BÉLANGER, FRANÇOIS-XAVIER, naturalist and museum curator; b. 1833 at Saint-Vallier, Lower Canada; m. Vitaline Fontaine; d. 19 Jan. 1882 at Quebec City.
François-Xavier Bélanger received a classical education at the Petit Séminaire de Québec from 1846 to 1853, and then worked as a schoolteacher for a few years. Finding himself lonely in his rural school district, he returned to Quebec and joined Le Courrier du Canada, where he became a proof-reader and later assistant editor. In 1868 he attracted attention when articles on certain species of Canadian silkworms appeared in the paper over his signature. His interest in natural history and talent for drawing caught the eye of Abbé Léon Provancher*, who invited him to prepare articles and prints for Le Naturaliste canadien, a monthly magazine launched in 1868. The following year, thanks to support from Provancher but particularly through the influence of Abbé Thomas-Étienne Hamel (then professor of physics and dean of arts at the Université Laval), Bélanger received the title of curator of the university’s zoological museum. With an annual salary of £100, he was responsible for the maintenance and development of the collections.
At that period the zoological museum contained a small number of unrelated pieces which had been assembled haphazardly by the priests of the Séminaire de Québec. The only items of value were specimens of American birds acquired through the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, and a small collection of North American coleoptera purchased from William Couper in 1866.
His agreement with the Université Laval provided that Bélanger was to increase the number of indigenous species by collecting in the Quebec City region and travelling to other parts of the country. Similarly, through exchanges with naturalists and museums abroad, he was to build up the collections of exotic species. He was also to mount birds, fish, and mammals for exhibitions, to show visitors around, and to look after security in the museum. Evidently Bélanger discharged his many duties conscientiously: an 1875 inventory indicates that the museum owned more than 1,300 birds, about 100 mammals, a like number of reptiles and fish, and more than 12,000 insects (most of which were identified).
Abbé Hamel, who had become rector of the university in 1871, retained his interest in the museum’s progress and encouraged Bélanger’s endeavours. From 1874 to 1876 they both made a considerable effort to expand the entomological collections. In 1875 an announcement in Le Journal entomologique de France (Paris) invited naturalists of “good will” to engage in exchanges with the zoological museum at Laval. There was an immediate flood of correspondence from France, Belgium, and Switzerland, and the curator had to look after receiving and dispatching the pieces being exchanged as well as identifying and classifying the specimens. In 1876 he was given the additional task of preparing the sizeable zoological collection that the Université Laval wanted to exhibit at the Philadelphia Centennial International Exhibition. Bélanger went to Philadelphia with Hamel to take care of the display and make a few purchases for the zoological museum.
Apparently the supervision of the museum absorbed most of his energies, for Bélanger did not do much original research on Canadian fauna and published little. On occasion, however, he supplied such American entomologists as Alpheus Spring Packard and Ezra Townsend Cresson with specimens of rare and even new species. In addition to the articles in Le Courrier du Canada, Bélanger contributed a number of others on Canadian lepidoptera as well as numerous prints to Le Naturaliste canadien. He was also responsible for the first issues of the “Catalogue du musée zoologique de l’université Laval,” which were published in the university’s Annuaire from 1875. This was a work of wide scope which Bélanger was unable to finish and which Charles-Eusèbe Dionne, who succeeded him at the museum upon his death, had to bring to completion. Bélanger is also credited with having suggested to Provancher the establishment of the Société d’histoire naturelle de Québec which was set up in 1870.
François-Xavier Bélanger was the author of the following three articles published in Le Courrier du Canada in 1868 on 24 Feb., 26 Feb., and 4 March respectively: “Histoire naturelle: les insectes utiles”; “Le Polyphème et l’Atacus luna”; and “Le papillon vert, le cécropia, le prométhée.” He was also responsible for the first issues of the “Catalogue du musée zoologique de l’université Laval,” Univ. Laval, Annuaire (Québec), 1875–82. Finally, he wrote two articles for Le Naturaliste canadien (Cap-Rouge, Qué.): “Les Cynépides,” 1 (1868–69): 56–58, and “Microlépidoptère,” (1875): 45–48.
Arch. du séminaire de Chicoutimi (Chicoutimi, Qué.), Fonds Léon Provancher, Lettres de F.-X. Bélanger, 23 janv., 10 mars, 1er mai 1869; 25 févr. 1874; 6 nov. 1877. ASQ, mss, 634; 636; Séminaire, 17, nos.311–31; Univ., Carton 79, no.81. “M. F.-X. Bélanger,” Le Naturaliste canadien, 13 (1882): 26–28. [Léon Provancher], “Naturalistes canadiens,” Le Naturaliste canadien, 5 (1873): 225. Victor Gaboriault, Charles-Eusèbe Dionne, naturaliste, né à Saint-Denis-de-la-Bouteillerie (La Pocatière, Qué., 1974). V.-A. Huard, La vie et l’œuvre de l’abbé Provancher (Québec, 1926), 139–40. Honorius Provost, “Historique de la faculté des arts de l’université Laval, 1852–1952,” L’Enseignement secondaire au Canada (Québec), 31 (1951–52): appendix, 1–30; 32 (1952–53): appendix, 31–102.