BLANCHET, FRANÇOIS, author, physician, teacher, militia officer, businessman, seigneur, politician, office holder, and JP; b. 3 April 1776 in Saint-Pierre-de-la-Rivière-du-Sud, Que., son of Jean-Baptiste Blanchet, a farmer, and Marie-Geneviève Destroismaisons; m. 9 Sept. 1802 Catherine-Henriette Juchereau Duchesnay, and they had three daughters and a son; d. 24 June 1830 at Quebec.
François Blanchet studied at the Petit Séminaire de Québec from 1790 to 1794, and then did a period of medical training with James Fisher, who taught him English and put him in touch with the most influential people in local medical and political circles. In 1799, on the advice of Fisher and physician John Mervin Nooth and thanks to the 8,000 livres he had inherited from his father the previous year, he went to New York to study at Columbia College. In addition to acquiring democratic ideas Blanchet, who was a serious, hard-working, and ambitious student, received the degree of Bachelor of Medicine, having presented a thesis entitled Recherches sur la médecine ou l’application de la chimie à la médecine, which was published in French at New York in 1800. Also interested in the natural sciences, particularly mineralogy and physics, he bought books on these subjects, and he contributed a few articles to the New York Medical Repository. In 1801 he was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society, to which he submitted two papers on the origins of light and of the aurora borealis.
Blanchet returned to Lower Canada early in the summer of 1801. After passing the examination set by the medical examiners for the district of Quebec, he was authorized on 1 July to practise physic and surgery in the province. A year later he married the daughter of the wealthy seigneur of Beauport, Antoine Juchereau* Duchesnay, and her dowry of 20,000 livres enabled him to open an office in a handsome house on Rue des Remparts within a few months. He began to give private lessons on “chemistry applied to medicine” at his home in 1804. The next year he rented his house and bought another on Rue des Pauvres (Côte du Palais), near the Hôtel-Dieu.
Blanchet was appointed surgeon in the 1st Battalion of Quebec’s militia in 1805, in recognition of his merit. The next year, with Pierre-Stanislas Bédard, Jean-Thomas Taschereau, Louis Bourdages, Joseph-Bernard Planté, and Joseph Levasseur-Borgia*, he founded Le Canadien. However, as an owner of this newspaper, which Governor Sir James Henry Craig* considered a seditious publication, Blanchet was dismissed from his post as surgeon on 14 June 1808. He was elected member for Hertford to the House of Assembly of Lower Canada the following year, held his seat until 29 Feb. 1816, regained it on 6 April 1818, and kept it until his death.
Although Blanchet had embarked upon a political career, he always remained closely associated with the world of medicine. During the War of 1812 Governor Sir George Prevost* appointed him superintendent of the militia hospitals in Lower Canada, a position he held until 1816 and was given again in 1823. He became a member of the medical staff and the management committee of the Emigrant Hospital the same year. In 1830 he was offered the superintendency of the hospital and the post of health officer of the port of Quebec. That year he also became one of the medical examiners for the district of Quebec.
Quebec medicine owes to Blanchet a good many of the reforms undertaken in the early 19th century. He was one of the early organizers of the profession in Lower Canada. For example, he tried to set up a medical association at Quebec in 1818 but the plans fell through. In 1826 he was one of the contributors to the first medical journal published in Canada, the Quebec Medical Journal/Journal de médecine de Québec, founded by François-Xavier Tessier. In addition, from 1823 he had taken part in various endeavours to make the medical boards elective.
A pioneer in medical education, Blanchet was one of the first doctors to give private lessons and to try to set up a progressive, uniform system of medical teaching. As a member of the assembly, he championed various bills aimed at allowing hospital circles to offer students practical training. In 1823, with Anthony von Iffland*, he reopened the Quebec Dispensary, which provided instruction in anatomy, chemistry, medicine, and surgery. Two years later the Emigrant Hospital also had a practical program.
Blanchet played an important role in the development of public health measures in the Quebec region. In 1817 he was on a special committee to promote “inoculation with vaccine.” The need to keep a vigilant eye on European immigrants and increase assistance to them also engaged his attention. He was in favour of strengthening the quarantine laws and of founding an isolation hospital. He fought in the house to promote the latter project, which took shape in 1816 with the establishment of the first immigrants’ hospital on Île aux Ruaux. In 1823 he was a member of the first municipal sanitation committee of Quebec; it was responsible for finding the means to fight epidemics and to provide medical assistance to immigrants.
Blanchet was thus a prominent figure on the Quebec medical scene in the early 19th century. His role was attributable to three factors: he was well informed and aware of the measures beginning to be adopted in the United States in the field of medicine; he was one of the best-qualified doctors in the town, enjoying a reputation that gave his projects more credibility; and, as the senior physician in the assembly, he was usually called upon when an important bill had to be steered through the house.
Blanchet also had an active political career. His thinking was attuned to that of the Canadian party, for which he was, indeed, one of the main spokesmen. He was in favour of democratic institutions and of “a liberal constitution,” as he put it. On the eve of the 1810 elections Governor Craig jailed him for sedition, along with the other owners of Le Canadien. Upon his release the following July he sold his proprietary rights in the newspaper. As a politician Blanchet was closely involved in various debates on making the administration of the colony more democratic, managing public funds, and settling the problem of supplies [see Sir Francis Nathaniel Burton]. On several occasions in the period 1818–28 he spoke out in the house to demand that it acquire increased powers in these areas.
