BAILLAIRGÉ, GEORGE-FRÉDÉRIC-THÉOPHILE, civil servant, surveyor, engineer, and author; b. 16 Oct 1824 at Quebec, elder son of Pierre Théophile-Ferdinand Baillairgé, printer, and Charlotte Janvrin Horsley; m. first 23 Aug. 1852 Charlotte Rachel Giroux in Les Cèdres, Lower Canada, and they had five sons and five daughters; m. secondly 10 Oct. 1893 in Saint-Germain-de-Rimouski (Rimouski), Que., Marie-Ursule Côté, widow of Rodolphe Cyprien Tanguay; m. thirdly 6 Feb. 1896 Marie Geneviève-Alphonsine Lefrançois at Quebec, and they had two sons; d. 7 Dec. 1909 in Joliette, Que.
Born into a well-to-do and distinguished family, George-Frédéric-Théophile Baillairgé (his parents and siblings called him Frédéric) was raised in the bourgeois milieu of early Victorian Quebec City. Fluently bilingual (his mother never learned to speak French), he had ready access to the city’s social élite. After three years of private-school education, further training at the Petit Séminaire de Québec, and a year in a law firm, he accepted a post as assistant draftsman to Frederick Preston Rubidge* on the Board of Works of the Province of Canada in September 1844. Thus began a career in public works that would last more than 46 years. On 17 Feb. 1847 he was commissioned a provincial land surveyor, and five days later he took on added departmental duties as a translator. For the 1849 report of the commissioners of public works, he worked with James Stewart in preparing comprehensive statements on the projects “constructed or improved” since the union of 1841. Baillairgé did a similarly exhaustive historical and financial review of public works as part of the 1867 report of the newly formed dominion Department of Public Works. He updated and expanded the account as a lengthy supplement to the 1882 report. These detailed compilations – the 1882 version reportedly required a full year of his time – constitute a virtual history of Canadian public works in the 19th century.
During the 1850s and 1860s, Baillairgé had undertaken a bewildering array of public engineering projects, including the planning and construction of timber slides, booms, canals, and roads. He worked across British North America, from Newfoundland, where he engaged in the construction of lighthouses in the 1860s, to the lower St Lawrence, across Lower Canada, up the Ottawa and Trent river systems, and as far west as Fort Frances (Ont.) and Rainy Lake. He also carried out a limited private practice as a surveyor, and his signature on specifications for several buildings designed by his brother, Charles, in the 1850s suggests that Frédéric assisted him in his architectural practice. On 5 July 1871 he succeeded Rubidge as assistant chief engineer at the Department of Public Works.
With greater seniority came increased responsibilities. During 1871–72 he surveyed the proposed Baie Verte canal across the Chignecto Isthmus. The project posed unusual technical difficulties, and Baillairgé’s plans were criticized by two leading engineers, Casimir Stanislaus Gzowski* and Samuel Keefer*, but the department’s chief engineer, John Page, concluded that Baillairgé was correct in both his plans and his estimates. The canal was, however, never built.
Baillairgé spent the balance of the decade supervising the expansion of canals in Quebec, including the major enlargement of the Lachine Canal. In January 1879 he was recalled from Montreal to Ottawa, where substantial administrative change was under way. A steady increase in public works’ responsibilities finally required the division of the monolithic department. In May the government established the Department of Railways and Canals, to which most of the senior public works officials, including Page and deputy minister Toussaint Trudeau*, were transferred. In spite of his long experience with canals, Baillairgé’s advancement was to come within the truncated Department of Public Works, where, on 4 October, he was promoted deputy minister, under Hector-Louis Langevin.
For more than a decade Baillairgé directed the affairs of the department, supervising its transition from a ministry primarily concerned with major transportation projects to one focused on the development of public buildings [see Thomas Fuller*; Thomas Seaton Scott*], the provision of telegraph services [see Frederic Newton Gisborne*], and the management of waterways other than canals. Departmental records reveal Baillairgé as a cautious, hardworking, and meticulous deputy minister, who routinely commented on even minor matters of administrative detail. During his final years, he personally organized the department’s collection of plans and specifications. He maintained his standing as an engineer, serving a term on the council of the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers in 1889–90. He retired from the civil service on the last day of 1890.
