VANFELSON, GEORGE, lawyer, militia officer, politician, and judge; b. 23 April 1784 at Quebec, son of Antoine (Anthony) Vanfelson and Josephte Meunier; m. 4 Aug. 1806 Dorothée-Magleine Just, daughter of surgeon John Conrad Just, and they had at least two sons; d. 16 Feb. 1856 in Montreal.
George Vanfelson, whose father was of German extraction and had settled at Quebec after the conquest, began to study law in 1798 in the office of Jean-Antoine Panet*, and on 25 April 1805 he was called to the bar. Thus began a fruitful career which was to lead him to the offices of advocate general of the province and judge of the Superior Court.
During the War of 1812 Vanfelson held the rank of captain in Quebec’s 1st Militia Battalion from 6 Aug. 1812 to 20 March 1813. He was then transferred to the 6th Select Embodied Militia Battalion and was garrisoned at Quebec until the corps was disbanded on 4 Sept. 1814. The following year he entered politics. On 14 Feb. 1815 he was elected by acclamation to the House of Assembly as member for Quebec’s Upper Town, to replace Jean-Antoine Panet, who had been called to the Legislative Council. In the general elections of March 1816 he was re-elected in the same riding, where he received a good portion of the English-speaking vote.
Vanfelson obtained two appointments as commissioner in 1817, the first, on 29 March, “for purchasing seed grain to assist parishes hard hit by the poor harvest,” and the second, on 26 April, for opening roads in Quebec County. On 28 Jan. 1819, however, a more important public office was conferred on him when he succeeded George Pyke as the province’s advocate general. As a result, he withdrew from the political scene in 1820, and did not return to it until 1827.
In the 1827 elections Vanfelson ran for Quebec’s Upper Town as a Patriote candidate, alongside of Amable Berthelot*, but the two were beaten by Joseph-Rémi Vallières* de Saint-Réal and Andrew Stuart*. Vanfelson stood again in 1829 in a by-election held for the seat left vacant by Vallières de Saint-Réal, but the latter’s protégé, Jean-François-Joseph Duval, won. These successive defeats led Vanfelson to accept the advocate generalship for a second time on 11 Dec. 1830.
None the less, he did not abandon the idea of returning to politics. Accordingly, he ran in the 1832 by-election for Lower Town and was successful. At this time he was a supporter of Louis-Joseph Papineau*. Re-elected in 1834, he was one of the first to defend in the house the 92 Resolutions conveying the assembly’s major grievances and demands. However, under the conciliatory rule of Governor Lord Gosford [Acheson*], the Patriotes became increasingly divided. The moderates, or Quebec party, led by Elzéar Bédard* and John Neilson*, attracted some of Papineau’s former supporters, including Vanfelson, Berthelot, René-Édouard Caron*, and Augustin-Norbert Morin*.
When Bédard was appointed to the Court of King’s Bench in February 1836, Vanfelson replaced him as head of the moderates. On 4 June 1837 a meeting to protest Lord John Russell’s resolutions was held at the Marché Saint-Paul at Quebec. During this meeting the principal speakers, Morin, Charles Drolet*, Louis-Théodore Besserer*, and Jean Blanchet, who were all members of the house, spoke very forcefully, although they did not openly advocate armed revolt. The next day Vanfelson, disapproving of the tenor of these remarks by his confrères and disturbed by the prospect of violence, gave up his seat and quit political life.
Vanfelson pursued his career as a lawyer, and on 27 March 1843 was made a qc. On the 28th he accepted the post of inspector of police for Montreal. Then, on 24 Dec. 1849, he went on the bench. Appointed to the Superior Court of Lower Canada, to sit at Montreal, he served until his death in that city on 16 Feb. 1856. A prominent figure at Quebec and Montreal, George Vanfelson was remembered as a judge with integrity who had displayed great qualities in performing the duties of his office.
ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 6 nov. 1775, 23 avril 1784, 4 août 1806. L’Avenir, 22 févr. 1856. Le Canadien, 25 févr. 1856. Quebec Gazette, 2 May 1805, 10 April 1817. F.-J. Audet, “Les législateurs du Bas-Canada.” P.-G. Roy, Fils de Québec, 3: 21–22; Les juges de la prov. de Québec. Chapais, Cours d’hist. du Canada, 4: 75, 85–87. Ouellet, Bas-Canada. Mason Wade, Les canadiens-français, de 1760 à nos jours, Adrien Venne et Francis Dufau-Labeyrie, trad. (2v., Ottawa, 1963). Philéas Gagnon, “Frédéric Rolette,” BRH, 1 (1895): 25. Antoine Roy, “Les Patriotes de la région de Québec pendant la rébellion de 1837–1838,” Cahiers des Dix, 24 (1959): 241–54.