BEAUSOLEIL, CLÉOPHAS, journalist, publisher, office holder, lawyer, and politician; b. 19 June 1845 in Saint-Félix-de-Valois, Lower Canada, son of Joseph Silvestre, dit Beausoleil, a farmer, and Rosalie Charron, dit Ducharme; m. 29 Jan. 1868 Henriette Lapointe, daughter of the late François Audet, dit Lapointe, and Rebecca Blakiston, at Quebec, and they had two daughters and three sons; d. 4 Oct. 1904 in Saint-Gabriel-de-Brandon, Que.
At the age of ten, Cléophas Beausoleil began his primary schooling at the Collège Saint-Joseph in Berthier-en-Haut (Berthierville). From 1857 to 1862 he was enrolled in the classical program at the Collège Joliette, where he was a brilliant student. He donned the soutane for two years and then left for Montreal in August 1864 to study law and to article in the legal firm of Bélanger et Desnoyers. He was more drawn to journalism, however, and took it up in 1866 as an editor with L’Ordre, which had been founded in 1858 by Cyrille Boucher* and Joseph Royal. In 1867 he moved to Quebec, following Hector Fabre who established L’Événement there. He and Auguste Achintre* assisted Fabre in editing the paper.
After almost six months with L’Événement, Beausoleil went back to L’Ordre. A little later in 1868 he joined the staff of the ultramontanist newspaper Le Nouveau Monde, for which he was parliamentary correspondent at the Legislative Assembly in Quebec and the House of Commons in Ottawa. Beausoleil left the paper at the end of 1873. On 19 Feb. 1874 he became co-owner, with Louis-Édouard Morin, of Le Négociant canadien, a business-oriented publication. They were looking for a partner to increase their capital and make it possible to turn their weekly into a daily. Laurent-Olivier David* joined them and in April 1874 Le Bien public was born. The new daily became the official organ of the three-year-old Parti National. This collaboration continued in Le Courrier de Montréal, which David and Beausoleil began editing and publishing in October 1874. Largely as a result of its stand on relations between church and state, Le Bien public was denounced from the pulpit and from then on its circulation decreased. The end was near and Beausoleil left a few months before it ceased publication. His newspaper career was over. In the course of it he had moved from the ultramontanism of Le Nouveau Monde to the liberalism of Le Bien public with disconcerting ease.
In 1875 Beausoleil was appointed official trustee in bankruptcy in the judicial district of Montreal, under the Insolvent Act. He held this office until it was abolished in 1880. At 35, he then returned to the study of law and was called to the bar on 12 July 1880. Six months later he went into partnership with Honoré Mercier* and Paul Martineau; François-Xavier Choquet joined them in 1886. The firm of Mercier, Beausoleil, Choquet et Martineau broke up in 1891, but Beausoleil and Choquet continued the practice as Beausoleil, Choquet et Guard. Beausoleil followed Mercier step by step. The member for Saint-Hyacinthe in the Quebec Legislative Assembly from 1879, Mercier was the rising leader of the provincial Liberal party. Beausoleil became his principal organizer in the Montreal region and specialized in controverted elections.
Eventually interest in politics led Beausoleil to try his luck on the Montreal municipal scene. In 1882 he ran in Saint-Jacques ward against the sitting alderman, Louis Allard, and defeated him by 221 votes in a controverted election. He was re-elected by acclamation in 1885 but resigned three years later. Urged to run in 1892, he was elected, again by acclamation, as alderman in the East ward. He remained in office until he was appointed postmaster. During his years on the municipal council, he helped get the abattoir monopoly cancelled, the corvée for labourers abolished, and the districts of Hochelaga, Saint-Gabriel, and Saint-Jean-Baptiste annexed to the city. He was also a member of the Roman Catholic Board of School Commissioners for the city of Montreal for about 12 years.
In 1887 Beausoleil moved onto a wider stage, but instead of going into provincial politics with his friend Mercier, he entered the federal field with Wilfrid Laurier*. During the elections that year, it was Laurier who led the campaign in Quebec against the Conservative government of Sir John A. Macdonald*. Beausoleil ran as the Liberal candidate in Berthier. The main plank in his platform was the construction of a railway from Saint-Félix-de-Valois to Saint-Gabriel-de-Brandon, which had been promised since 1874 and would be completed, thanks to his intervention, in 1888. In the stands he took as an mp, he is thought to have been influenced by Mercier. Some authors claim that when Edward Blake* resigned and a new leader of the opposition was to be chosen at a Liberal caucus meeting on 7 June 1887, Mercier instructed Beausoleil to vote first for Oliver Mowat, then for James David Edgar*, and only on the third ballot for Laurier. Several years later, however, in a letter of 1 Oct. 1890 to Laurier, Beausoleil averred, “You are my leader and as early as the time of Mr Blake’s retirement I declared that I would accept no one but you.”
