BAILLAIRGÉ, LOUIS DE GONZAGUE, lawyer, businessman, and philanthropist; b. 18 Feb. 1808 at Quebec, son of Pierre-Florent Baillairgé* and Marie-Louise Cureux, dit Saint-Germain, and grandson of Jean Baillairgé*; d. unmarried 20 March 1896 at Quebec.
A descendant of a family distinguished by several illustrious figures in the fields of wood-carving and architecture, Louis de Gonzague Baillairgé, who was only four years old when his father died, chose a career in law. After classical studies at the Petit Séminaire de Québec from 1822 to 1830, he was articled from October 1830 until June 1832 to Philippe Panet* and thereafter to René-Édouard Caron*. Licensed as an attorney on 5 Nov. 1834, he was called to the bar on 12 Oct. 1835. He opened his office at Quebec on Rue Haldimand, but soon moved permanently to a house he had bought on the north side of Rue Saint-Louis near Rue du Parloir, where he was to practise for nearly 60 years.
In 1844 Baillairgé went into partnership with his former teacher Caron, and their prosperous association lasted until 1853, when Caron was elevated to the bench. In 1850 the two partners were jointly appointed counsel for the city of Quebec. Baillairgé became the corporation’s only legal adviser on 22 Feb. 1861 and he remained so until 1885. In that year Charles-Alphonse-Pantaléon Pelletier*, a lawyer who for more than 20 years had worked under his direction and as his partner, was made his assistant. An influential and highly regarded legal expert, Baillairgé became a qc in August 1863 and bâtonnier of the Quebec bar in May 1873.
Baillairgé was, moreover, a skilled administrator, and he amassed one of the largest fortunes in the city during the second half of the century. At his death, his real property and investments were worth $190,000. His legal fees, income from real estate, and interest on loans and investments had all contributed to his wealth. By joining forces with Caron he had built up one of the largest practices in the bar. Besides being counsel for the city of Quebec, he was legal adviser and advocate to several institutions, including the Séminaire de Québec and the Hôpital du Sacré-Cœur de Jésus (which would become the Hôtel-Dieu du Sacré-Cœur de Jésus in 1894). He owned a number of rental houses, in both Lower and Upper Town, and he sometimes bought such properties from the sheriff at ridiculously low prices. He frequently lent money to individuals and institutions: the borrowers included descendants of Caron, the archiepiscopal corporation of Quebec, the Sisters of Charity of Quebec, and the Asile du Bon-Pasteur. He invested in two francophone financial enterprises at Quebec, the Banque Nationale and the Caisse d’Économie de Notre-Dame de Québec [see François Vézina*]. In 1862 and 1863 he was honorary vice-president of the latter, and he was also a major depositor.
Baillairgé was one of the founders of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste of the city of Quebec; from 31 Aug. 1842 to 1852 he served as its first coordinating commissioner and from 1855 to 1859 as its general president. In 1848 he had helped establish the Institut Canadien of Quebec, of which he became honorary president in 1873. In 1857 he also took part in launching a newspaper, Le Courrier du Canada [see Joseph-Charles Taché].
For several generations of Quebec citizens in the latter half of the 19th century, the name of Louis de Gonzague Baillairgé was closely associated with the Carillon flag. Baillairgé wondered what had become of the flag that Father Félix Berey Des Essarts had brought back from the battle of Carillon (near Ticonderoga, N.Y.) in 1758 [see Louis-Joseph de Montcalm*]. He found it in January 1848 in the attic of the last remaining Recollet at Quebec, Louis Martinet*, dit Bonami, who had rescued it when the Recollet church burned down on 6 Sept. 1796. Martinet gave it to Baillairgé, who proudly guarded it for the rest of his life. Every year from 1848, during the Saint-Jean-Baptiste day parade, he would make a dignified appearance at his door and hand over the Carillon flag to a group from the nationalist society, and later from the Zouave association. In fact, however, this flag is thought to have been a religious banner and its presence at the battle of Carillon remains conjectural.
Baillairgé was a prime mover in erecting the Monument aux Braves on the site of the battle of Sainte-Foy, near Quebec, where the troops of generals François de Lévis* and James Murray* fought in 1760. He was on the committee responsible for transferring the remains of the fallen heroes, and the committee supervising the construction of the monument to their memory [see Pierre-Martial Bardy*], to which he was also one of the main financial contributors. Under his watchful eye, the cornerstone was laid on 18 July 1855 and the unveiling finally took place on 19 Oct. 1863.
