LEROUX, LAURENT, fur trader, businessman, justice of the peace, militia officer, office holder, and politician; b. 17 Nov. 1759 in L’Assomption (Que.), son of Germain Leroux d’Esneval and Marie-Catherine Vallée, widow of Pierre Beaudin; m. before 1789, à la façon du pays, an Ojibwa in the Athabasca region, and they had at least four girls; m. secondly 20 June 1796 Marie-Esther Loisel in L’Assomption, and they had one daughter; d. there 26 May 1855.
Laurent Leroux was the son of a merchant, originally from Paris, who came to New France as a soldier during the War of the Austrian Succession and settled at L’Assomption probably in 1759, becoming one of its most prosperous inhabitants. Laurent received some instruction, for in July 1776 he could read, write, and do bookkeeping well enough to be hired as a clerk by Montreal merchant Pierre-Louis Chaboillez to go to Michilimackinac (Mackinaw City, Mich.). By 1784 he had become a clerk with Gregory, MacLeod and Company [see John Gregory*; Normand MacLeod*], an enterprise recently set up to trade in furs, principally at Michilimackinac (Mackinac Island, Mich.). However, on the initiative of fur traders Peter Pangman* and Peter Pond*, the firm soon directed its fur-trading activities towards the northwest, and became the chief rival of the North West Company. In the autumn of 1786, on the orders of his superior John Ross, Leroux set up a trading post in the name of Gregory, MacLeod and Company on the south shore of Great Slave Lake (N.W.T.), at the same time as Cuthbert Grant* was setting up an adjoining one for the NWC. The competition between the two groups became so intense that it resulted in the murder of Ross in 1787. This disastrous event led Gregory, MacLeod and Company to amalgamate with the NWC in the summer of that year to end the competition.
Leroux remained at Great Slave Lake, despite the NWC’s decision to close this post because the partners considered it unprofitable. He reached Fort Chipewyan (Alta) in March 1789, and set off again at the beginning of June with Alexander Mackenzie* on the journey that was to take Mackenzie to the Arctic Ocean. They separated at Great Slave Lake, and Leroux took a more northwesterly route to trade furs at La Martre Lake before retracing his steps to meet Mackenzie, as agreed, on the return route. When they met at the end of August 1789, it was decided that Leroux should winter in the vicinity of Great Slave Lake. He then set up Fort Providence (Old Fort Providence) on Yellowknife Bay. At the beginning of June 1791 he was on his way to Grand Portage (near Grand Portage, Minn.), where in the summer he was rehired by the NWC to work in the Athabasca Department for five more years at £100 a year.
However, Leroux left Athabasca for good sooner than anticipated. After his father’s death in July 1792 he decided to return to L’Assomption to take over his business concerns. He likely arrived at L’Assomption in 1794 or 1795, and in mid June 1796 he signed his marriage contract there. All the same, Leroux did not sever his contacts with the fur-trading world. For a number of years, along with Jacques Trullier*, dit Lacombe, a merchant in L’Assomption, he held the monopoly for the manufacture of the ceintures fléchées used by the NWC for trading purposes. In addition, on several occasions between 1801 and 1804 he recruited men for the New North West Company (sometimes called the XY Company) and for one of its co-partners, Sir Alexander Mackenzie and Company. He was also instrumental in getting his two nephews, François-Antoine* and Joseph* Larocque, into the service of the New North West Company.
Leroux did not confine himself to the trade in grain and foodstuffs he had inherited from his father. In 1798 he turned to the manufacture of potash, a product still little used but destined within a few years to become one of Lower Canada’s principal exports. The undertaking must have proved lucrative, for in September 1806 he went into partnership with Pierre-Amable Archambault, another important merchant, and set up the Fabrique de Potasse de L’Assomption. Three years later Leroux further diversified his commercial activity by selling hardware produced by the Batiscan Iron Work Company: cauldrons, pots, kitchen kettles called bombs, and especially cast-iron stoves, then much in vogue. After the company closed down around 1812–13 he obtained his supplies from other producers.
