PERRAULT, JOSEPH-NARCISSE, teacher and school administrator; b. in all likelihood 8 Oct. 1865, son of Narcisse Perrault and Théotiste Perrault; d. unmarried 26 Nov. 1927 in Montreal.
Joseph-Narcisse Perrault studied at the École Normale Jacques-Cartier in Montreal, where he obtained a model school diploma in 1882 and an academic school diploma the following year. He taught for a year in Rivière-Beaudette and then returned to Montreal, finding employment as a teacher at the Maîtrise Saint-Pierre. In 1886 he joined the staff of the Catholic Commercial Academy of Montreal, which was under the jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic Board of School Commissioners of Montreal. This was a prestigious appointment, since the academy, with Urgel-Eugène Archambeault* as principal, was the finest jewel of all the board’s schools.
Perrault began his career during a period that was unhappy for Montreal teachers. In the 1870s the Catholic board had built a number of boys’ schools, most of which were run by lay teachers. Thus new career opportunities had been created for male teachers and working conditions had been guaranteed them that neither the women teachers in Montreal nor their colleagues in rural schools could hope to enjoy. In the 1880s, however, a declining economy and conservative forces eager to see lay staff replaced by teaching brothers halted the growth in the number of lay teachers, who were virtually threatened with elimination. Hence in 1889 Archambeault, who was also the local superintendent of the Roman Catholic Board of School Commissioners, confided to a teacher seeking employment in one of its schools: “We are being invaded by the religious orders. Three [of them] have come to Montreal in the past two years. . . . A large school will open this fall under the direction of the Brothers of St Gabriel. I tell you this, not to complain about it, . . . but to make you realize that the prospects for lay teachers are not bright.”
Perrault soon learned that a teacher’s every move was scrutinized in minute detail by principals and school administrators. He encountered his first difficulties in 1893, when Archambeault informed him that his services would not be required for the following school year. He was accused of belonging to the Knights of Labor, a workers’ association. Perrault was dumbfounded and explained that he was not a member of it, but that four years earlier he had, like the association, been a keen advocate of the night schools instituted by the government of Honoré Mercier*. Satisfied with this explanation, Archambeault reconsidered his decision and Perrault was able to pursue his career. In the 1890s Perrault was assigned to the École Montcalm, where A. D. Lacroix was the principal. The two men did not get along well. Lacroix accused him of not respecting his authority, and because he could not tolerate such an attitude, he asked the director of schools to send Perrault back to his previous position. In 1901 Perrault returned to teach at the Catholic Commercial Academy.
Since he was not married, Perrault could devote himself heart and soul to his work. For six years from the end of the 1890s he was president of the Association des Instituteurs du District de Montréal, and from 1900 he was its delegate to the commission administering the teachers’ pension fund. His superiors noted his dedication to his students and appreciated his excellence as a pedagogue. Even Lacroix acknowledged that he was a “studious man” whose classes were well prepared, and that “his teaching methods conform to the rules of modern pedagogy.” The principals of the schools where he had taught spoke of him also as a good Christian and citizen. These qualities earned him a promotion to the position of principal of the École Montcalm on 10 June 1904, when Lacroix left to become director general of what had become the Montreal Catholic School Commission. Four years later he again followed in Lacroix’s footsteps when the commission appointed him the third director general in its history. From 1908 to 1917 Perrault, who was assisted by nine commissioners (three appointed by the archdiocese of Montreal, three by the city of Montreal, and three by the provincial government), would hold the most important office in the Catholic commission at a crucial time in its history. During these years, the commissioners appointed by the city and the government introduced a number of progressive measures, both academic and extra-curricular. These included the creation of nursery schools and the establishment of school savings accounts and of the Œuvre des Grèves, which enabled the children of poor working-class families to attend summer camp. His term of office also spanned a period when Montreal was drawing thousands of non-British immigrants: Jews, Italians, Germans, Poles, Ruthenians, and Chinese. As Perrault pointed out in one of his annual reports, “The emigration of foreigners to a centre as highly populated as Montreal becomes a real problem from the standpoint of languages and the instruction to be given all these children of different nationalities.” He took care to recruit women teachers qualified to teach children in their mother tongue, and two schools were built for those from the Italian community.
In addition to the disquiet created by this new situation, Perrault had to contend with certain commissioners who had their sights set on him. At the outset, his appointment as director general brought about a confrontation between two members. From 1913, Pierre-Eugène Lafontaine*, who was an advocate of reform, made no secret of his wish to see Perrault replaced by a less conservative director general, but Perrault managed to win the confidence of the majority of commissioners.
From 1908 to 1915 the Catholic commission annexed half a dozen small school municipalities on the island of Montreal, bringing to 61 the number of schools under its jurisdiction. “These annexations,” wrote Perrault in his report for the year 1914–15, “have burdened the Montreal Catholic School Commission with a debt of $820,776. An examination of the books of these school municipalities has shown – in most cases – that their financial administration had been neglected for a long time.” At the end of December 1916 the government of Sir Lomer Gouin yielded to the demands of the Montreal reformers for centralization of the school system and passed a bill providing for the annexation of 23 more school municipalities to the Catholic commission. Montreal was divided into four districts. In each district, the schools – numbering more than 160 in all – were governed by a six-member commission responsible mainly for classroom instruction. The financial administration of the Catholic commission as a whole was the responsibility of a central board composed of seven members. The position of director general was eliminated and Perrault had to submit his resignation. He did, however, become one of the seven members of the central board, which was chaired by Monsignor Émile Roy. As the first teacher to join the Montreal Catholic School Commission, he represented a new class of experienced administrators. In 1919 Commissioner Lafontaine was elected chairman of the central board, becoming the first layman to hold this office. The animosity between him and Perrault was perhaps not unrelated to the former director general’s announcement that he would retire at the end of his four-year term of office.
After leaving the commission in 1921, Joseph-Narcisse Perrault went to Europe. He continued to represent the interests of Montreal teachers as their delegate to the administrative commission that managed their pension fund. He died in Montreal on 26 Nov. 1927.
BCM-G, RBMS, Notre-Dame de Montréal, 30 nov. 1927. Commission Scolaire de Montréal, Secrétariat Général, Secteur de la gestion des doc. administratifs et des arch., Dossier personnel de J.-N. Perrault, école Montcalm, renseignements sur les professeurs pour l’année scolaire 1889–90; lettres de J.-N. Perrault à MM. les membres de la Commission des écoles catholiques de Montréal, 9 mars 1908, 23 nov. 1915; Fonds U.-E. Archambeault, lettre de U.-E. Archambeault à G. Duhamel, 27 avril 1889; Livre des délibérations des commissaires, 23 nov. 1915; Rapports financiers de la CECM 1914–16. Le Devoir, 28 nov. 1927. La Presse, 28 nov. 1927. “Diplômes octroyés par l’école normale Jacques-Cartier,” Journal de l’Instruction publique (Montréal), 2 (1882): 194; 3 (1883): 227. Robert Gagnon, Histoire de la Commission des écoles catholiques de Montréal; le développement d’un réseau d’écoles publiques en milieu urbain ([Montréal], 1996), 39–76, 94, 100–18, 128–31; Histoire de l’école Le Plateau (1856–1996) ([Montréal], 1997), 13–24. Notice sur les écoles administrées par la Commission des écoles catholiques de Montréal (Montréal, 1915), 34.