BENOÎT, dit Livernois, JULES-ISAÏE, businessman and photographer; b. 22 Oct. 1830 at Longueuil, Lower Canada, son of Amable Benoît, dit Livernois, a farmer, and Desanges Beaudry; m. 9 May 1849 Élise L’Hérault, dit L’Heureux, and they had four daughters and two sons; d. 11 Oct. 1865 at Quebec, at the age of 34.
Jules-Isaïe Benoît, dit Livernois, was a person of feverish activity, energetic, persistent, and venturesome. He was destined for a rural existence, but quite early left his father’s farm, a discouraging environment ill suited to his spirited temperament. He launched into a series of commercial activities. Taken on first as a clerk in a business house at Quebec, he then became in succession the owner of a store at Baie-du-Febvre (Baieville) in 1851, a bakery and a large store at Richmond, and two other commercial establishments beside the tracks of the Grand Trunk Railway. A victim of unfavourable circumstances, he was betrayed by some of his employees and went bankrupt. In 1853 he embarked for the United States, hoping to find the wherewithal to repay his creditors. After going round the Americas via Cape Horn, he reached San Francisco, where he succeeded in building “a large steam laundering plant.” His business was prospering when his family suddenly recalled him to Quebec. In a hurry to sell his undertaking, he made it over to his chief employee, who disappeared without paying him after having resold the establishment to a third person. Penniless again, Livernois was obliged to serve as a sailor and to cross the Isthmus of Panama on foot to make his way home. In Panama he contracted a virus which would lead to his early death.
Around 1855, undaunted by his earlier experiences, Livernois (he was then 24) started a book-selling and sewing machine business at Quebec. It was apparently at this time that he began to take an interest in photography, a new art which had been firmly established in the town five or six years earlier. His first studio was announced in the Quebec directory for 1857–58 under the heading “photographers, daguerreotypers etc.” It reads: “Livernois, Mr and Mrs, photographers, 32 St. John u.t. and 31 des Fosses Sr.” Photographic technique was sufficiently developed for him to be able to offer photographs printed on paper, or tinted with oils, and ambrotypes (photographs on glass). He also gave instruction in the art.
During his eight years as a professional photographer, Livernois, characteristically, maintained two and sometimes three studios in Quebec Upper Town and the more popular faubourg Saint-Roch. In 1863 a study trip took him to England, Scotland, and Paris, but “anxiety about his family” soon brought him back home. As his health was steadily deteriorating, his doctors advised him to take treatment at Florence, in the United States. There he hoped to recover but received instead a diagnosis of impending death. He died at Quebec on 11 Oct. 1865. Among the friends present at his funeral was Louis-Prudent Vallée, a well-known Quebec businessman and photographer.
Jules-Isaïe Livernois’s insatiable curiosity prompted him to undertake many diverse activities and led him away from the beaten track. Within his profession he was remarkable, as his contemporary, Henri-Raymond Casgrain*, makes clear: “Photography would have been no more than a trade for him, as for many others, if he had not had the intelligence to enhance its practice by unselfish research. He set out in zealous pursuit of pictures, portraits, views, engravings, and old paintings that might be of interest In this way he accomplished something of real value by popularizing and preserving precious objects buried in dust and liable to perish. This fine collection, which a short while ago it would have been impossible to obtain, now has its place in the albums of all art lovers.” Thanks to the care taken by the descendants of Livernois, many pages of these albums are extant, and they reveal important aspects of the cultural history of 19th century Quebec.
Jules-Isaïe’s son Jules-Ernest Livernois*, and his grandson Jules, followed in his footsteps. The photographic firm he founded is one of the rare examples in Canada of a business enterprise that reached its centenary.
[The only study of Jules-Isaïe Benoît, dit Livernois, Jules Livernois by Henri-Raymond Casgrain, was published in Quebec a year after the death of the photographer. The information it contains, some of it difficult to verify, was probably obtained in interviews with Benoît’s widow. l.h.-m.]
ANQ-M, État civil, Catholiques, Saint-Antoine (Longueuil), 23 oct. 1830. ANQ-Q, État civil, Catholiques, Saint-Roch (Québec), 9 mai 1849, 14 oct. 1865. McLaughlin’s Quebec directory, 1855–58. Quebec directory, 1858–66.