Well known for his wealth and generosity, from the 1870s Baillairgé was approached more and more often by charitable organizations and religious communities. He was a true philanthropist, assisting numerous individuals and groups. However, he was not always unbiased. In 1890, for example, the Augustinian Nuns of the Hôpital du Sacré-Cœur de Jésus, on the recommendation of Cardinal Elzéar-Alexandre Taschereau, retained lawyer Joseph-Édouard Bédard to act for them in a suit; this step antagonized Baillairgé. He had been their lawyer since 1873 and angrily reminded them that he had just given them $1,700. He mentioned the incident again to the cardinal in 1891, when he received an appeal for financial assistance to their hospital. On 1 Feb. 1893, after he had again been retained as counsel for the institution, a grateful Baillairgé even wrote off a debt of $17,000 owed by the nuns since 1879. The priests at the seminary also had to contend with his whims. When their chapel was being rebuilt after a fire in 1888, Baillairgé stubbornly insisted on paying for the high altar and nothing else, even though the clergy had already donated one to the seminary. The pleas of Abbé Louis-Honoré Paquet and Bishop Louis-Nazaire Bégin* were unavailing. After lengthy negotiations, the superior, Joseph-Clovis-Kemner Laflamme*, yielded to Baillairgé’s request and turned to him, but it was now too late, for the obstinate benefactor had only ten days to live.
Other applicants were more fortunate in their dealings with Baillairgé. In 1887 he responded to an appeal from the Sisters of Charity, giving them a huge statue of the Sacred Heart by sculptor Louis Jobin*, which was installed at the pinnacle of the bell-tower of their chapel on Rue Saint-Olivier. It was lost in a fire on 20 Feb. 1914. In accordance with the wishes of curd François-Xavier Faguy, he donated the rich ornamentation of the Sacré-Coeur chapel in the basilica, which was built between 1887 and 1891. He also agreed to pay half the cost of the Manrèse villa, a dwelling bought by Father Joseph-Édouard Désy in 1891 for a retreat house, and he contributed to the building of the Notre-Dame-du-Chemin chapel. In the 1880s Baillairgé carried out a highly ambitious project that inevitably aroused astonishment: the construction of a chapel or church in each of five parts of the globe. It was an unexpected gesture from a sedentary man who seldom set foot outside his native city. The source of his concern for spreading the Catholic faith throughout the world is unknown. Two priests, Father Voisin and Father Roger, may have been behind this initiative. In any case, they became the first to benefit from Baillairgé’s support when he handed over to them on 18 Aug. 1882 enough money for the construction of Saint-Pierre de Bukumbi in Africa (in present-day Tanzania). Between 1883 and 1886 he had the Church of the Virgin Mary built in Rapid Creek, Australia. In 1884 and 1885 Saint-François-Xavier church was erected in Haimen, China. In 1886 Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague chapel was completed at Pointe-aux-Esquimaux (Havre-Saint-Pierre), Que. One last church was put up in 1887 at Sawakin in the Sudan. Baillairgé’s munificence earned him various honorary titles. In 1885 Pope Leo XIII praised him highly for creating the chair of sacred and profane oratory in the faculty of arts at the Université Laval, known as the Baillairgé chair, through an endowment of $10,000. On 18 March 1887 he made him a knight commander of the Order of St Gregory the Great. Baillairgé was granted the title of Roman count on 6 March 1893.
In the small family home on Rue Saint-François (Rue Ferland) that he had inherited and had dwelt in since childhood, Baillairgé lived modestly, with some Louis XV furniture, books, and portraits from the past. Despite the urgings of his colleagues and of Father Désy, he never allowed himself to be photographed. Many of his contemporaries considered him an eccentric. Désy was the last confidant of Baillairgé, who died on the morning of 20 March 1896 at the age of 88. His funeral was held three days later at the basilica of Quebec and he was buried in the crypt of the seminary chapel, near the tomb of his brother, Abbé François-Xavier Baillairgé, through an arrangement made when he founded the chair of sacred and profane oratory. He left a large fortune, which was divided among his three nieces and two nephews, Charles Baillairgé*, an engineer and architect, and Georges-Frédéric Baillairgé*, the family biographer. His heirs donated the Carillon flag to the Université Laval and it is now in the keeping of the archives of the Séminaire de Québec. It served as the model for the Carillon–Sacré-Cœur flag and later, in 1948, for the present official flag of Quebec.
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Cite This Article
Jean-Marie Lebel, “BAILLAIRGÉ, LOUIS DE GONZAGUE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 10, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/baillairge_louis_de_gonzague_12E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Jean-Marie Lebel|
|Title of Article:||BAILLAIRGÉ, LOUIS DE GONZAGUE|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1990|
|Year of revision:||1990|
|Access Date:||June 10, 2023|