OUIMET, JOSEPH-ALDRIC (baptized Aldric), lawyer, militia officer, businessman, politician, and judge; b. 21 May 1847 in Sainte-Rose (Laval), Lower Canada, son of Michel Ouimet and Elisabeth Filiatrault, dit Saint-Louis; m. 30 July 1874 Thérèse La Rocque (d. 1897) in Montreal, and they had three sons and three daughters; d. there 12 May 1916.
Joseph-Aldric Ouimet attended the Petit Séminaire de Sainte-Thérèse in Lower Canada. He then studied law, graduating with an llb from Victoria College, Cobourg, Ont., in 1869, and he worked as a journalist in Montreal at Le Nouveau Monde and at La Minerve until he was called to the Quebec bar in 1870. Respected throughout his legal career, in 1880 he was appointed a qc and a crown prosecutor in Montreal. A Conservative, he held the post of crown prosecutor until he was dismissed by the provincial Liberal government of Honoré Mercier* in 1887.
On 27 Oct. 1873 Ouimet had been elected to the House of Commons in a by-election held in Laval; he would retain the seat until his appointment to the bench in 1896. In the house he called for a complete amnesty for Métis leader Louis Riel* following the Red River resistance of 1869–70. Concerned that provincial jurisdiction might not be respected, he opposed the bill introduced by the Liberal government of Alexander Mackenzie* establishing the Supreme Court of Canada in 1875 [see Télesphore Fournier*]. He wanted the appellate jurisdiction of the court limited to laws enacted by parliament, and questions of civil procedure, property, and civil rights left to provincial adjudication. He attacked the Liberal policy of free trade, favouring the National Policy of protection for industry proposed by Conservative leader Sir John A. Macdonald*.
Ouimet came to prominence in 1879 because of his aggressive attack on the governor general, Lord Lorne [Campbell], who, he said, had acted unconstitutionally by refusing to accept the advice of Prime Minister Macdonald to dismiss Luc Letellier* de Saint-Just, the lieutenant governor of Quebec. Instead, Lorne referred the matter to the Colonial Office. Acting on its instructions, Lorne removed Letellier, but Ouimet’s outburst against the queen’s representative earned him Macdonald’s censure and did not further his political career. Ouimet’s willingness in 1884 to jeopardize the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway by refusing to vote further financial aid unless Quebec was compensated for having constructed its part of the Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Occidental Railway likewise ensured his continued stay on the back benches. Ouimet, along with Alphonse Desjardins and Thomas McGreevy*, and backed by Louis-Adélard Senécal*, was a leader of a syndicate which had acquired the eastern section of the railway in 1882.
Blocked in politics, Ouimet turned to the militia. He had always been a strong advocate of it, not as a defensive force, but as an institution promoting a national feeling amongst the population. He had joined the militia as a young man and he left infantry school in 1864 with a first-class diploma. The following year he obtained one from artillery school. In 1870 he became a first lieutenant in the 4th Battalion of Rifles (Chasseurs Canadiens) and two years later he was promoted captain of the 65th Battalion of Rifles (Mount Royal Rifles). In 1870 he had fought in the second Fenian campaign [see John O’Neill*]. The Conservatives were more amenable to his military aspirations than his political ones and in January 1880 he received the coveted appointment of lieutenant-colonel of his unit. Five years later he commanded the 65th Battalion when it was sent to the Edmonton area to maintain order following the North-West rebellion [see Riel]. Ouimet returned to Montreal a hero, but in the eyes of many French Canadians he soon tarnished that image by blaming Riel for the rebellion and claiming that he merited the rope. Because he stood by the Conservative government during the Riel crisis, he was rewarded on 13 April 1887 with the speakership of the House of Commons, a position he held until 1891. Macdonald recognized his loyalty by having him appointed a member of the Privy Council on 20 May 1891.
