LECOURT, JOSEPH-PIERRE-MICHEL (baptized Pierre-Joseph-Michel), architect and office holder; b. 5 Sept. 1824 at Quebec, son of Pierre-Michel Lecourt, a sailor, and Julie Defoy; m. there 15 Nov. 1848 Marie-Eulalie Pâquet, and they had two sons and at least four daughters, one of whom married Joseph Tassé*; d. 10 March 1913 in Ottawa.
Joseph-Pierre-Michel Lecourt studied at the Séminaire de Nicolet from 1840 to 1844, and then trained as an architect and engineer with Frederick Hacker, a British architect living at Quebec. When he was 21 he began practising his profession there, but he continued his apprenticeship until 1846, when his master died. He probably was working at that time with Edward Staveley, Hacker’s compatriot and last partner. In 1848 he went into partnership with the Irish architect Goodlatte Richardson Browne, but he left four years later to work for the government of the Province of Canada. This job took him to Toronto in 1855. Lecourt later drafted a number of plans for the city of Quebec during the mayoralty of Hector-Louis Langevin*, and gained renown through a few architectural projects. In 1865, when parliament moved to Ottawa, he followed suit.
Lecourt’s neo-classicism, especially in his earliest works, shows the influence of his association with architects trained abroad. This style was characteristic of the work produced by the firm of Browne et Lecourt, a striking example being the Quebec city hall (1850). It was not until after he had designed the Champlain market (1858) that Lecourt broke away from this tradition and turned towards the less austere Italian Renaissance, which employed the classical idiom in decorative terms. In the ornamentation of the Beaver Hotel, on Rue Saint-Jean (1860), and especially the rich decoration of its elevated terracing and its fenestration, Lecourt made a clean break with the neo-classical austerity of Hacker, Browne, and Staveley.
Among the first neo-Renaissance buildings at Quebec, Lecourt’s Ladies Protestant Home of Quebec (1862) stands out. With its massive cornice supported by carved modillions, and its openings of various shapes, this elegant structure is also one of the best examples of Italian Renaissance style in the city. As an architect, Lecourt was guided less by a theory of architecture than by a supply of models from which he took the compositions he adapted to particular projects. The Asile de Beauport (1864), for example, had the more austere image of the urban palazzi, which was better suited to its function as a place of confinement than a country-cottage style would have been. By their subordination of ornamentation to rigorous composition, Lecourt’s neo-Renaissance structures stand out in sharp contrast to those of other architects, who would use the style in a more picturesque way. For example, the Saint-Jean gate (1863), which was designed with engineer Charles Maitland Tate, displays elaborate decorative treatment within a symmetrical framework, clearly divided horizontally, so that the structure blends into the urban landscape of the classic city.
In 1873 Lecourt left his position as draftsman at the Indian affairs branch, where he had worked since 1866, and went to the Department of Public Works as the supervising architect responsible for construction in Manitoba. The architectural branch was headed at that time by Thomas Seaton Scott*. Lecourt went to Manitoba where, in the absence of local architects, he strove to implant the federal image. He oversaw government construction and in Winnipeg he himself designed the post office and custom-house (1873), the lieutenant governor’s residence (1880), and other tangible signs of the federal presence in the new province. Although Lecourt’s professional isolation in Manitoba allowed him to liberate his buildings from the anonymity of Public Works, they none the less began at that time to take on the uniform character of state architecture, more reminiscent of Public Works buildings than of a personal style, as witness his Legislative Building (1880) in Winnipeg.
Upon Lecourt’s return to Ottawa in the 1880s, his work slipped back into the architectural branch’s collective production. In line with departmental policy, he apparently accepted no further private commissions, and he put his name to nothing but the reports of his inspection, including those he did in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Quebec.
Lecourt may have enjoyed political backing. The invitations he received in Ottawa certainly indicate that he had an influential circle of friends. After being recommended for the position of chief architect for the Dominion of Canada, however, he lost out to Thomas Fuller* in 1881. The political character of appointments in the architectural branch was well known. Perhaps he had made enemies in 1852 by contesting the will of his uncle, Abbé Louis-François Parent*, who had left his property to the episcopal corporation of Quebec. Lecourt had tried in vain to get the corporation’s right to receive this property abrogated, an attempt supported by the Toronto Globe and the Montreal Witness.
Lecourt was a skilled draftsman whose training had given him the graphic means needed to develop architecturally original compositions. Only accurate drawings would guarantee faithful execution and ensure that his decisions would be carried out at a construction site where he would not be present. His emancipation from the formal repertoire adopted by most architects in the province of Quebec probably came from his association with European professionals trained to seek out the new rather than to reproduce traditional forms. In their repertoire Lecourt, who was doubtless also inspired by his stay in Toronto, found the wellspring for the work that made him one of those in his profession who were responsible for the urban architectural renewal of the time.
Among the earliest employees of the Public Works architectural branch, Lecourt spent the rest of his life in the post to which he was permanently appointed only in 1908. The length of his career, in spite of governmental reorganizations and political reversals, is worth noting. As an architect, Lecourt distinguished himself, despite the sporadic nature of his work, as a pioneer in Winnipeg and an innovator at Quebec. In Ottawa he showed his talent for church architecture. He is remembered as an accomplished professional, deeply involved in his social milieu, especially with Franco-Manitobans, who praise him as much for his dedication as for his architecture.
AC, Québec, Minutiers, Philippe Huot, 3 sept. 1860. ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 19 sept. 1824, 15 nov. 1848; CN1-43, 7 févr. 1862; CN1-53, 20 sept. 1850; CN1-97, 3 juin 1847; CN1-255, 17 avril, 10 déc. 1860; 10 mai 1861; 29 déc. 1863; 18 janv. 1864; CN1-294, 2 oct. 1845, 24 août 1864; M186, J.-M. Lecourt et Tate. Arch. du Séminaire de Nicolet, Qué., F085 (Séminaire de Nicolet). Le Canadien, 25 oct. 1858. Le Journal de Québec, 14, 19 déc. 1848; 21 oct., 14, 18 nov. 1865; 21 oct. 1881. Le Métis (Saint-Boniface, Man.), 26 juill., 23 août 1873. La Minerve, 27 janv. 1869; 6 mai 1881; 20 janv. 1882; 23 nov. 1887; 9 janv. 1888; 19 janv., 10 avril 1893; 2 janv. 1894. Ottawa Evening Journal, 13 March 1913. Winnipeg Tribune, 24 Feb. 1954. Margaret Archibald, By federal design: the chief architect’s branch of the Department of Public Works, 1881–1914 (Ottawa, 1983), 6, 12, 17, 36. Directory, Quebec, 1850–58. France Gagnon-Pratte, L’architecture et la nature à Québec au dix-neuvième siècle: les villas ([Québec], 1980). H. D. Kalman, Exploring Ottawa: an architectural guide to the nation’s capital (Toronto, 1983). Luc Noppen et al., Québec: trois siècles d’architecture ([Montréal], 1979), 90, 142, 281. A. J. H. Richardson et al., Quebec City: architects, artisans and builders (Ottawa, 1984), 119, 301, 348–51.
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