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FILIATREAULT, ARISTIDE, typographer, newspaper and magazine owner and publisher, and author; b. 21 Sept. 1851 in Sainte-Thérèse-de-Blainville (Sainte-Thérèse), Lower Canada, son of Paul Filiatreault and Mathilde Charest; m. 24 Nov. 1877 Octavie Desmarais in Montreal, and they had three daughters and two sons; d. there 4 Dec. 1913.
Aristide Filiatreault spent his childhood in Sainte-Thérèse-de-Blainville, where his father, a notary by profession and a chief cantor at the church, had his office in the centre of the village. Since schooldays Paul Filiatreault had been a friend of Charles-Joseph Ducharme*, the founder of the Petit Séminaire de Sainte-Thérèse and a former curé of the parish. In 1850 he had agreed to act as Ducharme’s counsel in a lawsuit against Bishop Ignace Bourget* to recover £150 that the bishop owed him. Ducharme won the case, but Filiatreault incurred the wrath of Bourget, who issued a minor excommunication against him, proclaimed publicly in his parish church. Ostracism by the clergy undermined his honour and his health, and he died in 1855 at the age of 40. Bourget lifted the excommunication but the Filiatreault family continued to suffer its effects. According to Aristide, the Petit Séminaire admitted him as a student only “under the pressure of public opinion.” Around 1866 superior Louis Dagenais, who had earlier quarrelled with Ducharme, expelled the “viper’s son” after three years on the grounds that the authorities “could not keep him any longer because his father had done them too much harm.”
Thus, at the age of 15 Filiatreault had to leave his village to fend for himself. Of the adventurous life he set out on, only the highlights are known. He went to Montreal and, working as an apprentice typographer at the newspaper Le Pays, he associated with contributors such as Arthur Buies* and Auguste Achintre*. This milieu was his school and the views of Le Pays subtly shaped his political ideas. His tracks thereafter are difficult to follow. He spent some time in St John’s in 1869, was working at La Minerve as a shipper three years later, and at some point went to the United States where he worked in the Montana goldmines without making any money.
In 1876 he was in Montreal, setting type at the Gazette and living in a boarding-house. He married the following year and on the certificate described himself as an artist, although the Montreal directory listed him as a printer. In May 1881, in partnership with Rémi Tremblay, he bought Le Canard, a humorous weekly founded by Hector Berthelot*. Tremblay was its editor but would leave the position and the partnership on 28 Oct. 1882. Filiatreault’s interest in singing and music led him to devote much more space in the newspaper to musical news and to comic little songs composed by Tremblay. He deplored the blandness of Montreal’s artistic life and its lack of musical culture. He continued to publish Le Canard until September 1885 (with Joseph-Alphonse Rodier* from 22 March 1884 until early August 1884, and then with Charles Labelle*), but in January 1882 he launched a periodical that would contribute to the flowering of “a national music.” Entitled L’Album musical, it was a quarto publication of some 20 pages, 16 of which carried compositions. As a publisher, Filiatreault had gathered around him well-known musicians and critics, Labelle and Gustave Smith amongst them. It was a risky undertaking none the less. Even though L’Album musical showed great interest in the history of music, the musical life of Canada, and Canadian composers, it did not manage to build a profitable base either on advertising or on regular subscriptions. The fire that swept through the printing-shop in 1882 put its future in doubt, and the inclusion in 1883 of a serial novel did little to improve its circulation. The last number appeared in May 1884. The following year Le Canard was sold to Honoré Beaugrand* and Filiatreault reportedly resumed his trade, working in Toronto. According to a journalist who had known him well, he was employed as a night foreman (a job always to be his livelihood) at the Mail when Goldwin Smith* was conducting a bitter campaign there against the Jesuits after passage by Honoré Mercier*’s government of the Jesuits’ Estates Act in 1888.
Perhaps it would not be too much of a distortion to suggest that this campaign awakened the sleeping Savonarola within Filiatreault. Whatever the case, he returned to Montreal, probably in 1889, bent on acting as a ferment in a society that, allegedly for survival, was wrapping itself like a mummy in the shroud of an intransigent Catholicism. In literature and the press, liberal ideas had given way to moralizing conformity. In December 1889 he issued the prospectus of Le Canada artistique, a monthly in the tradition of L’Album musical. The first number appeared in January 1890; unlike its predecessor, it contained 8 pages of printed music and 16 of text. The interest shown by the paper in the whole range of cultural activities, as well as teaching and the education of women, suggested that Filiatreault had broader aims in mind. In August 1890 an editorial entitled “Au public” indicated that Le Canada artistique would be concerned henceforth with all current matters, cultural, social, or political. It began transforming itself into a political and literary magazine, a process that culminated in January 1891 with a change of name to Canada-Revue.
