LAVIGNE, AZARIE, cabinet-maker and furniture dealer; b. in March 1841, son of Hippolyte Lavigne and Lucie Brodeur; d. unmarried on 10 Feb. 1890 in Montreal, Que.
Where Azarie Lavigne was born is not clear, but he served his apprenticeship in Montreal under John Hilton* and his son William. Hilton was the acknowledged leader of the Montreal cabinet trade until his death in 1866, and Lavigne used the connection with him as a recommendation. Lavigne opened his business in 1865, at age 24. From the beginning he was a cabinet-maker and a furniture dealer, selling both his own and other makers’ furniture. He also offered furniture-repairing services.
Lavigne soon acquired a reputation for his own furniture, particularly his custom-made pieces; at the Provincial Agricultural and Industrial Exhibition, held in Montreal in 1873, he won first prize for a set of furniture in Louis XVI style, specially made for one of his clients. He also made the mayor’s chair for the Montreal City Hall opened in 1878.
By the mid 1880s Lavigne was involved in the production of art furniture and had named his firm the Dominion Art Furniture Factory. Theoretically, the claim to art furniture production implied a manifest distinction between a common furniture factory and one that retained the services of an art director or an artist-designer. In practice the term was used loosely. Some cabinet-makers with an eye to business seized on the fashionable phrase to boost sales but simply continued with ordinary mass production. There was in any event no clear definition of art furniture; it presumably met standards of taste adhered to by followers of the Aesthetic movement, which had begun in England and which made a cult of the science of beauty. From the 1870s the movement had its followers in Montreal. At the Dominion Art Furniture Factory, Lavigne turned out a wide variety of fashionable goods, some of which were probably ebonized and showed traces of the Japanese-inspired asymmetrical lines dictated by the aestheticism of the period. There is nothing to suggest he made any original or significant contribution to the trend, but he did demonstrate initiative in keeping abreast of the times.
Lavigne’s business was small compared to that of Montreal competitors such as Owen McGarvey*, who did ten times as great a volume of trade. None the less, between 1881 and 1887 Lavigne managed to raise his credit rating from fair to good. His success was attained in the face of difficulties. On 15 Sept. 1881 his factory was destroyed by fire and three of his carvers were seriously injured. Only a fraction of the loss, estimated at about $20,000, was covered by insurance.
Upon Lavigne’s death in 1890, his business was taken over by Rasmus Tombyll, who had previously operated a furniture factory on Rue Notre-Dame.
AC, Montréal, État civil, Catholiques, Notre-Dame de Montréal, 13 févr. 1890. Gazette (Montreal), 17 Sept. 1873, 16 Sept. 1881. Montreal Daily Witness, 4 Dec. 1867, 18 Dec. 1890. Montreal Herald, 17, 19 Sept. 1873. La Patrie, 11 févr. 1890. La Presse, 12 févr. 1890. Toronto Daily Mail, 16 Sept. 1881. The mercantile agency reference book . . . (Toronto and Montreal), 1881; 1887. Mitchell & Co’s Canada classified directory, 1865; 1866. Montreal directory, 1865–90. Léon Trépanier, “Nos hôtels de ville,” Cahiers des Dix, 25 (1960): 231.