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"According to Beauchesne. . ."

For the week of Monday April 1, 2013

On April 7, 1959, Arthur Beauchesne, retired House of Commons clerk, died in Ottawa, Ontario. A journalist and lawyer by training, he became an expert in Canadian parliamentary procedure.

Arthur Beauchesne in his clerk’s office in the 1920s
© Library and Archives Canada / PA 139685
Born in Carleton, Quebec, in 1876, Beauchesne studied at St. Joseph’s College in Memramcook, New Brunswick, where he received a Bachelor’s degree. He then studied literature in Montréal, earning his degree in 1897. The same year, Beauchesne started working as a journalist at La Minerve, a conservative newspaper which closed in November 1897. Nonetheless, Beauchesne would continue to write articles for newspapers such as The Gazette, La Presse and the Montreal Herald, in both French and English, throughout his life.

He also studied law in Montréal and was admitted to the Quebec Bar in 1904. Hoping to pursue a career in politics, he ran in the Quebec provincial elections in 1908 and 1912, but lost both times! However, he entered politics on June 1, 1913, when the Justice Department under the Conservative government in Ottawa hired him as legal counsel. Three years later, he was appointed Assistant Clerk of the House of Commons when the incumbent Assistant Clerk, J. P. B. Laplante, perished in the fire that destroyed the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings on February 3, 1916.

The Parliament of Canada
© Parks Canada / Catherine Beaulieu / 2010

In the following years, Arthur Beauchesne’s knowledge of and experience in the business of the House of Commons deepened. In 1922, he wrote a slim manual of parliamentary procedure in Canada. This work, titled Beauchesne’s Rules and Forms of the House of Commons, with annotations, helps parliamentarians understand procedural formalities in the House of Commons. Published many times, this compendium is greatly appreciated by parliamentarians who use it to quickly resolve conflicts. To this day, Members of Parliament often refer to it saying “According to Beauchesne. . . .”

Arthur Beauchesne became the first French-Canadian Clerk in the House of Commons on January 7, 1925, after his predecessor, William Barton Northrup, retired in 1924. He held this position until his own retirement in 1949.The French version of his compendium of parliamentary procedure was only published after his death.

Arthur Beauchesne, an expert in parliamentary procedure, was recognized as a national historic person in 2003.

To read more about other parliamentarians and the fire that swept through the Parliament Buildings in 1916, see the Birth of Sir John George Bourinot and Fire ! in the archives of This Week in History. For more information on Canada’s Parliament buildings, you can also read the page on Parliament Hill in the Canadian Register of Historic Places.

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