BABY, CHARLES-FRANÇOIS-XAVIER (he signed F. Baby), seigneur, businessman, and legislative councillor; b. 19 June 1794 at Quebec, son of François Baby*, a seigneur and politician, and Marie-Anne Tarieu de Lanaudière; d. 6 Aug. 1864 at Quebec.
Charles-François-Xavier Baby, the eldest of a family of 12 children, studied at the Séminaire de Québec before going into business. In 1817 he was running a general store and became interested in the timber trade at Saint-Pierre-les-Becquets (Les Becquets), where he acquired some land in April of that year. He was already seigneur of the fief of Bruyères, and on 9 June 1819 he bought the holdings of Pierre-Michel Cressé*, which included two-thirds of the Nicolet seigneury, the farm attached to it, another farm of seven arpents by 40, the seigneurial buildings, the manor-house and outhouses, and the communal mills. The transaction totalled £12,000 to be paid as an annuity redeemable by payment of the capital. The young seigneur had barely settled in his new manor when he ran into serious financial difficulties. In January 1820, following an action brought by Quebec merchant Peter Sheppard, Baby lost a property on Rue Sainte-Anne in Quebec. Unable to meet the obligations incurred in purchasing the Nicolet seigneury, François Baby had to face the heirs of Cressé, who had died in October 1819. The Nicolet seigneury was seized in July 1820 and sold a few months later for £6,500.
After returning to Saint-Pierre-les-Becquets, François Baby lived through a difficult period, but he resumed his commercial activities and during the 1830s apparently became more involved in the timber trade. In 1837, as a result of his own imprudence and of the Anglo-American economic crisis, he found himself once again in a disastrous situation and had to seek refuge in Albany, N.Y.; from there, with the assistance of his brother Joseph who was his Montreal agent, he attempted to unravel the financial and legal tangle in which he was embroiled. After making over his assets to Robert Hunter Gairdner, a commissioner in bankruptcy, Baby was finally freed of all debts and claims in April 1844. (That year too his widowed mother died and the lengthy process of settling her estate – still going on in the early 1870s – was begun.) Baby returned to Saint-Pierre-les-Becquets and his lumber business. On 8 Nov. 1845 he signed an agreement with Charles A. Holt of Quebec which lasted until the end of the 1840s. The partners shared equally in the profits, and while Holt attended to financing the operations, supplied the lumber camps and Baby’s store, and regularly informed him of price fluctuations, Baby supervised the felling, purchase, and shipping of lumber. Business seemed to go fairly well, particularly during 1846 when low water levels throughout Canada East gave the lumber camps near Quebec a distinct advantage. But Baby had not yet recovered from his last bankruptcy, and after the policy of imperial protection was abandoned, he suffered the difficulties that beset the whole Canadian lumber industry. He wrote to his brother Joseph in March 1847 to say that he could barely feed his family, and in November, that for weeks he had not seen even £5. In May 1850 he complained of the “great competition for contracts.” Up to this time, then, he seems to have been more an impecunious, small-time contractor than the prominent businessman he was to become in succeeding years.
From 1851 on Baby received a series of contracts for building and maintaining lighthouses from the government and Trinity House in Quebec. In 1852 and 1853 he completed contracts at La Malbaie and Les Éboulements, and in 1856 on Anticosti Island and at Rivière-du-Loup. In April 1854 he obtained a contract from the North Shore Railway Company to construct its line between Quebec and Montreal and the company’s buildings. However, the tightness of the English financial market delayed the contract’s execution. Because he held the construction contract and was obligated to fulfil its terms, Baby found himself for several years involved in the monetary difficulties of the company, which soon was forced virtually to abandon its project. In September 1856 Baby seemed about to lose his influence with the company, but his interests were already deeply engaged elsewhere.
In September 1854, some months after he had become involved in the north shore railway venture, the government had granted Baby a seven-year contract for the towing service between Le Bic and Quebec. By this agreement, Baby was to receive an annual subsidy of £7,965, in addition to the limited fares he was authorized to charge users, and he undertook to build two tugs to replace the three steam vessels with which he would begin this service. A few months later the contract was revised to conform with the recommendations of the Board of Trade of Quebec: the duration was increased to ten years starting from February 1855, the service was extended to Anticosti Island, and the annual subsidy was raised to £11,300. The small number of users led Baby and the government to reduce the fares in June 1857, and the reduction was compensated by a supplementary subsidy of up to £7,500 in the first year and £5,000 in each of the following years. This decision followed an unsuccessful attempt by Baby to persuade the London insurance companies to lower the premiums required in cases where boats called upon the towing service, and the reduced fares apparently did not have the results anticipated. In fact, in August 1859 Baby claimed he had lost considerable sums of money in this affair and proposed that the government of united Canada cancel the contract, as well as the one he had just signed on 6 May 1859 for the mail service between Quebec and New Brunswick. Two other contracts which bound him to Trinity House in Quebec, one for laying and removing buoys, the other for transporting supplies, men, and material to lighthouses downstream from Quebec, were also to be annulled. For all of these contracts Baby received more than £20,000 annually from the public treasury. On 8 Aug. 1860 the government agreed to terminate them, and purchased for £56,386 Baby’s five steam vessels, Queen Victoria, Napoléon III, Lady Head, Admiral, and Advance, on the following conditions: that Baby discharge his personal debt to the Bank of Upper Canada (£23,386), pay the sum he owed the government (£18,000) and pay an additional debt of £15,000, in all a total of £56,386.
Thus disencumbered, François Baby went into politics in June 1861, and, running as a Conservative, was elected legislative councillor for the division of Stadacona, a seat he held until his death. Baby’s influence in the region of Quebec and the Gulf of St Lawrence was unquestionable and for some years he had been so important behind the scenes in Canadian politics that he was reputed to make and break ministries.
On 15 Aug. 1831, at Saint-Philippe-de-Laprairie, he had married Clothilde Pinsoneaut, sister of Pierre-Adolphe Pinsoneaut*, the first Catholic bishop of London (Ont.). Their son Michel-Guillaume, called Francis, represented Laprairie in the Legislative Assembly from 1857 to 1863, and their daughter Alice married Sir Joseph-Philippe-René-Adolphe Caron*.
[Documents concerning the Baby family are found in ANQ-Q, AP-G-336/1-2. These are primarily business correspondence, accounts, receipts, and contracts that give some idea of Baby’s business involvements but shed little light on his family. A part of his correspondence is deposited at BUM, Coll. Baby, Corr. générale, boîte 110. Three letters Baby wrote from exile in Albany (2, 5, and 14 Aug. 1838) and several others he wrote to his brother Joseph between March 1847 and July 1850 provide information on the state of his business. a.g.]
Can., Doc. de la session, 1867–68, V, no.8, 125–27. Quebec Gazette, 17 Aug. 1809; 27 Nov., 18 Dec. 1817; 20 Jan., 11 May 1820. J.-E. Bellemare, Histoire de Nicolet, 1669–1924 (Arthabaska, Qué., 1924), 194–202, 206, 208–13. P.-B. Casgrain, Mémorial des families Casgrain, Baby et Perrault du Canada (Québec, 1898). É.-Z. Massicotte, “Paul-Théophile Pinsonnault, ses ascendants et descendants,” BRH, XXXIV (1928), 207–20.