In retirement Baillairgé was as tireless as he had been in office, preparing a technical dictionary for civil engineers (never published), producing a number of general works on Canada, derived from his vast knowledge of the dominion, and bringing out 7 of a proposed 11 volumes of family genealogy. These last productions appear to be a faithful record, with the singular exception of his parents’ wedding date, which has been moved from May of 1824 to 1823 in order, one presumes, to conceal the fact that he was conceived out of wedlock. His final years were enlivened by his third marriage, to a woman nearly half his age, and the beginning of a second family at age 73. A $75,000 legacy from his uncle, Louis de Gonzague Baillairgé*, helped finance his return to Quebec, a fine villa there on Grande Allée, and a prominent place in the city’s society. He died at his eldest son’s residence in Joliette in December 1909.
On his death, Baillairgé was celebrated as “a French-Canadian gentleman of the old school” and “very pleasant with others and highly esteemed by all.” His career illustrates the breadth of technical expertise which government in the 19th century demanded of its employees, and thus belies the emphasis that historians have traditionally placed on patronage in the civil service, with its attendant suggestion of marginal competence. His life reminds us that the public works which formed the basis of the economic prosperity so much sought after during this period required the diverse skills of a range of field-trained professionals in addition to the well-known injections of private and public funding.
According to Réjean Olivier, Vie de l’abbé Frédéric-Alexandre Baillairgé, notre polygraphe québécois, 1854–1928, suivi de notes bio-bibliographiques et généalogiques sur Georges-Frédéric Baillairgé, 1824-1909 . . . (2e éd., Joliette, Qué., 1980), G.-F.-T. Baillairgé bequeathed his papers to the sons of his third marriage, Charles-Frédéric and Pierre. Since they were minors, Baillairgé’s eldest son and executor, Frédéric-Alexandre Baillargé, took possession of the papers. He attempted to sell them in 1924 to Pierre-Georges Roy*. Roy’s offer to purchase 79 volumes of historical and genealogical notes, 194 plans, and 1,473 maps for $1,000 was apparently not accepted, and the collection has seemingly disappeared.
Baillairgé’s seven volumes of genealogy (called fascicles nos.1–6 and 11) were all published in Joliette by Frédéric-Alexandre’s printing company: the first five as Notices biographiques . . . (1891); no.6 as Esquisses biographiques . . . (1893); and no.11 under the title Généalogie et notes historiques, etc., famille Baillairgé . . . (1894). His other published works include: Nouvelle constitution du Canada (Ottawa, 1867); Tables donnant l’étendue et le progrès de divers travaux publics . . . ([Ottawa?, 1886]); Le détroit et la baie d’Hudson (Joliette, 1888); Diocèses catholiques au Canada: tableau statistique (Ottawa, 1889); Canada and Newfoundland, etc.: chronology . . . ecclesiastical statistics, 1508 to 1891 ([Ottawa?, 1891?]); and Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific and Arctic oceans: Arctic voyages, voyages of discovery in the north, and public works, etc. ([Ottawa, 1891]).
Baillairgé’s reviews of public works are contained in Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, App. to the journals, 1849, app.BB; Can., Parl., Sessional papers, 1867–68, no.8, esp. app.17, 19–20, 23, 70; 1883, no.10a. As well, Baillairgé compiled in 1891 an Alphabetical record: engineers and superintendents, etc., and the principal public works on which they have reported or been employed: Canada, 1779 to 1891, which appeared both as a pamphlet ([Ottawa, 1891]) and in Can., Parl., Sessional papers, 1891, no.9, app.19–21. This invaluable record lists Baillairgé’s own works as a public engineer.
AC, Joliette, État civil, Catholiques, Saint-Charles-Borromée (Joliette), 10 déc. 1909; Rimouski, État civil, Catholiques, Saint-Germain (Rimouski), 10 oct. 1893. ANQ-M, CE1-41, 23 août 1852. ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 24 oct. 1824, 6 févr. 1896. NA, MG 30, C49, 9; RG 2, P.C. 1185, 5 July 1871; P.C. 1387, 4 Oct. 1879; P.C. 2782 and 2825-5, both 17 Dec. 1890; RG 11 . L’Étoile du Nord, 16 déc. 1909. Can., Parl., Sessional papers, 1874, no.2. CPG, 1889. Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose and Charlesworth), vol.1. Directory, Montreal, 1870–80. D. [R.] Owram, Building for Canadians: a history of the Department of Public Works, 1840–1960 ([Ottawa], 1979).