Furthermore, by the late 1790s, Leroux adopted the practice of channelling some of his profits into real estate. He may have foreseen the considerable development that L’Assomption was to undergo at the beginning of the 19th century, when between 1800 and 1820 the number of householders tripled. Whatever the case, Leroux accumulated an impressive number of properties, mostly in the village, for rental purposes. This type of investment enabled him to assure the security of his capital and obtain a relatively good rate of return. It was probably for a similar motive that in 1817 he became one of the few French Canadian shareholders in the new Bank of Montreal.
Within the community Leroux restricted himself to a rather inconspicuous role, and held positions bringing relatively little prestige. He received a commission as justice of the peace in 1803 and again in 1810. He was a captain in the L’Assomption battalion of militia, assumed the post of aide-major during the War of 1812, and was promoted major in 1818. In April 1825 he was appointed treasurer of a council formed to establish and run a public primary school in L’Assomption. On 30 August of the following year he became a commissioner for the summary trial of small causes for Saint-Sulpice seigneury, conjointly with Joseph-Édouard Faribault. During the month of September 1828 he sat as a grand juror on the Court of King’s Bench for the district of Montreal. Leroux also tried his hand at politics. On 25 Aug. 1827 he became one of the two members for Leinster in the House of Assembly, where his son-in-law, Jean-Moïse Raymond*, had already represented Huntingdon for three years. At the opening of the session on 20 November, Leroux supported the candidature of Louis-Joseph Papineau* as speaker of the assembly. The choice of Papineau angered the governor, Lord Dalhousie [Ramsay*], who prorogued the house two days later. The assembly resumed sitting in November 1828, but Leroux took no further part in it, and when his term ran out on 2 Sept. 1830 he did not stand again. In any case, indifferent to honours, Leroux preferred to devote his leisure moments to reading historical works and travel accounts rather than to seeking the admiration of his contemporaries.
Leroux kept his hardware business until his death at the age of 95. He had been the first white man to explore Great Slave Lake. Later he succeeded in making good use of his father’s estate because he had the acumen to identify sectors of the economy that were destined to develop and the willingness to take calculated risks. At the end of his life he was able in turn to leave his heirs a considerable fortune, and a rather uncommon bequest for a merchant at that time – a well-stocked library.
ANQ-M, CE5-14, 18 nov. 1759; CN1-313, 18 juin 1796; CN1-372, 13 juill. 1776; CN5-3, 3 juill. 1855. ASQ, Fonds Viger–Verreau, sér.O, 0521. Can., Parks Canada, Quebec Region (Quebec), Compagnie des forges de Batiscan, reg. de lettres, août 1807–juillet 1812. Docs. relating to NWC (Wallace). “État général des billets d’ordonnances . . . , ” Pierre Panet, compil., ANQ Rapport, 1924–25: 229–359. Journals of Samuel Hearne and Philip Turnor, ed. J. B. Tyrrell (Toronto, 1934; repr., New York, 1968). L.C., House of Assembly, Journals, November 1827; 1828–29, app.R, EE; 1830, app.N. Alexander Mackenzie, The journals and letters of Sir Alexander Mackenzie, ed. W. K. Lamb (Toronto, 1970). Desjardins, Guide parl. Historic forts and trading posts of the French regime and of the English fur trading companies, comp. Ernest Voorhis (roneotyped copy, Ottawa, 1930). A.-G. Morice, Dictionnaire historique des Canadiens et des Métis français de l’Ouest (Québec et Montréal, 1908). Officers of British forces in Canada (Irving), 181. Wallace, Macmillan dict. Denison, La première banque au Canada, 1: 103–4. Anastase Forget, Histoire du collège de L’Assomption; 1833 – un siècle – 1933 (Montréal, ), 48–49. Marcel Fournier, La représentation parlementaire de la région de Joliette (Joliette, Qué., 1977), 20, 171. Pierre Poulin, Légendes du Portage, Réjean Olivier, édit. (L’Assomption, Qué., 1975). Christian Roy, Histoire de L’Assomption (L’Assomption, 1967). Sulte, Mélanges hist. (Malchelosse), 3. Ægidius Fauteux, “Les carnets d’un curieux: Germain Leroux ou l’art d’allonger son nom,” La Patrie, 30 déc. 1933: 36–37, 41. J.-J. Lefebvre, “Jean-Moïse Raymond (1787–1843), premier député de Laprairie (1824–1838), natif du comté,” BRH, 60 (1954): 109–20.