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BERTRAND, CHARLES (baptized Charles-Frédéric; often called Charles-Frédéric-Adolphe, but he signed Charles), seigneur, businessman, and politician; b. 11 Jan. 1824 in L’Isle-Verte, Lower Canada, eldest son of Louis Bertrand and Apolline Saindon; d. there 2 April 1896.

Charles Bertrand’s father moved to L’Isle-Verte in 1811 and became a merchant. In 1818 and 1819 respectively he leased the rights to the seigneurial mill and the seigneury of Île-Verte, the title to which he would purchase in 1849. There he built one sawmill in 1819, and another after 1842 in partnership with Sir Henry John Caldwell and William Price*. He was elected three times to represent Rimouski in the assembly. By the time of his death in 1871 he had accumulated an estate that made his family one of the most prominent in the lower St Lawrence region.

Charles went to primary school in L’Isle-Verte, and then attended the Petit Séminaire de Québec from 1834 to 1840, but he did not complete the course of studies. On 2 July 1850, at Cacouna, he married Arthémise Dionne, the daughter of Benjamin Dionne, a merchant and later member of the Legislative Assembly (only four of the couple’s twelve children would survive childhood). Bertrand’s father placed him in a strategic position in the local economy that year by giving him full authority over the seigneury of Île-Verte, including the flour- and carding-mills. He further transferred to him his share in the second sawmill, which would come into Charles’s possession after Price and Caldwell left. Charles also acquired a farm and assets in the form of accounts receivable, probably cens et rentes. According to the census figures of 1851 and 1861, he was a merchant but did not own the store, which came into his hands only on his father’s death; he was above all a good farmer and not yet a prominent businessman.

Bertrand’s situation changed considerably in later years. In 1871 he had 3,250 arpents of land, of which more than 1,800 were under cultivation; he was also the owner of a flour-mill, a carding-mill, a fulling-mill, an agricultural-implement factory, and a foundry. These enterprises, which had necessitated an investment of $16,760, produced goods that year with a total value of $57,250 and gave employment to 27 workers. In addition he owned four schooners, with a total tonnage of 55, and a hotel in Cacouna called the Mansion House. At L’Isle-Verte no one except his brother Louis-Achille was doing nearly as much business with flour-mills and sawmills. By 1881 Charles had holdings of 10,800 arpents, mostly in the new townships beyond L’Isle-Verte.

In 1865 Bertrand had gone into partnership with Antoine Rousseau to manufacture carriages and agricultural implements and build a foundry. Bertrand et Rousseau was dissolved on 4 Sept. 1868, after the plants burned down. Bertrand rebuilt the facilities himself and was to do so again in 1875 and 1888 for the same reason. In 1877 he reorganized this business and went into partnership with his son Charles-Georges and with Jean-Baptiste Raymond, whom he considered his heir apparent. He himself undertook to put up $25,000; the other two were each to cover a quarter of the expenses in return for the same proportion of the profits. From 1883 to 1894 Charles Bertrand et Compagnie had its moments of glory, becoming the manufacturing concern that, according to Marius Barbeau*, was “the largest in the province,” next to Matthew and Henry Moody of Terrebonne. It produced “threshing-mills, horse-driven treadmills for threshing, éballeurs, ordinary ploughs, disk ploughs, cast-iron potato diggers, harrows, stoves, cauldrons, wagons, and wheels of all kinds – it shipped on average 1,200 pairs of wheels a year; machinery for flour-mills, sawmills, carding- and furling-mills; even turbines.” These goods were piled up on the Bertrand family’s docks and then loaded onto their schooners bound for market outlets in the four corners of the province. In a word, under their impetus L’Isle-Verte, with its population of wage-earners, took on the appearance of an industrial village.

Bertrand seemed to be in many places at once, but the store was his headquarters. Here “father Charles” took in the savings that people deposited with him for safe keeping; here he sold the parcels of land he had bought in the townships on the high plateaux; here he granted credit to new settlers or advanced them mortgage money. In 1873–74 he also owned timber limits in Cabano Township, where he is said to have built the first sawmill, and he was involved in the production and sale of wood for spindles at Saint-Simon and at Sainte-Anne-des-Monts. He was a director of the Témiscouata Railway shortly before it was opened in 1888.

For Bertrand, business, trade, and politics were complementary activities. He was mayor of the parish municipality of L’Isle-Verte in 1859 and again from 1881 to 1885. In 1860 he organized a joyous victory celebration to mark the election of Liberal Luc Letellier* de Saint-Just to the Legislative Council. But by 1867 he had joined the ranks of the Conservatives: the fifty-odd employees of Charles Bertrand et Compagnie demonstrated in favour of confederation, and he himself was elected by acclamation the member of parliament for Témiscouata. He ran again in 1872 but lost to another Conservative by 1,108 votes. This defeat did not destroy his interest in politics, however. In the 1875 provincial elections he ran against Georges-Honoré Deschênes who, in an attempt to eliminate him as a candidate, declared that Bertrand “had sold out for $500” during the 1872 federal election.

