LESPÉRANCE (Rocheleau, dit Lespérance), PIERRE, silversmith; b. 19 Dec. 1819 at Quebec City, son of André Rocheleau, dit Lespérance, a cabinet-maker, and Charlotte Sasseville; m. first 20 Feb. 1865 Catherine Bélanger (d. June 1868); m. secondly 23 Feb. 1870 Elizabeth Hill; d. 23 April 1882 in Quebec City.
Through an agreement made by his father on 20 June 1836, Pierre Lespérance was engaged “in the capacity of an apprentice silversmith to M. Laurent Amiot [*] master silversmith, for the entire period that remains until he attains the age of twenty-one years.” Lespérance “binds himself to do all the tasks that may be demanded of him, whether by the said Sieur Amiot or by any other persons supervising hisbshop his workshop.” Amiot always insisted that a notary use the exact word intended, and the result sheds light on his personality and on the organization of work in his establishment. In this instance he crossed out the word “shop,” implying the store where customers came to buy products, and replaced it with “workshop,” meaning the place where craftsmen laboured; he also crossed out the word “trade” of silversmith, substituting the “art” of silversmithing. Amiot was not in sole charge of his atelier: in fact Lespérance would have to obey “other persons.” His own uncle, François Sasseville*, who rented Amiot’s workshop and store after his death in June 1839, comes immediately to mind. Since the apprenticeship contract did not expire until December 1840, it may be assumed that Lespérance continued his training under Sasseville.
The professional links between the two silversmiths are still obscure. In October 1850 the Provincial Industrial Exhibition in Montreal awarded a prize of £3 5s. to “Sasseville and Lespérance” for a chalice they had entered. Yet if Lespérance was Sasseville’s associate and shared the prize, one must ask why his name was not mentioned in the glowing appreciation of this object that appeared in Le Journal de Québec on 17 October. Sasseville left the old shop of Laurent Amiot, on Rue de la Montagne, around 1852 and established himself on Côté du Palais. This move may have coincided with a change in the relationship between Sasseville and Lespérance. John E. Langdon has, indeed, suggested that the two formed a partnership in 1854. In 1856 Lespérance also had a store on Rue du Palais; hence one is tempted to assume that they shared the same establishment. However, Lespérance seems to have enjoyed some degree of professional autonomy, for he asserted that he himself had made articles of church silver which he sold to the parish of Saint-Joseph at Pointe-Lévy (Lauzon). He quickly recognized these articles when a burglar who had stolen them attempted to resell them to him in 1856, and he immediately turned the culprit over to the authorities.
Lespérance’s name was again associated with Sasseville’s in 1858; that year Lespérance used the technique of electroplating to gild for the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Quebec City a monstrance which had “come from the workshop of M. Sasseville” six years earlier. These circumstances indicate the degree to which the career of Lespérance is inseparable from that of Sasseville until the latter died in 1864. Sasseville’s will attests to the close bond between the two men; by its terms Lespérance received 100 shares in the Banque du Peuple, as well as Sasseville’s workshop, store, and all his movables. The sole condition attached to this inheritance was that Lespérance should “fulfil all the obligations and complete all the works” to which Sasseville had committed himself and which were unfinished at the time of his death. Lespérance was also to have full authority over the financial operations of the enterprise. In March 1864 Lespérance announced in the papers “that the silversmith’s establishment previously belonging to the late M. François Sasseville, on Rue du Palais, will be carried on in the name of the undersigned . . . [who] will continue to execute, as in the past, all the church silver and will do everything he can to deserve the patronage with which the clergy has always honoured this ancient establishment.”
Lespérance was 44 years old when he embarked on this new chapter in his life, to last 18 years. The man remained as inconspicuous and unknown as he had been during Sasseville’s lifetime. The main events of his private life in this period were his marriage, the birth of a son in January 1867, the death of his first wife in June 1868, and his remarriage. Apart from numerous liturgical vessels furnished to the clergy, and a few drawings and water-colours painted under the direction of his teacher, artist John Murray, his career was marked by the production of two articles of silver of a commemorative character. According to Le Journal de Québec, the first, a rather unusual piece executed in 1864, was an “exact miniature copy, on a scale of half an inch to the foot, of the column raised on the heights of Sainte-Foye to the heroes of the two nations who fought in 1759, one for the conquest, and the other for the defence of Canada. All [the details] of this work are exquisitely finished and the artist’s skill is manifest in every part of this gem of a monument.” This “magnificent work” was offered to the French consul at Quebec, “Baron [Charles-Henri-Philippe] Gauldrée-Boilleau, in memory of his services and of his benevolence.” The second commemorative object was a trowel “presented to Her Royal Highness Princess Louise . . . at the laying of the foundations of the Kent Gate,” at Quebec City in 1879. Le Journal de Québec of 14 June praised the engraver Torcapel, who had done the decorative details, commenting only briefly on the silversmith: “For the work of preparing [it, we are] indebted to M. Lespérance, whose ability in this type [of endeavour] is known.” Commemorative silver was very popular at the end of the 19th century yet very little is known about objects of this type made by French-speaking Quebec craftsmen.
Ambroise-Adhémar Lafrance, who had worked as an apprentice under Sasseville, continued his training with Lespérance. After the latter’s death in 1882, Lafrance ran the enterprise on his own, with the tools and models that had come down from Amiot’s time. Lespérance and Lafrance, living anachronisms, were guardians of the traditional craft of church silver in an era of full-blown industrialization and commercialization. Thus, the silversmith Cyrille Gingras, who from 1888 worked in the important atelier of Cyrille Duquet, declared in an interview published in 1938 that “the other important shop in the city [of Quebec] during this period [1882–1905] was that of Father Lafrance, who operated under the name of l’Espérance . . . in a house belonging to the nuns of the Hôtel-Dieu on the corner of Rue Charlevoix and Côte du Palais.”
[Articles crafted by Pierre Lespérance can be found in major public and private collections, in particular at the Musée du Québec (Québec) and in the Henry Birks Collection of Silver at the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa). Several parish councils of the Quebec City region own pieces of his work. r.d. and s.n.]
ANQ-Q, État civil, Catholiques, Notre-Dame de Québec, 20 déc. 1819, 20 févr. 1865, 23 févr. 1870; Minutiers, A.-A. Parent, 20 juin 1836, 2 juill. 1839; A.-B. Sirois-Duplessis, 30 nov. 1863. IBC, Centre de documentation, Fonds Morisset, 2, A517/L382; G492.5/C997.5; L169.5/A495.1; R673/P622. Musée du Québec, A-53.85-d. Le Journal de Québec, 17, 22, 26 oct. 1850;14 juin 1853; 3 avril 1855; 6 sept. 1856; 27 mars 1858; 17 mars, 23 août 1864; 23 févr. 1865; 12 janv. 1867; 16 juin 1868; 23 févr. 1870; 14 juin 1879; 24 avril 1882. Quebec directory, 1854–62. J. E. Langdon, Canadian silversmiths, 1700–1900 (Toronto, 1966). Gérard Morisset, Le Cap-Santé, ses églises et son trésor (2e éd., C. Beauregard et al., édit., Montréal, 1980). G.-H. Dagneau, “La fabrication des vases sacrés se fera à Québec,” L’Action catholique (Québec), 14 avril 1938: 24. Gérard Morisset, “Nos orfèvres canadiens: Pierre Lespérance (1819–1882),” Technique (Montréal), 22 (1947): 201–9.