With the blessing of his mentor, Joseph-Adolphe Chapleau*, Ouimet accepted the ministry of public works in the government of John Joseph Caldwell Abbott* in January 1892 and within a year he was the leader of French Canadian Conservatives in Ottawa. His greatest challenge was the Manitoba school question [see Thomas Greenway*]. Ouimet, who had served as a member of the Roman Catholic Board of School Commissioners of the City of Montreal from 1874 to 1879, favoured religious schools for the Catholic minority in Manitoba. Faced with the reluctance of Prime Minister Mackenzie Bowell to introduce remedial legislation which would restore lost schooling privileges, Ouimet and two colleagues from Quebec, Sir Adolphe-Philippe Caron* and Auguste-Réal Angers, resigned from the cabinet on 8 July 1895. Ouimet and Adolphe Caron withdrew their resignations once Bowell promised action. When parliament ended in April 1896 before the controversial legislation could be passed and Bowell resigned as prime minister in favour of Sir Charles Tupper, Ouimet took the opportunity to leave politics and take up an appointment as puisne judge of the Court of Queen’s Bench in Quebec. He took office on 19 May.
In 1900 Conservatives made attempts to entice Ouimet back into politics, but he refused. After resigning his judgeship in 1906, however, he ran unsuccessfully in Yamaska during the general election of 1908. Thereafter, he concentrated on his business interests. A man of means, Ouimet had become involved in financial and business concerns early in life. After 1886 he was vice-president of the Crédit Foncier Franco-Canadien. He was also president of the National Real Estate and Investment Company of Canada and of the Société d’Agriculture de Laval, as well as a director of the Manufacturers’ Life Insurance Company and the Société d’Administration Générale. Since 1880 he had been on the board of directors of the Montreal City and District Savings Bank. In 1906 he became its vice-president. Elected president the following year, he successfully guided the bank through a crisis in 1913 during which public confidence was lost and depositors clamoured for their money. Following the restoration of normality, the bank flourished under Ouimet. He resigned as president in early 1916 because of ill health, but remained as a director until his death.
Well rounded as an individual, Ouimet participated in the Citizens’ Association of Montreal, the Club Cartier, and the Ligue Antialcoolique de Montréal. A great sportsman, he enjoyed hunting and yachting, and as president of the Dominion Rifle Association in 1888, he attempted to raise the standard of rifle shooting in the militia. Conservative in his outlook and his politics, he was a proud French Canadian who moved in Montreal’s fashionable social circles.
ANQ-M, CE1-1, 30 juill. 1874; CE1-57, 23 mai 1847. NA, MG 26, A; D; G. Le Devoir, 12 mai 1916. Gazette (Montreal), 17 Nov. 1885, 12 May 1916. La Minerve, 31 juill. 1874, 20 janv. 1880. La Presse, 13 nov. 1885, 6 nov. 1891, 22 oct. 1892. W. H. Atherton, Montreal, 1534–1914 (3v., Montreal, 1914). J. D. Borthwick, History and biographical gazetteer of Montreal to the year 1892 (Montreal, 1892). Can., House of Commons, Debates, 1873–96. Canadian directory of parl. (Johnson). Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898 and 1912). P.-B. Casgrain, Étude historique; Letellier de Saint-Just et son temps (Québec, 1885). Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose and Charlesworth), vol.2. N.[-H.-É.] Faucher de Saint-Maurice, “Joseph Aldric Ouimet,” trans. Mrs Carroll Ryan [M. I. McIver], Men of the day: a Canadian portrait gallery, ed. L.-H. Taché (32 ser. in 16v., Montreal, 1890–), 13th ser.: 193–201. K. J. Munro, The political career of Sir Adolphe Chapleau, premier of Quebec, 1879–1882 (Queenston, Ont., ). Prominent men of Canada (Adam). Rumilly, Hist. de la prov. de Québec, vols.1–9. T. T. Smyth, “The first hundred years”: history of the Montreal City and District Savings Bank, 1846–1946 (Montreal, ).