VALIN, PIERRE-VINCENT (he signed and was referred to as both Pierre-Vincent and Pierre), shipbuilder, shipowner, politician, and office holder; b. 1 June 1827 in Château-Richer, Lower Canada, son of Toussaint Valin and Marie Tremblay; m. first 17 April 1855 Marie-Angélique Talbot, dit Gervais (d. 8 Oct. 1883), in Saint-Étienne parish at Beaumont; m. secondly 10 June 1885 Marie-Virginie-Célina Bardy, daughter of the late Pierre-Martial Bardy*, at Quebec; he had no children; d. 2 Oct. 1897 at Quebec.
After trying his hand at various trades, Pierre-Vincent Valin began a career as a shipbuilder in 1846. Quebec’s wooden shipbuilding industry was in full expansion, and he rose quickly to become a captain of the industry. He built his first three vessels in partnership with shipowner and shipping agent George Holmes Parke at Parke’s shipyard on the Rivière Saint-Charles. Then, in 1848, he struck out on his own. This precocious start was indicative of the vigour and competence Valin would demonstrate throughout his life: by the time his shipbuilding career came to an end in 1880, he would have over 69,000 tons of shipping to his credit and have outbuilt every shipbuilder except Thomas Hamilton Oliver, who constructed a total of 88,000 tons.
From 1848 to 1859 Valin built, or had ships built, at three locations at least on the Rivière Saint-Charles: at Pointe-aux-Lièvres, on land he rented and then bought from the government when the point was auctioned in 1854; on the south bank, immediately to the west of Dorchester Bridge, at a shipyard that had been leased by John Jeffery and his son in the 1830s and 1840s and that Valin rented from the estate of the sail-maker James Hunt*; and on land on the north bank belonging to the sisters of the Hôpital Général for which he took ten-year leases and on which his father also built ships in the 1850s and 1860s. Valin built four ships between 1854 and 1858 at a fourth yard on the Rivière Saguenay.
By 1853 Valin required help with his extended operations and on 19 November he entered into partnership with Louis-Eugène Blais, grocer, and Louis de Gonzague Vallerand, master ship-carpenter, under the name Pierre Valin et Compagnie. Vallerand was to take charge of the shipyard, Valin would keep the books, and Blais was to pay the bills and notes. Both Valin and Blais made an initial investment of £400 to £500, and each of the three partners received 3s. 6d. a day. Although the company was formed at a time when the Crimean War had sparked a shipbuilding boom, the crash and depressed shipping prices of the following season left them, like many shipbuilders, with serious financial problems, and their association came to an end on 11 Dec. 1854. A second partnership made that year, with Vallerand and Blais, ran into similar financial problems. Nevertheless, Valin was not deterred and kept building, though he gave over one of his shipyard leases to his father in 1857. Much of his construction in the 1850s was financed by Henry Atkinson, merchant and shipping agent, who acted also as the Quebec agent for the sale of several of his ships.
Valin’s business underwent two major changes in 1860. First, on 11 May he entered into a partnership with Léandre Dugal, merchant and shipbuilder, which lasted for nine years; Dugal, who had a one-seventh share in the business, was in charge of their shipyard at Pointe-aux-Lièvres while Valin looked after the business side of the operation. This arrangement seems to have worked well; moreover, Dugal had the means to lend a helping hand when Valin over-extended himself. Secondly, and most importantly, he relied from then on almost exclusively on James Gibb Ross* to finance his construction at Pointe-aux-Lièvres, as well as at the other yards he operated outside the partnership. When his ships were ready for sea, it was generally Ross who acted as agent for their sale, but they were sold only when a good price could be obtained. In the mean time, Ross would manage them. Some would be transferred to Ross’s ownership as security for amounts owing to him, but others remained under Valin’s part or full ownership.
