Courtesy of Georges Arsenault
ARSENAULT, JOSEPH-OCTAVE, professor and office holder; b. 16 Oct. 1866 in what is now Urbainville, P.E.I., son of Prospère Arsenault and Marie Gallant; nephew of Joseph-Octave Arsenault*; m. 11 June 1894 Marie-Jeanne (Mary Jane) Gallant (d. 1947) in Rustico, P.E.I., and they had six sons and three daughters; d. 11 Oct. 1918 in Charlottetown.
On completing his primary education at the local school, Joseph-Octave Arsenault enrolled at Prince of Wales College in Charlottetown and then entered the normal school there, from which he received a teaching certificate. He also attended St Dunstan’s College in the city. He reportedly taught for a few years in Acadian schools on the Island before pursuing his studies at the Collège de Saint-Laurent, near Montreal. In his early twenties he was appointed principal of the model school at Prince of Wales College and assistant professor of French at the college. From 1892 he was also the inspector who oversaw French instruction in the province’s Acadian schools – some 60 French classes in all. An anglophone inspector was responsible for the rest of the curriculum. Arsenault carried out this task very successfully until 1901. His annual reports recorded constant progress and noted the “praiseworthy” efforts of the teachers to improve their teaching methods, their pupils’ French pronunciation, and their own competence.
At the urging of Gilbert Buote*, the editor of L’Impartial, and with the support of Donald J. McLeod, the superintendent of education, Arsenault organized the founding on 27 Sept. 1893 of the Association des Instituteurs Acadiens de l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard, whose aim was “the teaching and encouragement of the French language in Island schools.” His name was closely linked with the work of this body, the first of its kind to be set up by Acadians in the Maritime provinces, and with the question of education for the Island’s Acadian community. From the outset it was he who animated the association and set its tone. With great dignity and tact, he exerted considerable influence on its fortunes, and served as its president for the first eight years. He took every opportunity with both educators and students to stress the importance of education, and he constantly demonstrated how attached he was to the French language and to Acadian culture and nationality. “As long as we are French, as long as we care about our nationality,” he maintained, “it will be impossible for us not to find the language of ‘la Belle France’ sweet and melodious. No sacrifice of any kind whatever should be too costly, then, for us to preserve it.” The Association des Instituteurs Acadiens was the first of a series of organizations set up in the province to defend the rights of Acadians. From 1893 to 1971 it continued working among teachers and by extension influenced the entire Acadian and French-speaking community. In 1894, while Arsenault was president of the association, it took steps to organize the first parent-teacher meetings held on the Island.
Arsenault was highly regarded by his students and by Department of Education officials. He none the less left the field of education in 1903 for a more remunerative position as manager for Prince Edward Island of the Mutual Life Assurance Company of Canada. He was an unqualified success in this position. Before the end of 1903 he had written 88 policies with a total face value of $92,000.
A man of exemplary conduct and exceptional generosity, Joseph-Octave Arsenault was highly regarded by all. His musical talent had doubtless also brought him many friends and admirers. He was fond of singing and played a number of instruments including the piano and cello. He died on 11 Oct. 1918, succumbing to Spanish influenza, and was buried the following day in Charlottetown’s Roman Catholic cemetery.
Musée Acadien de l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard à Miscouche, Assoc. des Instituteurs et Institutrices Acadiens de l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard, procès-verbaux, 27 sept. 1893; J.-O. Arsenault, adresse comme président de la première convention, 10–11 juill. 1894. St Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church (South Rustico, P.E.I.), RBMB, 11 June 1894. St Philip and St James Roman Catholic Church (Egmont Bay, P.E.I.), RBMB, 18 Oct. 1866. J.-H. Blanchard, “Fondation de l’Impartial,” L’Évangéline (Moncton, N.-B.), 10 avril 1947. Charlottetown Guardian, 12 Oct. 1918. L’Impartial (Tignish, Î.-P.-É.), 5 oct. 1893; 4 juin, 19 nov. 1903. Georges Arsenault, L’éducation chez les Acadiens de l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard, 1720–1980, ou la survivance acadienne à l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard (Summerside, Î.-P.-É., 1982). J.-H. Blanchard, The Acadians of Prince Edward Island, 1720–1964 ([Charlottetown], 1964; repr. 1976); Acadiens de l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard ([Charlottetown], 1956); Histoire des Acadiens de l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard (Moncton, N.-B., 1927; 2e éd., Summerside, 1975).