PILOTE, FRANÇOIS, Roman Catholic priest and educator; b. 4 Oct. 1811 at Saint-Antoine-de-Tilly, Lower Canada, son of Ambroise Pilote, a farmer, and Marguerite Coulombe; d. 5 April 1886 at Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures, Que.
François Pilote studied at the Petit Séminaire de Québec from 1823 to 1832; he was a brilliant student. Ordained priest on 9 Aug. 1835, he lived for a while at the Séminaire de Nicolet, where he taught theology until 1836. That year he also became assistant to the director, Joseph-Onésime Leprohon*. At the end of 1836 he entered the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière (in what is now La Pocatière), where he was to spend 34 years, holding a series of offices: assistant director (1836–38 ), director (1838–47, 1851–57), bursar (1839–53, 1857–60, 1863–69), vice-superior (1852), and superior (1853–62, 1869–70). In 1870 he was appointed parish priest of Saint-Augustin, at Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures, a post he retained for the rest of his life. His career as a parish priest seems uneventful in comparison with his years as an administrator in an educational institution. He is remembered because of his pronounced interest in the settlement of the Saguenay region, but more particularly for his efforts to promote scientific farming. On the other hand, running the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière really absorbed the better part of his energy.
Pilote’s career perhaps illustrates the kind of problems that college administrators faced in the middle of the 19th century. Struggling with shortages of staff, men of his stamp were obliged to hold several posts simultaneously, even before they had gained experience in their working environment. In 1839 Abbé Pilote was director, bursar, and professor of theology. In 1842, when the college was enlarged in order to offer a commercial course, he was responsible for supervising construction work. In the absence of the superior, Alexis Mailloux*, Pilote had to assume authority. This overload of work meant that he was always exhausted. He was authoritarian, took decisions without consultation, and soon made enemies among his subordinates. To tame the opposition, he had no hesitation in interpreting rather freely the terms of appointment of the priests who were on the teaching staff under his direction. If a teacher attached to the institution showed signs of opposition, Pilote asked the bishop to summon the dissident staff member to parochial duties.
Pilote and his subordinates sometimes came into conflict over money matters. For example, during the school year 1853–54 a movement demanding revision of salaries developed among the clergy attached to the college as teachers. For some 10 years at least, the annual remuneration of the teachers had remained at £25. In December 1854 the staff asked for an increase of more than 30 per cent; after all the pupils’ fees for board and lodging had just been raised. Pointing to the state of the college’s finances, Pilote adamantly refused to grant any increase. Pierre-Flavien Turgeon*, the archbishop of Quebec, suggested granting wage parity with the teachers at the Séminaire de Québec. Hence in 1855 the remuneration of the priests engaged in teaching rose from £25 to £30. But eight years later the college’s indebtedness forced the staff to accept a reduction in salary. Those who accused Pilote of squandering the financial resources of the college in the purchase of a property for the model farm and school of agriculture that he founded at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière in 1859, considered their criticisms even more justified. The salary reduction, which was decreed during the summer holidays of 1863, provided the resolution of the situation. Pilote judged it wise to resign, for the conflict had mobilized a number of the students and alarmed the public. But it was questionable whether the institution’s prestige could be restored without the resumption of a position of authority by the person who had guided its material fortunes. After a trip to Europe “for his health,” Pilote returned to undertake financial management of the college as bursar from 1863 to 1869. During this period he made repeated efforts to balance income and expenditures. It proved particularly difficult to obtain loans; creditors were becoming increasingly demanding. In 1867 the sale of some 2,000 acres of wooded land for $3,000 met only the pressing debts. Fees for the pupils’ board and lodging increased substantially, reaching $90 annually, $20 and $10 more than those of the Collège de Rimouski and the Collège de Lévis respectively. Despite these extreme measures, the institution was faced with a debt of about $100,000 when Pilote left it in 1870. However, a subscription raised from the clergy of the whole province enabled it to stave off bankruptcy.
Pilote was widely remembered as a promoter of both settlement and agricultural education. “Our people, [who are] basically farmers and merchants, need to receive instruction in agriculture and trade,” he wrote in 1855. He was of the opinion that the commercial course introduced at the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière in 1842 initiated the young in business procedures. Conscious that the liberal professions were overcrowded and that demographic pressures were particularly acute in the region of the south shore, he thought steps should be taken to ensure the expansion of the area under cultivation, and at the same time to improve farming practices. Consequently in 1848 he helped Abbé Nicolas-Tolentin Hébert to set up the Association des Comtés de L’Islet et de Kamouraska pour coloniser le Saguenay. Its corresponding secretary at the outset, he soon became its president. In 1850 he visited the Saguenay and Lac Saint-Jean region to make an inventory of its resources. On the basis of this exploratory trip he wrote a booklet entitled Le Saguenay en 1851, in which he recounted the history of the region and expressed the views of the clergy of his generation; according to him, settlement was a means of national survival, to the degree that it would check emigration to the United States. Closely involved in running the Association des Comtés de L’Islet et de Kamouraska, Pilote in 1850 warned the merchant and politician Jean-Charles Chapais that public funds were being embezzled to the detriment of the settlers; a lumber company had in fact appropriated a sum intended for opening up settlement roads in order to build timber slides. In 1856 the association was dissolved; Pilote undertook in 1866 the liquidation of its affairs.
