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Louis-Joseph Papineau: Quite a Character!

For the week of Monday October 7, 2002

Louis-Joseph Papineau was born in Montréal on October 7, 1786. Over the course of his life, he was a lawyer, politician, patriot and passionate defender of French culture in Lower Canada.

The Honourable Louis-Joseph Papineau

The Honourable Louis-Joseph Papineau
© Engraving by William Notman
Bibliothèque nationale du Québec
Revue d'un autre siècle, No 1967

After finishing his studies at the Séminaire de Québec in 1804, Louis-Joseph entered the legal profession. He quickly distinguished himself as an exceptional orator and a man of great intelligence. Incidentally, French Canadians would later adopt the expression “tête à Papineau” to describe a person of superior intelligence. In 1809, Louis-Joseph was elected as a member of the House of Assembly of Lower Canada. At that time, there were two groups in the Assembly: the Parti canadien, which defended the interests of French Canadians; and a group composed primarily of English-speaking public servants and merchants. Louis-Joseph joined the former and quickly became one of its most influential members.

Papineau’s opposition to the plan to unite Upper and Lower Canada in 1822 strengthened his leadership. He was elected speaker of the House and, in 1826, reorganized his group and renamed it the Parti patriote. Major social and political tensions marked the following years. In February 1834, the Assembly (in which the Patriotes held the majority) submitted 92 resolutions outlining French-Canadian grievances to the government in London. Three years later, the British government rejected their main demands, and passed the Russell resolutions, that ran counter to the Parti patriote resolutions.

Papineau addressing a crowd

Papineau addressing a crowd
© LAC / 1972-26-759

There was mounting anger in many villages in Lower Canada. A proclamation was issued banning public meetings. The famous 1837 rebellions broke out and Papineau, a prime target, fled to the United States with his wife Julie and their children. The rebellions were quickly suppressed with several villages being burned. After a second rebellion in 1839 executions were held. Papineau did not return to Canada until he was granted amnesty in 1844.

Upon returning from exile, Papineau spent some of his time managing the family seigneury of La Petite-Nation. After serving again as a member of the House Louis-Joseph left politics for good in 1854 and retired to the magnificent manor house he had just had built in La Petite-Nation.

On September 23, 1871, the patriot succumbed to a bad cold. The life and career of Louis-Joseph Papineau, Manoir Papineau (in Montebello) and Maison Papineau (in Old Montréal) have been recognized for their national historic significance.

For more information, visit the Manoir Papineau National Historic Site of Canada's Web site.

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