermore, the trading company he had organized in 1790 with five partners, including Blondeau and Pierre Bouthillier, was in trouble. Set up to import Bordeaux wines through his brother Pierre’s firm, the Compagnie Baignoux-Quesnel, it was facing insurmountable difficulties because of stoppages occasioned by the disruptions of the French revolution.

In 1793 Quesnel partially retired from business and went to live in Boucherville, where he had already bought some land. At the turn of the 19th century Boucherville enjoyed a certain reputation as a centre of Canadian social life in the Montreal region. Lord Selkirk [Douglas] noted in 1804 that “the gentry of the place & neighbourhood hold Assemblies of their own at Boucherville . . . where no English intrude.”

Beginning in 1799 Quesnel devoted himself to poetry. His three long poems, written between 1799 and 1805, “L’épître à M. Labadie,” “Le rimeur dépité,” and “La nouvelle Académie,” reveal his wish to make his works known to his friends. He complained bitterly, however, of the lack of attention given them. Quesnel did not publish a collection, but some texts appeared during his lifetime in periodicals; they were either anonymous or else signed with the nom de plume “F” (François).

His poetic works consist principally of occasional verse. The charming song “À Boucherville,” composed about 1798, evokes the quiet joys of life long ago. The poetry of this 18th-century man at times took on a philosophical tone. In his first poem, “À M. Panet,” written about 1783 or 1784, he laughs at his friend Pierre-Louis Panet for his faith in Rousseau and Voltaire; he returned to this theme in “Stances marotiques à mon esprit,” composed in 1806. And in “Épître à ma femme,” written the following year, he claims:

Alas! what use is it to regret
The moments of this brief passage!
Death need not sadden us,
’Tis but the journey’s end.

In 1804 he had written his moving “Épître à . . . ,” a farewell to health, pleasures, gaiety, and above all to France which he would see no more.

Quesnel’s concern about his compatriots’ lack of interest in the arts comes out in “L’épître à M. Labadie,” written between 1799 and 1801, in which he repeats Boileau’s plaint: “The saddest occupation is the poet’s trade.”

In his long autobiographical poem “Le dépit ridicule, ou le sonnet perdu,” the poet complains to his wife: “What is the good of the trouble I take for rhyming / If no one ever has time to listen to my verse?” His wife, a more practical person, replies: “I see you every day writing or dreaming, / Whilst I must bring up your children.” The poet then announces his great project to her: to invite his friends to a supper, and after carefully double-locking the doors “to read all the lines of my last work.”

His concern for interesting his compatriots was still lively when Quesnel dreamed in 1805 of creating an academy of belles-lettres. But it was only a dream, at the end of which woke up “Good old François, / Always musing, absent-minded, full of misanthropy,/ And, especially to fools, unsociable.”

Despite these bitter reflections Quesnel was not ignored by his contemporaries. In January and February 1805 the Théâtre de Société of Quebec performed Colas et Colinette at the Théâtre Patagon. A grateful Quesnel, who was in Quebec at the time, presented the amateur actors with a treatise on dramatic art in verse which had appeared in the Quebec Gazette under the title “Adresse aux jeunes acteurs” and in which his advice, still topical, shows his knowledge and good taste. On this occasion, moreover, Ignace-Michel-Louis-Antoine d’Irumberry* de Salaberry suggested to the Quebec printer John Neilson* that he publish Quesnel’s dramatic works. In 1807, when Colas et Colinette was again performed, Neilson decided to publish it. However, because of the difficulties he encountered, it appeared without the music and was not put on sale until 1812.

Quesnel was not indifferent to the great problems of his period. As a result of the upheavals of the French revolution which had directly touched his family in France, a cousin having been guillotined and the property of his brother in Bordeaux confiscated, Quesnel openly displayed pro-British sentiments. In 1799 he wrote the poem “Songe agréable” in which he praised the merits of “George the formidable king” who, “Conquering the unconquerable Frenchman, / Will restore peace to the universe.” In 1800 or 1801 Quesnel is believed to have composed a satirical play, Les républicains français, ou la soirée du cabaret, which ridiculed the morals of the heads of local sections in Robespierre’s time. But Quesnel also reacted to the growing influence of the British who had settled in Lower Canada and to their hostile attitude towards the French and the Canadians.

In 1803 he responded to the attacks published in an anonymous poem entitled L’anti français. The preceding year he had composed a satirical play, L’anglomanie, ou le diner à l’angloise, in which he ridiculed the infatuation of part of the seigneurial gentry with English fashions. His thinking developed to the point that in December 1806 he published his poem “Les moissonneurs” in Le Canadien, organ of the Canadian party; in it he opposed the pretensions of the British oligarchy in the colony.

Quesnel’s final years were passed serenely in a measure of luxury. In 1808 he was preparing another comic opera, Lucas et Cécile, but he died before it was finished. In the spring he had leapt into the St Lawrence to save a drowning child, and he succumbed to an attack of pleurisy on 3 July 1809 in the Hôtel-Dieu at Montreal.


Frédéric-Auguste Quesnel. Jules Quesnel's brother.

His widow died the following year. The couple had had 13 children, 6 of whom reached adulthood. Their eldest son, Frédéric-Auguste*, who was called to the bar in 1807, used to hold gatherings for the élite in his Montreal home at which his father enjoyed literary conversation. Jules-Maurice* became a fur trader, thus carrying on a family tradition. Joseph-Timoléon practised medicine, and Mélanie married the lawyer and businessman Côme-Séraphin Cherrier*.

A few days after Quesnel’s death Jacques Viger* observed: “It is an irreparable loss for literature and society in this country.”

In 1830 Michel Bibaud* paid a stirring tribute to the poet who had been dead for more than 20 years: “There is no Canadian with any sort of education who has not read at least some of the late Mr Joseph Quesnel’s works.” Benjamin Sulte* defined Quesnel’s role very lucidly: “The literary awakening perceptible in our country since 1788 owes most to him.”

Although his writing is at times a pastiche of Boileau, Ronsard, or Molière, Joseph Quesnel remains a writer of the 18th century. His work is interesting primarily for what it reveals of his time, and his special gift was to be able to convey its artistic and literary atmosphere. He proved the most significant French Canadian writer of the period.



François Quesnel Joseph Quesnel's father.



Jules-Maurice Quesnel, married Marie Josette Cotte, daughter of Gabriel Cotte in June, 1816. She later founded the Catholic Orphan Asylum in Montreal, Quebec. His sisters-in-law were Madame Francois Antoine Larocque and Madame Alexis Laframboise. His widow Josette died on June 6, 1866.