Pilote was also responsible for founding in 1859 the first agricultural school in Canada. At his suggestion, the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière gave permission for a model farm to be established on the property which he had largely assembled himself. Since the mid 1850s, the government of the Province of Canada had been planning to create institutions for training teachers. Despite the support of Chapais and Étienne Parent*, Pilote had not succeeded in persuading Pierre-Joseph-Olivier Chauveau and George-Étienne Cartier* to establish a teachers’ college at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière, to be integrated, he hoped, into his project of an agricultural school. In his view, teachers would have to receive their training in rural surroundings, to be made aware of the new importance of agriculture. Nevertheless, with the help of the influential Chapais, the school of agriculture was brought into existence. As a member of the legislature, Chapais first obtained special grants to enlarge the college. Then in 1858 he persuaded Cartier to withhold two and a half per cent of the subsidies to agricultural societies, in order to create a school for farmers. The school was opened in 1859, but in the succeeding 11 years only 94 students attended. This was a small number, considering the fact that the Board of Agriculture of Lower Canada offered $50 scholarships – 10 in 1863, 20 from 1864 on. In order to induce parents to enrol their children, Pilote vainly sought to secure payment of a scholarship higher than $50 per boarder. Instead of increasing, the number of students declined: seven in 1867, six in 1878, and three in 1869. It proved just as impossible as it was in France and the United States to attract large numbers to this kind of specialized institution. The government of Quebec, which had acquired jurisdiction over agricultural education in 1867, was concerned about the situation, especially since the two agricultural schools of the province, at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière and L’Assomption, received annual grants of $2,000, in addition to the amount expended on scholarships. A sub-committee of the Council of Agriculture of the province of Quebec launched an inquiry in the autumn of 1869. The commissioners concluded that young people were dissuaded from attending agricultural schools by the poverty of their parents, the unwillingness to lose free labour in a family operation, and the prejudice against science, combined with the attraction of classical education. The alternative proposed by Cléophe Cimon, a former mla, and endorsed by the sub-committee, endangered the very existence of these institutions. Insisting on practical teaching, Cimon had been proposing the creation of one model farm per county since 1868. But Pilote thought it was necessary to combine theory and practice, and considered increasing the number of model farms to be a costly solution. In fact, he did not want farmers ever to associate their productivity with government subsidies. Pilote was so influential that Chauveau, the premier of the province of Quebec, had to abandon plans of reform, including his own idea of transferring agricultural education to the teachers’ colleges in Quebec City or Montreal.
After leaving the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la Pocatière for the parish of Saint-Augustin in 1870, Pilote continued to take an interest in agricultural improvements. In Portneuf County, subscriptions to La Gazette des campagnes (Saint-Louis-de-Kamouraska and Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière), a paper started in 1861 which was the organ of the school of agriculture, rose to 600, as a result of Pilote’s efforts to circulate it. Practising what he preached, the parish priest even installed drain-pipes on the property owned by the parish council. The improved yield of the soil proved so persuasive to farmers that around 1886 a workshop for making drain-pipes was set up in the parish. On the provincial scene, Pilote remained until his death an active member of the Council of Agriculture, which had been instituted by the Quebec government after confederation. Little is known about the way in which Pilote discharged his duties as a parish priest, except that he contracted a personal debt of several thousand dollars in order to build a convent, which he made over to the Congregation of Notre-Dame in 1882.
Among François Pilote’s writings are Le Saguenay en 1851; histoire du passé, du présent et de l’avenir probable du Haut-Saguenay, au point de vue de la colonisation (Québec, 1852); Mémoire sur la paroisse, le village, le collège et l’école d’agriculture de Sainte-Anne devant accompagner divers objets envoyés par le collège Ste. Anne à l’Exposition universelle de Paris, en 1867 (Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière [La Pocatière], Qué., 1867); and Examen d’un plan de culture proposé par M. Cléophe Cimon, ci-devant député de Charlevoix . . . (Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière, 1868).
Arch. du collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière (La Pocatière), 13–31; 59–68. Julienne Barnard, Mémoires Chapais; documentation, correspondance, souvenirs (4v., Montréal et Paris, 1961–64), I–II. Auguste Béchard, Galerie nationale: l’abbé François Pilote, curé de Saint-Augustin (Portneuf) (Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière, 1885). Adrien Bernier, The contributions of the schools of Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière to Catholic education in the province of Quebec (Quebec, 1942). Serge Gagnon, “Le collège de Sainte-Anne au temps de l’abbé François Pilote: les conflits du personnel enseignant” (thèse de des, univ. Laval, Québec, 1968). M. Hamelin, Premières années du parlementarisme québécois. Wilfrid Lebon, Histoire du collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière (2v., Québec, 1948–49). M.-A. Perron, Un grand éducateur agricole: Édouard-A. Barnard, 1835–1898; essai historique sur l’agriculture de 1760 à 1900 ([Montréal], 1955). Normand Séguin, La conquête du sol au 19e siècle (s.l., ). Serge Gagnon, “Le clergé, les notables et l’enseignement privé au Québec: le cas du collège de Sainte-Anne, 1840–1870,” SH, no.5 (April 1970): 45–65.
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