The Bertrand family’s little empire was running out of steam by the mid 1890s. Charles’s son was not interested in taking over the business, and Charles himself was caught off guard by the untimely death of Raymond in 1891, at a time when competition from such enterprises as the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company in the United States and the Massey-Harris Company Limited in Ontario [see Hart Almerrin Massey] was making it harder to get sales. A series of fires, the spring breakup of the ice on the Rivière Verte and periods when the river dried up, as well as losses suffered aboard the schooners, only added to the difficulties. On 2 April 1896, “overwhelmed by financial worries,” Bertrand died. The efforts of his family to regain control of the company’s affairs failed to prevent Thibaudeau, Frères et Compagnie of Quebec [see Isidore Thibaudeau] from forcing it into bankruptcy, and Bertrand’s assets were seized on 3 November of that year. The inventory drawn up in 1897 shows that his enterprises were worth the considerable sum of $289,045, 74 per cent of the assets being accounts receivable, promissory notes, bonds, mortgages, and shares, and 16 per cent consisting of the manufacturing plant and its contents. Bertrand had also owned 50 lots and building sites in and around L’Isle-Verte. According to one of his sons-in-law, Wilbrod Pagnuelo, a lawyer who was the company’s agent in Montreal, the assets totalled $350,000 in the good years.

Along with the Pelletiers and Pouliots in Fraserville (Rivière-du-Loup) and the Butcharts in Rimouski, Charles Bertrand was one of the most important entrepreneurs of his day in the lower St Lawrence region. The career of this business promoter challenges the conventional historical understanding of 19th-century rural Quebec. Bertrand knew how to adapt to various basic constraints and take advantage of favourable circumstances: the active colonization of the back country and opening up of the Témiscouata region, the demand for equipment to modernize agriculture, the exploitation of timber resources, and the revolution in transportation with the coming of the railway. Under his impetus, the village of L’Isle-Verte competed for a time, in some respects, with Fraserville. The picture it presents is very different from historians’ usual model of a homogeneous rural society dominated by subsistence farming, itself dictated by distance and lack of markets. L’Isle-Verte was one of the places where a village bourgeoisie emerged and where forms of rural industry were created. The full economic and social significance of such developments is yet to be grasped.

Antonio Lechasseur

ANQ-Q, CE3-2, 18 janv. 1824; CE3-6, 2 juill. 1850; P1000-11-188; P1000-11-189; T11-3, no.136. AP, Saint-Jean-Baptiste (L’Isle-Verte), reg. des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures, avril 1896. ASQ, Fichier des anciens. BE, Kamouraska, reg. A, nos.293, 362. NA, RG 31, C1, 1851, L’Isle-Verte (Rimouski); 1861, L’Isle-Verte and Viger (Témiscouata); 1871, 1881, 1891, L’Isle-Verte (Témiscouata). Le Courrier de Fraserville (Fraserville [Rivière-du-Loup], Qué.), 27 déc. 1888, 13 sept. 1889. Le Jour (Fraserville), 4 mars 1887, 23 mars 1888. Monetary Times, 10 April 1896. Montreal Daily Star, 2 April 1896. La Presse, 2 avril 1896. Le Saint-Laurent (Fraserville), 3, 7, 10 avril 1896. Canadian directory of parl. (Johnson). J. Desjardins, Guide parl. Marius Barbeau, Maîtres artisans de chez nous (Montréal, [1942]), 95–109. Claude Blouin, “La mécanisation de l’agriculture entre 1830 et 1890,” Agriculture et colonisation au Québec; aspects historiques, Normand Séguin, édit. (Montréal, 1980), 93–111. C.-A. Gauvreau, Nos paroisses: LIsle-Verte (St-Jean-Baptiste) (Lévis, Qué., 1889), 243–44. M. Hamelin, Premières années du parlementarisme québécois, 297. Robert Michaud, La mousse de mer: de LIsle-Verte à la Baie des Chaleurs (Montréal, 1985), 11–39, 134–37. Robert Michaud et Gérard Filion, LIsle-Verte vue du large ([Montréal], 1978), 198–264. John Willis, “Fraserville and its Temiscouata hinterland, 1874–1914: colonization and urbanization in a peripheral region of the province of Quebec” (ma thesis, Univ. du Québec, Trois-Rivières, 1981). R.-P. Dubé, “Chronique de l’histoire de L’Isle-Verte,” Le Saint-Laurent (Rivière-du-Loup), 28 oct.–30 déc. 1920, 20 janv. 1921.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Antonio Lechasseur, “BERTRAND, CHARLES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 29, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bertrand_charles_12E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bertrand_charles_12E.html
Author of Article: Antonio Lechasseur
Title of Article: BERTRAND, CHARLES
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1990
Year of revision: 1990
Access Date: July 29, 2014