MÉTHOT, FRANÇOIS-XAVIER, businessman, justice of the peace, office holder, politician, and militia officer; b. 10 Nov. 1796 in Pointe-aux-Trembles (Neuville), Lower Canada, son of Joseph Méthotte, a farmer, and Josephte Gouin; m. 8 Sept. 1829 at Quebec Dorothée Measam, daughter of William Measam, a fur merchant of that city, and they had three sons; d. there 6 Nov. 1853.
There is little information about the beginnings of François-Xavier Méthot’s career. According to Le Canadien, he “went into business with no resources but his reputation, his intelligence [and] his love of work.” He belonged to a family whose sons made their way quite satisfactorily in political and business circles. Louis, the eldest, became a merchant in Sainte-Croix, a member of the House of Assembly for Lotbinière, and later a legislative councillor, while Antoine-Prospère, the youngest, became a notary at Saint-Pierre-les-Becquets (Les Becquets) and a member of the assembly for Nicolet. Contrary to the assertions of such authors as Pierre-Georges Roy* and Horace Têtu, François-Xavier did not start his hardware business in 1808: he was then only 12 years old. A more reliable date is the year 1826, mentioned in Methot’s obituary in Le Journal de Québec, probably written by the newspaper’s editor, Joseph-Edouard Cauchon*, who knew him well.
Méthot settled in Quebec’s Lower Town, and in the course of the 1830s made more and more of a name for himself in the wholesale and retail hardware business. By 1831 he had purchased buildings at the corner of Rue Saint-Pierre and Rue de la Montagne for £3,250 and had permanently located his business there. To extend his field of activity, he also began manufacturing a number of products. He set up a small mastic works in 1835; then around 1840 he established a factory to produce cut nails, known as the Moulin Ventadour, on three lots he had acquired in the seigneury of Notre-Dame-des-Anges at Beauport. It was described in 1842 as “the only large-scale factory of the kind existing in the District of Quebec.” In the same period he also opened a small factory in Saint-Roch for making millstones to grind flour.
As a result of his success in these undertakings Méthot became an influential citizen. He served as a justice of the peace from 1836 to 1838, an auditor for the city in 1842, an alderman the following year, and a militia captain in 1848. He also took a close interest in the political events that followed the union of the two Canadas in 1841. In October 1840, with Augustin-Norbert Morin*, Étienne Parent*, and others, he had signed “L’adresse aux électeurs de toute la province,” which stressed the necessity of electing throughout Lower Canada reform members determined to struggle against the injustices of the union. His patriotic ambitions also found expression in the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste at Quebec, of which he was assistant treasurer in 1844.
Although Méthot did not feel drawn to the political limelight, the supporters of Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine*, with Cauchon at their head, finally persuaded him to run in a by-election for the city of Quebec in June 1848, counting on his popularity and good name to win a contest that promised to be difficult. Incensed at being saddled with a share of the Upper Canadian debt and at having unequal representation in the assembly, Quebec voters were responsive to the campaign that had been launched by Louis-Joseph Papineau* the previous winter to repeal the union. When he passed through the city on 11 May, Papineau aroused the enthusiasm of a crowd of 4,000 at the Marché Saint-Paul, and thus won considerable support for Joseph Légaré, a candidate strongly advocating his policy. As a businessman anxious for the return of political stability, Méthot had no sympathy for this kind of agitation. He believed that change should be brought about by a moderate reform policy. No doubt his intellectual guide was Étienne Parent; Méthot was Parent’s confidential agent at Quebec, and had been responsible for managing his real estate since 1843. In the end it was Méthot who won on 9 June, but without obtaining a majority of French Canadian votes. Historian Jacques Monet thinks that Méthot’s election nevertheless marked an important step in the swing away from Papineau towards the party of La Fontaine. Although Méthot had ability and was not unpopular, he failed to obtain a second term in 1851, even with Cauchon’s backing. The Quebec newspapers unanimously attributed his defeat to Cauchon’s immoderate attacks on the government of Francis Hincks* and Morin.
During these years in politics, Méthot took care that his business maintained its initial impetus and did not go unsupervised. In the period 1845–50 he brought three of his nephews in turn into the management of his affairs: initially he took his former employee Guillaume-Eugène Chinic* into partnership and then added Georges-Honoré Simard*, and later Philéas Méthot in 1850. Financially sound, Méthot, Chinic, Simard et Cie was considered one of the best business houses at Quebec. Méthot gave up control of operations in May 1853. He died a few months later, leaving a “handsome fortune” to his three sons, who were still students at the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière. In the last years of his life, Méthot continued to hold a number of distinguished positions. He was a member of the board of directors of the Quebec Provident and Savings Bank (1847–53), an officer of Trinity House of Quebec (1850–53), and a member of the management committee for the aqueduct built by the city of Quebec (1850).
François-Xavier Méthot was one of the few French Canadians of his generation to make a mark in business, and for the liberal, professional middle class involved in politics he was a symbol of hope: the hope of a solution to the problem of his compatriots’ economic inferiority. Parent, in a lecture delivered in 1852, urged his young audience to imitate the spirit of enterprise displayed by men such as Méthot, Joseph Masson*, Isidore Thibaudeau*, and a few others, and gave a rousing defence of them. On that occasion he affirmed: “You owe, we all owe [to these heads of business undertakings] a tribute of national gratitude. They have added lustre to the image of our race in the eyes of foreigners and of our compatriots by adoption, [and] at the same time they will be an example and an object of emulation for many of our own people . . . there are your models, your guides.”
ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 8 sept. 1829; CE1-15, 10 nov. 1796; CN1-64, 15 oct. 1838, 11 juill. 1844, 16 sept. 1845, 3 févr. 1848; CN1-116, 9 mai, 10 déc. 1829; 28 nov. 1831; 29 mars 1832; 10 août 1843; 2 mai 1849; 21 juin 1853; CN1-208, 15 mars 1839, 6 déc. 1851, 21 févr. 1852, 2 mars 1853. Le Canadien, 19 août 1842; 5, 12, 19, 22, 29, 31 mai, 2, 9 juin 1848; 5 déc. 1851; 7 nov. 1853. La Gazette de Québec, 29 mars 1841. Le Journal de Québec, 29 nov., 6 déc. 1851; 8 nov. 1853. Annuaire du commerce et de l’industrie de Québec contenant l’histoire et la statistique des établissements manufacturiers et du commerce de Québec, un essai sur la vallée de l’Outaouais, le commerce du Canada et beaucoup d’autres renseignements pour 1873, J.-C. Langelier, édit. (Québec, 1973): 51, 62. Desjardins, Guide parl. Quebec almanac, 1836–38. Quebec directory, 1826, 1844, 1847–53. Étienne Parent, 1802–1874; biographie, textes et bibliographie, J.-C. Falardeau, édit. (Montréal, 1975), 227–43. Monet, La première révolution tranquille. P.-G. Roy, Toutes petites choses du Régime anglais (2 sér., Québec, 1946), 2: 268–69. Horace Têtu, Résumé historique de l’industrie et du commerce de Québec de 1775 à 1900 (Québec, 1899), 6. Une page d’histoire de Québec; magnifique essor industriel (Québec, 1955), 40–44. “Les Méthot,” BRH, 39 (1933): 80–81. Léa Pétrin, “Industrie et commerce à Québec; un morceau du vieux Québec,” Le Soleil (Québec), 21 sept. 1947: 7.
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