BÉTOURNAY, LOUIS, lawyer and judge; b. Saint-Lambert, Chambly County, L.C., 13 Nov. 1825; d. Saint-Boniface, Man., 30 Oct. 1879.
Louis Bétournay was the son of Pierre Bétournay (who died before his birth) and Archange Vincent, and fifth-generation descendant of Adrien Bétourné, dit La Violette, soldier of the Carignan-Salières regiment, and Marie Deshaies. Educated at the college of Montreal, Bétournay subsequently studied law with the future judge Joseph-Ubalde Beaudry. He was called to the bar in February 1849 and practised law in Saint-Lambert and later in Montreal in a legal firm with George-Étienne Cartier and François-Pierre Pominville. He served on the Montreal city council from 1870 to November 1872. Created a qc in 1872, he was appointed, on 31 October of that year, through the influence of his law partner, Cartier, puisne judge of the Court of Queen’s Bench in the newly formed province of Manitoba, the first French Canadian to be appointed to a superior court west of Lake Superior. Leaving Montreal on 10 December, in company with Captain, the Viscount Louis Frasse de Plainval, chief of the Manitoba constabulary, he reached Fort Garry (Winnipeg) ten days later.
Bétournay’s duties were not limited to those of a judge of the Court of Queen’s Bench, but included those of a county court judge and police magistrate as well. He was a member of the court which ordered Ambroise-Dydime Lépine*, Louis Riel*’s principal lieutenant, to stand trial in 1873 for the execution of Thomas Scott* during the Red River troubles. In accordance with the bilingual character of Manitoba at this time, Bétournay addressed the jury in French, and his colleague on the bench, James Charles McKeagney, spoke in English. As a result of his role in the Lépine trial, Bétournay gained the ill will of many of the French-speaking inhabitants of the province. In consequence, little mention was made of his activities in the local French-language newspaper, Le Métis.
Louis Bétournay was an urbane gentleman, who had a fine library. He was fond of horses, even though on several occasions he suffered injury while riding or driving. He possessed a strong sense of duty, and despite the fact that he suffered from dropsy in his later years, did not neglect his judicial responsibilities. He finally succumbed to his affliction at the age of 54.
On 3 March 1859 Bétournay had married Marie Mercil (Mercille) of Saint-Lambert. There were ten children by the marriage, the eldest of whom was 16 at the time of the father’s death. Madame Bétournay survived her husband by 43 years, dying in Saint-Boniface in 1922.
Archives de l’archevêché de Saint-Boniface (Man.), Correspondance de l’archevêché. Le Métis (Saint-Boniface), 21 déc., 28 déc. 1872; 3 nov., 11 nov. 1879. La Minerve (Montréal), 3 nov. 1879. Ottawa Daily Free Press, 4 Nov. 1879. Dom. ann. reg., 1879, 386. Stanley, Louis Riel, 193, 194, 210. J.-J. Lefebvre, “Louis Bétournay (1825–1879), premier juge canadien-français d’une Cour supérieure dans l’Ouest canadien,” BRH, LVIII (1952) 29–31. E. K. Williams, “Aspects of the legal history of Manitoba,” HSSM, Papers, 3rd ser., no.4 (), 59–60.