Ludger Duvernay (1799-1852)
A key player in the political and intellectual life of Lower Canada from 1817 until his death in 1852, Ludger Duvernay was a printer-publisher and owner of a Patriote and then a ministerial newspaper. Under his leadership, La Minerve became a principal newspaper of Lower Canada's Reformers by championing ideas, such as the establishment of responsible government, among the people of Lower Canada. A person of patriotic, political, and social convictions, Duvernay fought against colonial power by disseminating democratic and republican ideas of the time both through his newspaper and by publishing other printed material. A proud promoter of the freedom of the press, he would pay to defend his right of expression at the expense of his own freedom and to his financial detriment. Finally, he revived Saint-Jean-Baptiste celebrations in 1834, and was president of the Association Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal from 1851 to 1852.
Born on January 22, 1799 to a family of modest means of Verchères, Lower Canada, Duvernay had the opportunity to be educated and began his apprenticeship as a printer in Montréal in 1813. In 1817, he opened the first printing house in Trois-Rivières and started the first newspaper in Lower Canada to be published outside of Montréal and Québec City. After purchasing La Minerve in 1827, he made it the primary mouthpiece of the Parti Patriote in Montréal and the largest French-language newspaper in the city. A man of the press and of conviction, he used his newspaper and his printed material to educate people as well as to enlighten and awaken them to the liberal and philosophical ideas of the time. Duvernay was imprisoned several times following repeated statements against political censorship and in favour of freedom of the press.
In addition to opening his newspaper to the constitutional protest movement of 1837, Duvernay also took part in the battle of Moore's Corner (now Saint-Armand) in December of the same year as officer of a small Patriote battalion. Following the defeat of the Patriotes in this battle, he took refuge in the United States where, for five years, his newspaper Le Patriote canadien served as a form of communication between exiled Patriotes. After his return from exile in 1842, Duvernay made La Minerve one of the main bodies of the ministerial press. As the newspaper of Lower Canada Reformers, La Minerve was a strong supporter of the political fight led by La Fontaine's party. In 1848, responsible government – a government which is responsible to the people, which operates responsibly, and whose Ministers are accountable to Parliament – was achieved in the Province of Canada.
Duvernay's action was not limited to the world of the press and politics. It was his idea to revive Saint-Jean-Baptiste celebrations, and he served as a founding member and backbone of the Association Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal. He was president of this association from June 1851 until his death on November 28, 1852.