SÉGUIN, FRANÇOIS-HYACINTHE, notary and diarist; b. 17 Aug. 1787 in Terrebonne, Que., eldest son of François Séguin, a farmer, and Charlotte Clément; m. there first 8 July 1815 Marie-Josephte Augé, and they had one child; m. there secondly 18 June 1838 Geneviève-Luce Robitaille, a widow; d. 19 Aug. 1847 in his native town.
In 1801 François-Hyacinthe Séguin began articling with Joseph Turgeon, a notary at Terrebonne. He seems not to have remembered his seven-year apprenticeship with pleasure, since he described his master as a speculator, extortioner, and drunkard. He was commissioned notary on 15 Oct. 1808 and opened an office at Terrebonne, where he practised all his life.
Séguin would probably have been forgotten had he not left a diary full of observations and reflections on society in Lower Canada. Besides being an interesting chronicle of religious and social life at Terrebonne, the journal, which runs from 7 Feb. 1831 to 2 March 1834, contains one of the most vigorous and articulate testimonies extant on the Patriote movement and republican liberalism. Written in a nostalgic vein, it comments extensively on history and politics. Séguin also vents his feelings against society in acid sketches of his contemporaries and close relatives.
The diary shows that he read the newspapers avidly and was passionately interested in political events of the day. He reveals himself as deeply religious, obsessed with death, and much involved in his community. He was attentive to natural, meteorological, and astronomical phenomena, and enthusiastic about fishing. Highly critical of his profession, he questioned the relevance of the admission examination, calling it “a mockery rather than a serious inquiry” whence came additional ignorant promoters of chicanery. Taking an interest in the financial, constitutional, educational, and judicial problems of Lower Canada, he reflected upon questions such as the death penalty, and he professed an orthodox kind of rationality, denouncing intemperance, superstition, and charivaris.
Séguin was a reactionary conservative who feared the consequences of the French revolution and the spread of atheism. Devoted to order and profoundly anti-democratic, he maintained that the will of the people was but “a poor machine that lets itself be driven by those who have cajoled it the most or have been the most lavish with servility and flattery.”
In parliamentary events, which he followed with interest, Séguin found much to ponder. He was conscious of living in a pre-revolutionary period and longed to return to quieter times when peace and contentment reigned in Lower Canada. He was ill disposed towards the press and political clubs and denounced the strategy used in the House of Assembly by the Patriotes, who sought to overturn everything without improving anything. Furthermore, he criticized the Constitutional Act of 1791 for creating turmoil in the country by introducing popular sovereignty.
Three events in the course of 1832 gave Séguin the chance to express his anti-Patriote convictions. In March he was present at the triumphal return to Montreal of Ludger Duvernay* and Daniel Tracey*, who had been imprisoned for seditious libel. He was shocked by this popular demonstration and thought that the authorities should have been more severe with these “two wretched newsmongers.” The spring by election in Montreal West that year led to a riot in May, during which the British army fired on the crowd and killed three French Canadians [see Daniel Tracey]. Séguin seized the occasion to denounce the trouble-makers and thunder against popular suffrage. He even thought that the Patriotes had fomented the disturbance for fear of losing the election. An attentive and discerning observer of the cholera epidemic and its victims, he followed newspaper accounts of the spread of the disease at Quebec and Montreal, and he kept an annotated record of the deaths. In his view it was a scourge sent by God to rid Lower Canada of the disturbances prevalent there. He described the consternation of the people, the helplessness and contradictory opinions of the doctors, and the renewed religious observance.
François-Hyacinthe Séguin died in Terrebonne on 19 Aug. 1847. His death passed virtually unnoticed by the Montreal press. Paternalistic, with a passion for stability and order, Séguin was ill at ease with the social and revolutionary ferment of his time. His diary seems the work of a dour man, full of resentment. His writings remain a vigorous plea for a Lower Canada submissive to king, God, and the age-old traditions of the ancien régime. In the face of a nationalist historiography that has consigned to oblivion the French-speaking defenders of the British régime, Séguin recalls to mind the deep divisions within Lower Canadian society.
ANQ-M, CE6-24, 17 août 1787, 8 juill. 1815, 18 juin 1838, 23 août 1847. PAC, RG 68, General index, 1651–1841. Montreal Gazette, 25 Aug. 1847. Quebec Gazette, 20 Oct. 1808. Raymond Masson, Généalogie des familles de Terrebonne (4v., Montréal, 1930–31), 4: 2190–95.