PÉPIN, JOSEPH, joiner, wood-carver, and militia officer; baptized 19 Nov. 1770 in Sault-au-Récollet (Montreal North), Que., son of Jean-Baptiste Pépin and Madeleine Lebeau; m. 14 Feb. 1803 Charlotte Stubinger in Boucherville, Lower Canada, and they had at least 17 children; d. 18 Aug. 1842 in Saint-Vincent-de-Paul (Laval), Lower Canada.
Joseph Pépin, a remarkable craftsman, practised at the time when parishioners in the Montreal region were decorating churches built since the early 18th century, and he profited from this favourable situation. He had been trained by Philippe Liébert* and settled in Saint-Vincent-de-Paul quite early, certainly before 1792. Louis Quévillon* was already there, and after his death in 1823 Pépin would carry on his work along with René Beauvais, dit Saint-James, and Paul Rollin*.
Under the French régime, meagre resources hindered large-scale projects, but by the late 18th century the syndics responsible for having church interiors finished were in a position to place orders. The ornamentation could include vaults and woodwork in the chancel and nave, major furnishings such as tabernacles and pulpits, and minor pieces such as crucifixes and candlesticks. Pépin and his team were able to meet all these needs. As master he took on numerous apprentices, some of whom (for example, Louis-Thomas Berlinguet) would later continue his work. He also gave employment to five of his sons as well as to children of the Pépin family living at Longue-Pointe (Montreal).
Between 1806 and 1812 the atelier, which employed numerous people, executed carvings for the churches in Saint-Jacques-de-l’Achigan (Saint-Jacques), Belœil, Saint-Roch-de-l’Achigan, Montreal, Saint-Ours, Saint-Jean-Baptiste-de-Rouville, Soulanges (Les Cèdres), and Chambly. Pépin took on alone the orders that came to his shop. On 3 Feb. 1815, however, he went into partnership with Quévillon, Saint-James, and Rollin “to carry out all the works of the said profession of wood-carving.” The partners undertook to collaborate and to divide the tasks as fairly as possible. They agreed to finish on their own account the projects they had begun before the firm was created. The partnership does not seem to have brought the results anticipated, since it was dissolved in January 1817.
Thus in 1819 Pépin continued his work in the church at Chambly in association with his long-time companions, Quévillon, Rollin, and Saint-James, but now without legal obligations, even though the sums involved were rather large. The church at Saint-Charles-sur-Richelieu kept him busy in 1820, as did the one at Rigaud in 1823 and at Saint-Benoît (Mirabel) in 1824. His sons had already taken over, however, and from then on entered into contracts in their own interests.
Pépin kept his workshop in Saint-Vincent-de-Paul while serving as captain, and later major, in the Île-Jésus battalion of militia (which in 1828 became the 3rd Battalion of Effingham militia). His seniority in the militia gave him a certain authority in the community. In 1837 he was involved in the rebellion along with his son Zéphyrin, a notary at Sainte-Scholastique (Mirabel) since 1826; on 30 November he was charged with high treason and put in jail. But he was released on 11 December and returned to his wood-carving. He made his will on 22 Nov. 1841 and died on 18 August of the following year.
Pépin’s work was closely related to that of Quévillon, Saint-James, and Rollin. It incorporated neoclassical elements into models clearly taken from the French 18th century, which the wood-carvers were skilled in arranging to suit the church buildings and the tastes of parish priests and fabriques. The quality of his production and its influence on the first half of the 19th century put Joseph Pépin among the outstanding carvers of the Montreal region.
ANQ-M, CE1-22, 14 févr. 1803; CE1-59, 19 nov. 1770, 20 août 1842; CN1-3, 4 oct. 1815; CN1-16, 11 juin 1803, 8 févr. 1821; CN1-43, 22 févr. 1812, 7 juill. 1815, 15 févr. 1819; CN1-68, 1er avril 1815, 23 mai 1826; CN1-80, 8 août 1825; CN1-96, 14 oct. 1805; 3 avril 1806; 26 févr. 1808; 16 juin 1810; 31 déc. 1811; 13, 19 févr., 13 juill. 1812; 23 janv. 1814; 28 janv., 4 oct. 1815; 25 janv., 28 mai 1817; 28 mars 1818; 16 mars 1819; 22 janv., 27 nov. 1820; 26 janv., 10 sept., 23 nov. 1821; 29 mars, 12 avril, 12 sept. 1822; 22 janv., 8 mai, 29 oct. 1824; 26 janv., 26 mars, 5 avril 1825; 12 juill. 1826; 28 févr. 1827; 17 mars, ler août 1828; 23 avril 1832; 24 mars, 19 déc. 1834; 13 janv., 26 févr., 19 sept. 1836; 29 mai 1837; ler août 1838; 15 févr., 22 nov. 1841; 3 déc. 1845; CN1-167, 7 janv. 1794, 13 févr. 1803; CN1-173, 25 mai, 26 juin 1830; 14 sept. 1831; 31 janv. 1833; CN1-179, 26 janv. 1824; CN1-334, 3 févr. 1815; CN5-8, 28 juill. 1816; CN5-13, 29 janv. 1825; CN6-3, 29 juill. 1792, 16 janv. 1793. MAC-CD, Fonds Morisset, 2, dossier Joseph Pépin. [F.-X. Chagnon], Annales religieuses et historiques de la paroisse de St-Jacques le Majeur . . . (Montréal, 1872), 22. Maurault, La paroisse: hist. de Notre-Dame de Montréal (1957), 21. Émile Vaillancourt, Une maîtrise d’art en Canada (1800–1823) (Montréal, 1920), 66–67.