Sir George-Étienne Cartier National Historic Site of Canada

Did You Know That...

"I Am a Sort of Lawyer Engaged in Politics and Business"?

George-Étienne Cartier, Québec, December 23, 1869
Yellowed poster with a picture of George-Étienne Cartier surrounded by company names George-Étienne Cartier : lawyer for the Grand Trunk Railway
© Parks Canada

In the 1840s, George-Étienne Cartier's clients included primarily friends, relatives and political relations. Quite rapidly, however, the lawyer began frequenting the wealthier circles involved in urban development, business, transport and city affairs. He also began to invest in real estate, forge relationships with the business world, and serve as director of numerous major companies. In 1846, his marriage to Hortense Fabre, the daughter of bookseller and former Montreal mayor Raymond Fabre, opened wide the doors of the Montreal bourgeoisie to him.

In 1848, George-Étienne Cartier actively entered politics under the banner of Lafontaine's Reformers. He carried the riding of Montreal-East in elections for the Union of the Canada's Legislative Assembly. His credo could be summed up as "responsible government"-i.e., the right of the lower house to determine ministerial appointments, a prerogative jealously guarded by the British-appointed governor. Little by little, Cartier's power expanded. As lawyer for the Grand Trunk Railway and the Sulpician priests, Cartier became part of the prospering upper middle class which had in fact become the country's governing class. By the mid 1850s, he had become the most influential politician in Canada East (the former Lower Canada), a position he was to enjoy until his defeat in the 1872 elections in Montreal-East. He was then elected by acclamation in the riding of Provencher, in Manitoba, to the seat left vacant by Louis Riel.