This Week in History


Henri Bourassa and Le Devoir

For the week of Monday January 6, 2003

On January 10, 1910, Henri Bourassa launched the first edition of his newspaper, Le Devoir, in Montréal, Quebec. Despite a difficult start, Le Devoir has become one of the leading French daily newspapers in the country.

Henri Bourassa

Henri Bourassa
© Libray and Archives Canada / C-27360

Henri Bourassa was born in Montréal on September 1, 1868, into one of the most famous families in Quebec. The son of artist Napoléon Bourassa and grandson of politician Louis-Joseph Papineau, he demonstrated at an early age his many talents. At 22, he began his political career as mayor of the town of Montebello. He devoted the majority of his life to politics, as both a federal and provincial politician, where he distinguished himself as a great orator and fervent nationalist. Following Canada’s enlistment in the South African War in 1899, he became a staunch opponent of British imperialism and defended Canadian autonomy.

His journalism career began in 1893, when he purchased L’Interprète, a Franco-Ontarian newspaper that he renamed Ralliement. In 1908, he founded Publicité Limitée, which in 1910 allowed him to publish an independent newspaper, Le Devoir. The first edition of 30,000 copies were sold in Montréal, Québec and Ottawa. The feature article, "Avant le combat," (Before the battle) stated the newspaper’s intentions: "(…) réveiller dans le peuple, et surtout dans les classes dirigeantes, le sentiment du devoir public sous toutes ses formes…".** From this moment on, Le Devoir posted its famous motto: "Fais ce que dois!" (Do your duty!). Among the editorial staff were brilliant journalists who defended pan-Canadian nationalism, including Olivar Asselin and Jules Fournier.

First page of the first edition of Le Devoir, January 10, 1910.

First page of the first edition
of Le Devoir, January 10, 1910.

© Image courtesy of Le Devoir

Bourassa devoted a lot of time to Le Devoir. He expressed his views on a variety of topics that were often controversial but important to him, such as the need for equality and co-operation between English and French cultures. He wanted the public to be well-informed, since he recognized their influence on political affairs. His passionate tone increased his popularity.

Bourassa’s fame did not prevent Le Devoir from experiencing financial difficulties. In 1913, the newspaper had a $4,000 deficit; fundraisers saved it from bankruptcy. In order to protect the newpaper’s independence, Bourassa created two trusts in 1928. Despite this, Le Devoir remained a small and fragile business during this time.

Bourassa was editor of Le Devoir until 1932. He retired from political life in 1945 and died in 1952. Henri Bourassa was designated a person of national historic significance in 1962.

** (translation)
"[…] to awaken in the people, particularly in the governing class, the sense of public duty in all its forms…"
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