This Week in History


Saving a Past for the Future

For the week of Monday October 10, 2005

On October 13, 1856, Robert Christie – lawyer, militia officer, civil servant, journalist, politician and historian – died in Quebec City. Perhaps better known for his tumultuous parliamentary career, he is today recognized for his devotion to conserving early Canadian documents and for his fair-minded research into the history of Lower Canada.

Robert Christie (1788-1856)
© Courtesy Ville de Montréal - Gestion de documents et archives.
Robert Christie was born in Windsor, Nova Scotia, in 1788. After studying law at King’s College in Halifax, he moved to Quebec City in 1805 where he clerked for the future attorney general of Lower Canada, Edward Bowen. Christie passed the bar in 1810 and practiced law even while serving as militia captain during the War of 1812. After the war he founded the Quebec Telegraph, a bilingual local affairs newspaper. The weekly survived only two years, but in the meantime Christie had demonstrated an integrity that gained him wide respect within government circles and an appointment as law clerk to the House of Assembly, a position he held until 1827.

Christie was elected to the assembly for Gaspé County in 1827. However, in 1829, the assembly expelled Christie because as chairman of the Québec Court of Quarter Sessions he had only recommended Governor Dalhousie supporters for appointment as magistrates. Thus began an electoral roller-coaster ride for Christie. In four subsequent by-elections held between 1829 and 1832, a defiant Christie was re-elected and then immediately expelled because of this political controversy.

Volume V title page. Copy owned and signed by Louis-Joseph Papineau
© University of British Columbia Special Collections - Thomas Murray Collection
Christie firmly believed that “the history of a people is part of their public property,” so in 1832 he left politics to continue chronicling the political history of Lower Canada in the period 1791-1841. The result was the six-volume A History of the Late Province of Lower Canada, published during the next two decades. Readers applauded this non-partisan history, which contained original documentary evidence that gave expression to both British and Patriotes perspectives.

Christie returned to politics in 1841 and, for the next 13 years, led legislative efforts to collect, conserve and publish the civil, military and public archives and records of this period. Considered the unofficial historian of Lower Canada by contemporary and later historians, all Canadians are in his debt for his actions to preserve and document the history of his time.

For his leadership role in the preservation of Quebec documentary heritage and his significant histories of the Quebec political administrations of 1791-1841, Robert Christie was designated a National Historic Person in 1938.

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