In federal politics Beausoleil took up the defence of francophones. It was not the first time he had shown an interest in this question. As a journalist he had kept a close eye on the situation of the French-speaking population of New Brunswick. When the rights of francophones in the west were threatened in 1890, he did not hesitate to distance himself from Laurier, and on 21 Feb. 1890 he stated in the House of Commons, “I find myself obliged to part company with my highly esteemed leader.” When remedial legislation concerning Manitoba schools [see Thomas Greenway] was being voted on in 1896, he broke with Laurier again to support the Conservative government’s initiative.
Beausoleil had always been in favour of commercial reciprocity with the United States. By 1888 he had become aware that it was an important issue and he brought it up again in 1891, at the Club National in Montreal. In his view the American market was essential to the prosperity of Canadian agriculture, mining, fishing, and manufacturing.
Beausoleil was re-elected in 1896 in Berthier, where he ran as an independent Liberal in favour of the remedial bill. However, the antagonism aroused by the stands he took would lead him to abandon politics. He might have deserved a place in Laurier’s cabinet, but because of his stance he had to be satisfied with the chairmanship of the House of Commons committee on expiring laws. On 1 Dec. 1899 Laurier appointed him postmaster in Montreal, a position he held for the rest of his life. Following a lengthy illness, he died on 4 Oct. 1904 in Saint-Gabriel-de-Brandon at the early age of 59. As a mark of respect he was given an official funeral.
Cléophas Beausoleil was not a well-known figure. Mercier’s “close adviser, intimate friend, active and devoted agent” was overshadowed by his illustrious associate. As an mp, he was, according to L’Opinion publique, “the most intelligent member of the opposition, the most solid.” This view was shared by Laurent-Olivier David. Although Beausoleil was not one of the best journalists of his time, or one of the greatest French-speaking parliamentarians in Ottawa, he made his mark as a methodical, precise, and thorough man. Above all, he had the courage of his convictions; he did not hesitate to oppose Laurier in defence of the rights of French-speaking Manitobans.
ANQ-M, CE5-32, 22 juin 1845. ANQ-Q, CE1-97, 29 janv. 1868. AP, Saint-Gabriel (Joliette, Qué.), RBMS, 7 oct. 1904. NA, MG 26, G: 829–30, 1016–20, 1467–72, 9215–17, 36523–26 (mfm. at ANQ-Q). Le Bien public (Montréal), 10 avril 1874–1875. Le Canada, 4–6 oct. 1904. Le Courrier de Montréal, 17 sept. 1874–septembre 1875. L’Étoile du Nord, 6 oct. 1904. L’Événement, 13 mai–octobre 1867. Montreal Daily Herald, 4 Oct. 1904. Le Négociant canadien (Montréal), 19 févr.–avril 1874. Le Nouveau Monde (Montréal), 1868–73. L’Opinion publique, 5 mai 1893. L’Ordre (Montréal), 1866–67. La Patrie, 4 oct. 1904. L.-A. Bélisle, Références biographiques, Canada – Québec (5v., Montréal, 1978), 1. Borthwick, Hist. and biog. gazetteer. Can., House of Commons, Debates, 1888, 1890, 1893, 1895–96. Canadian directory of parl. (Johnson). “Correspondance autour de la question scolaire du Nouveau-Brunswick, 1873,” RHAF, 4 (1950–51): 268–75, 427–31, 568–75. CPG, 1889. L.-O. David, Souvenirs et biographies, 1870–1910 (Montréal, 1911). J. Hamelin et al., La presse québécoise. M. Hamelin, Premières années du parlementarisme québécois. Histoire de Saint-Gabriel de Brandon et de ses démembrements . . . à travers les registres et en marge (Montréal, 1917). Lamothe, Hist. de Montréal. É.-Z. Massicotte, “Les directeurs des postes à Montréal, de 1763 à 1924,” BRH, 42 (1936): 519–20. Qué., Assemblée Législative, Journaux, 1880, 1889, 1892. RPQ. Robert Rumilly, Hist. de la prov. de Québec; Mercier et son temps. Joseph Schull, Laurier, H.-J. Gagnon, trad. ([Montréal], 1968).
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