TRESTLER (Tröstler), JEAN-JOSEPH, soldier, businessman, landowner, and politician; b. c. 1757 in Mannheim (Federal Republic of Germany), son of Henry Tröstler and Magdeleine Feitten; d. 7 Dec. 1813 in Vaudreuil, Lower Canada.
Jean-Joseph Trestler came to Quebec in 1776 with the Hesse-Hanau Chasseurs, a German mercenary unit. He may also have performed the duties of a military surgeon, as his continuing interest in medicine suggests. For example, in 1804, in exchange for the “secret of curing cankers” he made over a piece of land with buildings to Antoine Hamel, a surgeon in the village of Rigaud. Over the years he built up an impressive medical library of some 130 volumes, most of them in German. One of his sons, Jean-Baptiste, became a surgeon and a professor at the Montreal School of Medicine and Surgery.
Having been discharged from the army by 1783 at the latest, Trestler became a pedlar in Montreal. Here in November 1785 he married Marguerite Noël, a girl of 16. On 8 Aug. 1786 he purchased a house 30 feet square in the seigneury of Vaudreuil, with a henhouse, pigsty, and bake-oven; he paid 1,300 livres, including a down payment of 400 livres cash, and opened a general store in it. In 1791 he went into the production of potash and built a factory with ash, furnace, and potash sheds. His wife died in October 1793, leaving him with four little girls, and in February 1794 he married 23-year-old Marie-Anne-Joseph Curtius, whose father, a merchant of German origins, had moved from the Richelieu valley and become a schoolteacher in Vaudreuil. At that time Trestler had a personal estate valued at 42,210 livres and also owned two houses, several buildings, 120 acres of land, and a building lot; his debts amounted to 19,935 livres.
Trestler’s strategic location on the banks of the Ottawa River enabled him to participate in the lucrative fur trade. Although at that time competition and high operating costs were causing the merchants in the fur trade to amalgamate, he did not enter into partnership with another merchant or fur company. From 1803 he shared the running of a general store at Les Cèdres with merchant Jacques-Hubert Lacroix. He apparently also engaged in alongshore trading with the four boats, two ferries, and lighter that he owned.
Trestler’s profits from trade and industry enabled him to make loans and in particular to invest in real estate. He bought an impressive number of farms, buildings, and properties, not only at Vaudreuil but also in the surrounding areas of Les Cèdres and Rigaud, as well as in the towns of Montreal and Quebec. He even owned islands in the Ottawa River and in the seigneury of Villechauve, commonly called Beauharnois. In addition he acquired a veritable domain for himself. After buying a number of lots and buildings next to his property at Vaudreuil, he erected on a site now in Dorion a stone dwelling as large as a manor-house with a façade of 139 feet and a depth of 40 feet. The central portion was put up in 1798; the section on the west end, which housed the general store and the fur warehouse, was built in 1805 and the east-end one in 1806. He also had an ashery, barn, byres, stables, and sheds on his estate. The enterprise became one of the busiest places west of Montreal Island.
Having become a prosperous businessman, Trestler could not resist the attractions of a political career. He represented the riding of York in the fifth parliament of Lower Canada from 18 June 1808 until 2 Oct. 1809. In the course of the only session, held in the spring of 1809, he took an interest in the laws regulating commerce, particularly trade with the United States, at a time when the embargo which the American Congress had decreed in December 1807 was proving advantageous to the colony’s merchants. He sat on a committee appointed to study the consequences of developing a new market in the port of Montreal, which threatened the continued existence of the old one.
This session gave rise to virulent confrontations between Canadian and British members of the assembly. Whereas the other member for York, John Mure*, and Ignace-Michel-Louis-Antoine d’Irumberry* de Salaberry, from the neighbouring riding of Huntingdon, sided with the English party, Trestler unconditionally and unwaveringly supported the Canadians led by Pierre-Stanislas Bédard*, particularly on the choice of Jean-Antoine Panet as speaker and the bills to expel judge Pierre-Amable De Bonne and Ezekiel Hart*. Trestler attended the assembly for the last time on 26 April 1809. The merchant from Vaudreuil was not to participate in the new parliament convoked by Governor Craig the following year, perhaps because of the tense nature of the debates, or through fear of neglecting his business for a career that was certainly fascinating but scarcely remunerative.
Although Trestler encountered nothing but success in business, his family life was marked by unhappy and trying episodes. In the year following his first wife’s death he lost two daughters who were still quite young, Marie-Marguerite and Marie-Josephte. In 1806 Michel-Joseph, who at nine was the eldest of the four sons born of his second marriage, was drowned near the family home. In 1809 and 1810 Trestler objected to the marriages of his daughters Catherine and Marie-Madeleine with his clerks Joseph Eleazar Hays and Patrice Adhémar, and he cut their inheritance to five shillings each. He was taken to court by Catherine, who sought the share of the joint estate that was to come to her upon her mother’s death; in 1812 he had to pay her 4,000 livres to redeem the succession rights on the landed property. In September of the following year Trestler lost his third son, Henry-Daniel, who was eight. Three months later, following a brief “but very violent” illness, Trestler himself died at the age of 56; he was buried on 9 December in the crypt of the church of Saint-Michel at Vaudreuil. His second wife lived for another 38 years; his second son, Jean-Baptiste, was the only one of his children to carry on the family line. Iphigénie, Jean-Baptiste’s youngest child, married Antoine-Aimé Dorion*.
Jean-Joseph Trestler, who was no Croesus when he arrived in Canada, nevertheless succeeded through trade and industry in rapidly building up a large fortune, even though he did not belong to the British plutocracy in the colony. When he died, his assets, aside from his numerous pieces of real estate, were worth about 90,000 livres. He owed an estimated 22,717 livres to 15 creditors, including James Dunlop, but some 400 people, almost all from the region and more than three-quarters with debts of less than 300 livres, owed him a total of 108,390 livres. His clients and most of the parties with whom he had dealings were Canadian. On the political scene he made common cause with the first nationalist leaders of French Canada. Having become fully integrated into the French-speaking and Catholic community in Lower Canada, he had earned the respect of the habitants of Vaudreuil and the surrounding regions, who were present in large numbers at his funeral.
[Copies of a number of documents used to prepare this biography are held at the Maison Trestler in Dorion, Que. After Jean-Baptiste Trestler’s death in 1871 this house was used by his son-in-law Antoine-Aimé Dorion as a summer residence and remained in family hands until 1927. The spacious building was designated an architectural monument of national importance by the Canadian government in 1969 and a historic monument by the Quebec government in 1976. In the latter year Judith and Louis Dubuc bought the house with the intention of restoring it and living there while at the same time assuring that it would play a cultural role. Open for guided tours, it now serves as a centre for multicultural and interdisciplinary gatherings. The Fondation Trestler looks after the house’s preservation and program and possesses material relating to the Trestler family, including lists, photocopies of birth, marriage, and death certificates, and notarized contracts. p.a.]
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