The reduction in 1862 of the French duty on vessels imported from Canada to five francs a ton opened up the market to Quebec shipbuilders, who until then had had to rely almost exclusively on British sales. Valin was among the builders to take advantage of the new tariff, selling eight ships to Le Havre or Marseilles owners between 1862 and 1871. The French market seemed to augur well when Valin was appointed delegate commissioner in Canada for the Havre Maritime Exhibition in 1867, but the reimposition of heavy duties in 1881 effectively closed it again. Quebec shipbuilders were greatly disappointed, particularly so because by then metal-hulled vessels had won the favour of many of their former customers and the market for wooden ships was rapidly disappearing.
In the 1870s Valin was building only at the shipyard beside Dorchester Bridge, and realized that he had much to offer in political service. He was elected a town councillor for Saint-Roch ward in 1871 and he was returned to the Legislative Assembly of the province of Quebec as member for Quebec East on a Conservative ticket in the by-election of 16 and 17 April 1874. The following year, however, he was defeated by Joseph Shehyn* in the general election. Although an attempt in 1870 to obtain a seat in the House of Commons had ended in defeat at the hands of Adolphe Tourangeau, Valin tried again in 1878. He took his place as the member for Montmorency but was unseated on petition in January 1880; re-elected in December of the same year, he represented this riding until 1887. During this time, his second marriage took place and he was welcomed with spontaneous general applause on his return to the house after his honeymoon. He ran again, though unsuccessfully, in 1887 and 1891. In the mean time, in 1879 he was appointed a member of the Harbour Commission of Quebec, and became its chairman, an office he would hold during ten important years in the development of the port, when both the Lorne Dock and the Louise Basin were under construction.
Through his elected or appointed offices, Valin was responsible for various public works programs that benefited his constituents, at the same time remaining an important private employer. In 1871 he was awarded the contract for the construction of new jetties and breakwaters in the Rivière Saint-Maurice, and in 1875 with two partners he was chosen to repair the wharf at the quarantine station at Grosse Île. He built fewer ships, but as late as 1878 employed 350 men at his shipyard throughout the winter, paying them superior wages. He also supplied firewood to 600 poor families. The same year, in association with two partners, he tendered successfully for the contract for the Louise Basin, a contract, however, that was cancelled. He remained a shipowner, trading in both the Pacific and the Atlantic. His trade with the West Indies was particularly profitable; he earned $35,000, for instance, on a cargo of sugar sold in London in 1879. He sailed for France the following year in search of shipbuilding contracts, not realizing that the 1,384-ton Parisian he left behind on the stocks would be his last ship. In 1888 he went to Bermuda to supervise the refloating of one of his vessels that had grounded. An inveterate traveller, he is said to have crossed the Atlantic 60 times.
Although of humble origin, for his father was illiterate, Pierre-Vincent Valin was undoubtedly a man of considerable intellect. The fact that in 1858 his most valuable possession by far was his piano, valued at £11, says much about him.
AC, Québec, État civil, Catholiques, Saint-Roch, 5 oct. 1897; Minutiers, Jacques Auger, 29 avril 1863. ANQ-Q, CEl-4, 17 avril 1855; CE1-103, 10 juin 1885; CN1-49, 12 oct. 1853; CN1-51, 11 mai 1860, 9 mai 1865; CN1-117, 11 déc. 1854; CN1-128; CN1-232, 11 avril, 2, 14, 25 nov. 1854. NA, RG 42, E1. Le Courrier du Canada, 18 mai 1878; 13, 17 mars 1880; 20 janv. 1888. L’Évenement, 22 juin 1871; 21 juill., 7 nov. 1879. Morning Chronicle (Quebec), 30 Dec. 1853, 29 Jan. 1868. Canadian directory of parl. (Johnson). Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose and Charlesworth). J. Desjardins, Guide parl., 199, 288. Political appointments and judicial bench (N.-O. Coté). RPQ. Chouinard et al., La ville de Québec, 4: 242. Eileen Reid Marcil, “Shipbuilding at Quebec, 1763–1893: the square rigger trade” (phd thesis, Univ. Laval, Quebec, 1987). “Pierre-Vincent Valin,” BRH, 45 (1939): 29.
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