The paper had a print run of 2,000, and it served as a forum for more and more intellectuals of all stripes. Subscribers had access to a circulating library of 1,600 volumes, and thus to the great works of French literature. Canada-Revue was a militant publication, infused with liberal ideas but not committed to any political party. It embraced the Rouge views and planned to revisit the socio-political arrangements that the church and the Liberal-Conservative party had worked out. In July 1892 the paper, which by then was a weekly, spelled out its program: defence of French Canadian nationality, with respect for the truth and for anglophones; administrative and pedagogical reform of the educational system; support for municipal reform movements; improvement in women’s education; abolition of tax exemptions for religious communities; and the right to declare one’s political opinions. This challenge to the existing order through anticlericalism and guerrilla tactics put the church on the defensive at first. However, on 3 Sept. 1892 the magazine made a frontal attack. It gave page-one coverage to a sex scandal involving Sulpician Julien-Marie Guihot (Guyhot) and then undertook to demolish religious authority, denouncing the moral standards and scheming of the clerical clique. The counter-attack provoked by these articles was especially strong since what was at stake, according to Archbishop Édouard-Charles Fabre* of Montreal, was “the toppling of the edifice erected by our forefathers.” On 29 September Fabre demanded that the publication of defamatory articles be stopped. On 5 October the episcopate issued a letter on the duties of the press; Canada-Revue replied by announcing its forthcoming publication in serial form of Les trois mousquetaires by Alexandre Dumas, which was on the Index. On 11 November Fabre pronounced a formal interdict on Canada-Revue and its ally L’Écho des Deux-Montagnes of Sainte-Scholastique (Mirabel) [see Godfroy Langlois*]. The archbishop forbade anyone, on pain of being denied the sacraments, to print, sell, keep, or read these publications. The die was cast. An attempt to reach an amicable settlement came to a dead end. Eager to muzzle the paper, Fabre refused to specify his grievances lest an agreement be made possible. In December Filiatreault sued Fabre for $50,000, claiming that in his haste the archbishop had committed an arbitrary and abusive act. The circulation of Canada-Revue collapsed, but the paper continued to denounce clerical despotism and the machinations of the priests and religious orders. Filiatreault fanned the embers in 1893 by publishing Ruines cléricales, a vitriolic pamphlet that called on the “believing laity” to stamp out “spiritual terrorism,” “undue influence,” the idealizing of priests, and “censorship and excommunications.” From the pulpit of Notre-Dame, Louis-Frédéric Colin*, the superior of the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice, declared the pamphlet heretical and forbade anyone to read it. Faced with increasing financial difficulties, Filiatreault had to lay off his staff. He began publishing at longer intervals in April 1894 and in August ceased altogether.
On the brink of financial ruin, Filiatreault decided on a new tack to escape Fabre’s interdict. He changed the name of his newspaper, which on 8 Sept. 1894 became Le Réveil, the twin brother of Canada-Revue. On 30 October judge Charles Joseph Doherty* dismissed Filiatreault’s suit against the archbishop, holding that Gallican law, which allowed civil authorities to intervene in disputes between ecclesiastical authorities and their flock, was no longer applicable in Canada. Fabre had therefore acted within his rights, and the case, which involved no defamatory libel but rather an opinion expressed on a piece of work, came under the jurisdiction of Rome rather than that of a civil tribunal. Filiatreault appealed to the Court of Revision, which upheld Doherty’s ruling on 25 Nov. 1895. In his paper Filiatreault called even more loudly for the establishment of a system of nondenominational public schools like those in Manitoba, for an end to clerical interference in politics, and for the abolition of the tithe and the tax-free status of religious communities. He supported Wilfrid Laurier in the federal election of 1896 and later backed the attempts of Quebec premier Félix-Gabriel Marchand* to institute a ministry of public instruction. However, Le Réveil was struggling to survive, still faced with the hostility of the clerico-nationalist élite and even ostracized by Laurier in his distrust of the “old Rouges.” It had a circulation of barely more than 1,000. In September 1897, as a result of a meeting between the press corps and Paul Bruchési*, the new archbishop of Montreal who “wanted to re-establish among [French] Canadians the harmony and understanding that ought to exist among people of the same country,” Le Réveil changed its orientation. It muted its attacks on the despotism and privileges of the church, but it experienced no improvement either in its circulation or in its finances. In September 1901 Filiatreault, grown weary of the struggle, stopped publishing it.
He was physically exhausted by his long battle against clericalism. The firms for which he had done publishing and translating no longer required his services and he had to “be satisfied just to make ends meet” by working as a freelance journalist. He was still interested in music, sang in various choirs, and occasionally put in the press biographical notes about musicians he had known. In 1910 he brought out Contes, anecdotes et récits canadiens, dans le langage du terroir (Montréal), an anthology that for him was a way of coming to grips with popular humour. In 1912 he published Mes étrennes: la hache versus la bêche, a pamphlet settling his accounts with the clergy, and in 1913 a Glossaire (anglais-français) des termes et locutions électrotechniques les plus usités, which he had compiled to rid spoken and written French of anglicisms in the vocabulary of electrical engineering. In failing health, Filiatreault never recovered from the death of one of his sons in 1913. He died of apoplexy on 4 December, shortly after he had apparently had a meeting with Archbishop Bruchési and then another with Guillaume Forbes*, a friend who had become bishop of Joliette.
In 1897 Aristide Filiatreault himself had drawn up the balance sheet of his life’s work: “In these three forms [Le Canada artistique, Canada-Revue, Le Réveil], our publication has been the constant apostle of liberal thought; it has continually been ahead of its time and its contemporaries, thereby preparing the way for all the reforms that have followed in its wake – a long list.” This appraisal may call for a revision of the historiographical trend which has portrayed the Rouge movement following the Guibord affair [see Joseph Guibord*] as reduced to nothing more than a social rheumatism that inconvenienced the church. Changes in the socio-economic structure of Montreal in Filiatreault’s time rekindled the flame of Rouge thought, which became as intense as it had been in the days of the Institut Canadien, and since it was less institutionalized and more diffuse, it may well have been more effective. Archbishop Fabre’s victory seems to have been a Pyrrhic one. In the late 19th century the decline of clerical interference in politics, the rise of public libraries and of a system of technical schools beyond the church’s control, and many other events no doubt could figure as assets on Filiatreault’s balance sheet. His generation of Rouges had ushered in the era of compromise.
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