DUBREUIL, VICTOR, tinsmith, roofer, trade union leader, and office holder; b. 14 Oct. 1859 in Montreal; d. 14 March 1916 in Ottawa.
Victor Dubreuil became involved in the labour movement in Montreal as a young man. A gifted speaker, he helped found the plumbers’ union, probably in 1889. At that time it apparently included tinsmiths and roofers, since no clear distinction between these trades was yet being made. Dubreuil attended meetings of the Central Trades and Labor Council of Montreal as a union delegate, and he became its secretary in 1892 and president two years later. An umbrella organization for Montreal trade unions, the council played a key role in getting workers’ demands brought before the city council and the provincial government. As president, Dubreuil represented it at the 1894 annual meeting of the Trades and Labor Congress of Canada, which passed resolutions that called for improved working conditions and were later sent to the federal and provincial governments.
Dubreuil is best known as a staunch supporter of the Knights of Labor, in which he became a leader towards the end of the 19th century, just as the order was losing ground in Montreal and in Canada as a whole. Its membership declining, the district assembly severed ties with the American order in 1896. In Montreal the Knights of Labor came under attack from international trade unions, which gained momentum at the turn of the century and sought to dominate the labour movement. To distance themselves from the Knights of Labor, these unions founded the Federated Trades and Labor Council of Montreal in 1897 as a rival to the Central Trades and Labor Council. From 1899 they also tried to bar the Knights of Labor from the Trades and Labor Congress of Canada. Dubreuil attended the congress in 1900 as a delegate of the Montreal district assembly. But by 1902 the Knights of Labor had been excluded once and for all.
In the late 19th century, Montreal trade union leaders had launched a movement to back labour candidates and found a labour party. The executive of the Central Trades and Labor Council showed little interest in the idea. During a consultation held in October 1900 on the eve of a federal election, Dubreuil expressed only reservations, citing a lack of funds. Two weeks later he was amongst those who spoke in support of Liberal candidate Joseph-Israël Tarte* in the Montreal working-class riding of Sainte-Marie.
At roughly the same tithe Dubreuil became the Montreal correspondent for the Labour Gazette, a monthly publication of the newly established federal Department of Labour [see Henry Albert Harper*]. For a number of years he was also a superintendent of incinerators for Montreal. In February 1901 he gave up that job and moved to Ottawa to become a full-time fair-wage officer alongside Daniel John O’Donoghue* in the Department of Labour. A short time later he also served as a mediator in a number of strikes. He carried on these activities until his death in 1916.
Dubreuil enjoyed great success as an amateur actor in Montreal, a rare accomplishment for a man from a working-class family. According to one journalist, Dubreuil, using his oratorical gifts, performed “in a matchless fashion . . . the most difficult and sought-after comic and tragic roles in the French repertory.” Victor Dubreuil was married and was the father of at least six children.
Labor World (Montreal), 18 March 1916. Montreal Daily Herald, 1 Sept. 1894. La Presse, 17 oct. 1900; 15, 16 mars 1916. Can., Parl., Sessional papers, 1904, no.30: 157; 1916, no.30: 199. Labour Gazette (Ottawa), 16 (1915–16): 961. Jacques Rouillard, Les syndicats nationaux au Quebec, de 1900 à 1930 (Quebec, 1979), 67–68, 148.