MONK, FREDERICK DEBARTZCH, lawyer, professor, and politician; b. 6 April 1856 in Montreal, son of Samuel Cornwallis Monk, a lawyer and later a judge, and Caroline Debartzch, daughter of Pierre-Dominique Debartzch*; d. there 15 May 1914.
Although he was baptized in Christ Church Anglican Cathedral, Frederick Debartzch Monk was brought up a Roman Catholic. He studied first in French at the Petit Séminaire de Montréal and then in English at McGill College where, following a tradition going back at least four generations on his father’s side, he took law. Having obtained his bachelor’s degree in 1877, he was called to the provincial bar the next year. On 7 Jan. 1880, in the church of Saint-Jacques in Montreal, he married Marie-Louise Senécal, only daughter of the lawyer Denis-Henri Senécal and granddaughter of Côme-Séraphin Cherrier*, who was a first cousin of Louis-Joseph Papineau* and Denis-Benjamin Viger*. By this marriage Monk allied himself with prominent French Canadian families and received the title of seigneur of Île-Bizard. He never collected the seigneurial revenues, since this privilege was retained by the women in the Cherrier family, who would outlive him, but he was entitled to live in the seigneurial manor during the summer; his principal residence was on Rue de La Gauchetière in Montreal. Of the Monks’ six children two died in infancy.
Monk practised law in Montreal, on his own or occasionally with a partner. In 1888 he became an associate professor in the faculty of law at the Université Laval in Montreal, and he taught constitutional and administrative law there as a full professor from 1890 to 1903. From 1903 to 1914 he confined his teaching to constitutional law. Laval awarded him a doctorate in law in 1890 and in 1893 he was made a qc. Along with practising and teaching law, Monk worked all his life in numerous public, social, sporting, and charitable organizations. He was one of the Roman Catholic school commissioners in Montreal from 1883 to 1891 and again from 1892 to 1895.
Monk’s close relatives described him as a man of great dignity, culture, and erudition but something of a dreamer by nature, sensitive and inclined to melancholy. Despite his eminence, he did not have the charisma and magnetism often found in important public figures. His contemporaries long believed that with his family background, education, and legal talents, he should as a matter of course be appointed to the bench. Monk himself reportedly admitted to Robert Laird Borden, the federal Conservative leader from 1901, that he cherished such an ambition, but only after he had set out on the path of politics.
Monk’s political career extended from 1896 to 1914. Elected Conservative mp for Jacques-Cartier in 1896, he was returned for this riding in 1900, 1904, 1908, and 1911. He was thus the only Conservative mp from the province to survive 15 years of Wilfrid Laurier’s regime.
Throughout his political career, Monk tried to reform the Conservative party along the lines of the nationalist principles supported by the majority of French Canadians, and he worked to give it credibility in Quebec so it might become the pre-eminent force in the province. It was not long before he had an opportunity to make his views known. The uproar surrounding the Manitoba school question [see Thomas Greenway*] prompted him late in 1896 to demand equality for French and English throughout Canada. The South African War from 1899 to 1902 [see Sir Frederick William Borden] led him to demand increasing autonomy for the country in all political, military, and commercial relations with Great Britain.
Highly regarded, Monk rose rapidly through party ranks. On 6 Feb. 1901 Borden named him leader of the Quebec Conservatives, an appointment enabling him to expound within the party his vision of the Canadian nation. Thus on 18 November he put forward a political program entitled “Canada for Canadians,” which reiterated the concepts he had supported from the moment he entered public life: a country based on respect for the two founding “races,” to whom it rightfully belonged, autonomous in its relations with the British empire, and capable of directing its own economic development. Unfortunately for him, his platform did not bring the anticipated results. Success at the polls was slow in coming because of Laurier’s immense popularity, and a number of influential Conservatives were in all but name opposed to this nationalist program. The tensions within the party and the attacks on him became so unbearable that on 17 Jan. 1904 he had to resign as leader of the Quebec wing.
Monk’s convictions were unshakeable, however, and he did not hesitate to break party ranks in the House of Commons whenever his principles of Canadian nationalism were challenged, especially in 1905 on the North-West school question [see Laurier]. His stand even led him to establish closer ties with Henri Bourassa* and the French Canadian nationalists, who were spreading ideas similar to his own. A proposal to create a Canadian navy, which came up in 1909, brought everything to a head. Monk, who at Borden’s request had officially resumed his position as leader of the federal Conservatives in Quebec on 28 January, vehemently denounced the resolution in an important speech delivered at Lachine on 8 Nov. 1909, in which he declared that he differed from his party on this issue. Little more was needed to impel Monk and Bourassa to join forces.
The alliance between the Quebec Conservatives led by Monk and Bourassa’s Nationalistes took shape in the spring of 1910. It gave rise to a group who set out on a province-wide crusade to vilify every aspect of the bill establishing a Canadian navy that had been introduced in January. In their view the passage of this measure would lead to obligatory participation in imperial wars and to conscription. Working on the fringes of the two traditional political parties, the group intended to get enough mps returned in the 1911 federal election to hold the balance of power and overthrow any government that opposed their opinions on the naval question. Led by Monk, they formed an electoral alliance with Borden’s Conservative party, for no other purpose than to work for the defeat of the Laurier government. Unfortunately for Monk, the Conservatives formed a majority government after the election.
As leader of a minority group in the House of Commons, Monk felt he had no alternative but to come to terms with the Conservative government in order to save at least the essential principle for which he had fought during the past few years: the autonomy of Canada within the British empire. He therefore agreed to take the portfolio of public works, a time-consuming assignment that quickly forced him to neglect the faction under his leadership. Worse still, the cabinet solidarity to which he was sworn compelled him on the Keewatin school question in 1912 [see Borden] to abandon his long-held principle of the equality of French and English in Canada. The Conservative government refused to accede to Monk’s requests on the naval question, leaving him no choice but to resign as minister of public works on 18 Oct. 1912. Completely disillusioned, he went so far as to repudiate his party once and for all.
Monk led a fairly calm life after his resignation. He suffered from arteriosclerosis and his health remained delicate. Although he was still the mp for Jacques-Cartier, he did not return to the house but simply worked at his constituency office, where he was besieged by demands for patronage. None the less he paid particular attention to certain parliamentary questions, for example a proposed canal from the Ottawa River to Georgian Bay, and he still believed he would be able to resume his work in Ottawa at some point. He also spent time on other pursuits, being a member of organizations including the Montreal Horse Show Association and the Verdun Cricket Club, and an elected trustee of the Montreal Jockey Club. However, he was soon forced to put a sudden and definitive end to his activities. In January 1914 illness compelled him to take to his bed. His strength continued to ebb and he had to resign his seat in the commons in March. Monk died at home on 15 May 1914, leaving to memory his great dream of sitting on the bench, and to the future a moribund Conservative organization in Quebec.
The author’s thesis, “F. D. Monk, le Parti conservateur fédéral et l’idée d’un Canada pour les Canadiens (1896–1914)” (thèse de ma, univ. Laval, Québec, 1986), provides a more detailed study of the career of Frederick Debartzch Monk and a complete list of sources and secondary works.
AC, Montréal, État civil, Catholiques, Cimetière Notre-Dame-des-Neiges (Montréal), 18 mai 1914. ANQ-M, CE1-33, 7 janv. 1880; CE1-63, 17 avril 1856. Arch. de la Commission des Écoles Catholiques de Montréal, Présidents et commissaires, liste, 1846– . Canadian directory of parl. (Johnson). Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan 1912).