MARTEL, PIERRE (baptized Pierre-Élisée), carpenter, musician, music teacher, and stringed-instrument maker; b. 22 Nov. 1801 in L’Assomption, Lower Canada, son of Lévi Martel, a farmer, and Marie-Anne Léonard, dit Mondor; m. there 1 Oct. 1822 Marie-Darie Beaupré, and they had at least five children; d. 27 Dec. 1891 in his native village and was buried there on 31 December.
Pierre Martel spent his entire life in L’Assomption, where he earned his living as a carpenter. Although he did not know how to write, he was extremely gifted musically and taught violin at the Collège de L’Assomption from 1837 to 1842. He formed and conducted the school’s first band in 1837, and for several years he and his own children played at all the big celebrations organized by the college.
With his musical talent and manual skill, Martel started making instruments himself and soon gained some renown as a violin maker. In 1878 he exhibited two of the violins made in his workshop at the universal exposition in Paris. Their special tone earned him the praise of music critics of the day. He also sent 18 instruments he had made to Manitoba in 1884. When he died at the age of 90, after a three-day illness, the newspapers paid homage to “one of the most famous stringed-instrument makers in the country,” who had “made hundreds of violins and cellos . . . distributed across Canada, in the United States, and in Europe.”
Martel’s musical abilities were inherited by his descendants. His son Zébédée, who became a notary and registrar for L’Assomption County, also taught music at the Collège de L’Assomption in 1867–68; another son, Élisée, a painter and decorator by trade, was a violinist and violin maker; one of his grandchildren was the well-known Montreal violinist, Oscar Martel, who had a career as a teacher and soloist performing in Europe and North America. The love of music was passed on from generation to generation, making the Martels one of those Quebec families who left their mark on musical history in the region.
ANQ-M, CE5-14, 23 nov. 1801, 1er oct. 1822. NA, RG 31, C1, 1861, 1871, L’Assomption. L’Événement, 30 déc. 1891. La Presse, 29 déc. 1891. Encyclopedia of music in Canada (Kallmann et al.), 566, 598–99. Exposition universelle de 1878 à Paris: manuel et catalogue officiel de la section canadienne, T. C. Keefer, édit. (Londres, 1878), 117. Anastase Forget, Histoire du collège de L’Assomption; 1833 – un siècle – 1933 (Montréal, ), 381–82, 507. Gérard Morisset, Coup d’œil sur les arts en Nouvelle-France (Québec, 1941; réimpr., 1942), 123–24. Christian Roy, Histoire de L’Assomption (L’Assomption, Qué., 1967), 374. Léon Trépanier, “Oscar Martel, violoniste et professeur (1848–1924),” Qui? (Montréal), 4 (1952–53): 47; “Le violoniste Oscar Martel, de L’Assomption, révélé par de vieux papiers de famille,” La Patrie, 2 avril 1950: 30, 37, 43.