When a plan for union between Upper and Lower Canada, with ominous prospects for the Canadians, was put forward in 1822 and the colony found itself at an impasse on the supplies question, Blanchet addressed a memoir to London in 1824 entitled Appel au Parlement impérial et aux habitans des colonies angloises, dans l’Amérique du Nord, sur les prétentions exorbitantes du gouvernement exécutif et du Conseil législatif de la province du Bas-Canada. The pamphlet sought to publicize the Canadian party’s main grievances against the Executive and Legislative councils. In addition to making some attacks on the “placemen and the people who want to dominate the majority,” Blanchet demanded scrutiny of the Legislative Council journals by the House of Assembly, election of the members of that council, control by the assembly of the salaries of senior office holders, and ministerial responsibility. In order to establish better contact between London and the colony, Blanchet also made several attempts to secure appointment of a Canadian agent to reside in Great Britain, but when he brought a measure to a vote in 1825 it was rejected by the Legislative Council.
As for the economy, Blanchet was concerned to have inland communications developed. In 1811 he proposed the creation of a provincial post office. Then he was in charge of various bills concerning, among other things, improvement of land communications between Upper and Lower Canada and utilization of means to promote the circulation of goods and persons within Lower Canada, such as construction of roads and bridges, upgrading of port installations, and development of steam navigation on the St Lawrence River all the way to Halifax. In 1829 he chaired the committee that brought out Reports from the special committee on roads and other internal communications.
Blanchet was also sensitive to some of the problems being encountered in rural circles, particularly the shortage of lands. In 1829 he was asked by the house to present an address on this subject to the governor. Reporting that the system of granting crown lands by auction was inadequate, because settlers did not usually have the means to bid for these lands, he suggested that grants be made without charge.
Blanchet played a part as well in the rapid progress of education in Lower Canada. At the outset of the century various groups complained about the state of education, particularly in rural areas. There were almost no primary schools, and on the secondary level the classical colleges remained inaccessible to most of the population. There was a demand for more public institutions, and to finance them it was proposed that the required sums be drawn from the annuities and income from the Jesuit estates. In 1814 Blanchet brought forward a bill on elementary education in Lower Canada. The following year he was put on an assembly committee to inquire into the state of education and its progress since the promulgation of the Education Act of 1801.
Throughout his political career Blanchet sat on numerous committees set up by the house to further education. On many occasions he acted as spokesman in the assembly for various associations, such as the Quebec Education Society, the British and Canadian School Society of the District of Quebec, and the National and Free School at Quebec, when they requested funds to purchase schools or continue financing their establishments. He also had a hand in the advancement and encouragement of some projects of a scientific nature, such as the publication of Joseph Bouchette*’s topographical atlas, the enlarging of Pierre Chasseur*’s Canadian natural history collection, and the founding of an agricultural college in Lower Canada.
In addition to practising medicine and engaging in politics, Blanchet was a justice of the peace for the District of Quebec from 1815 to 1825, he chaired the citizens’ meeting held on 21 Oct. 1817 to seek municipal incorporation for Quebec, and he joined the Agriculture Society in 1818.
Blanchet was also a landowner. In particular he managed to acquire the seigneury of Saint-Denis-De La Bouteillerie, which had belonged to his father-in-law. At the latter’s death the Blanchets had inherited part of his lands. Blanchet then reconstituted the whole fief by buying the shares of his brothers-in-law. In addition he owned a piece of land on the Rivière Bécancour, another near Lac Saint-François in Tring Township, and a third on the Rivière Saint-Charles, as well as a bakery in the faubourg Saint-Roch and two houses in Upper Town.
François Blanchet died at Quebec on 24 June 1830, aged 54, and was buried three days later in the church of the parish where he was born. He was clearly a leading reformer of the medical world in Lower Canada and an informed critic of politics and society in the colony in the first part of the 19th century.
François Blanchet is the author of Recherches sur la médecine ou l’application de la chimie à la médecine (New York, 1800); Appel au Parlement impérial et aux habitans des colonies angloises, dans l’Amérique du Nord, sur les prétentions exorbitantes du gouvernement exécutif et du Conseil législatif de la province du Bas-Canada (Québec, 1824); and Reports from the special committee on roads and other internal communications (Quebec, 1829).
ANQ-Q, CE2-6, 4 avril 1776, 27 juin 1830; CN1-178, 8 oct. 1798; CN1-230, 8 mai, 13 juill., 9, 11 oct. 1809. ASQ, Fichier des anciens. PAC, MG 24, B1; RG 4, A1, 20, 149, 219, 325, 328; RG 8, I (C ser.), 1218: 234; RG 9, I, A5, 4: 1. L.C., House of Assembly, Journals, February–May 1812, 1815–16, 1818, 1825–30. Le Canadien, 18 juin 1808. La Minerve, 28 juin 1830. Quebec Gazette, 5 March 1801; 13 Dec. 1804; 20 Nov. 1806; 13 April 1815; March 1816; 23 April, 20 May, 21 Dec. 1818; 7 Dec. 1820; 13 April, 5 July 1821; 28 Aug. 1823. F.-J. Audet, “Les législateurs du Bas-Canada.” F.-M. Bibaud, Le Panthéon canadien (A. et V. Bibaud). Hare et Wallot, Les imprimés dans le Bas-Canada. Officers of British forces in Canada (Irving), 101. Quebec almanac, 1806–8, 1812–16, 1830. Wallace, Macmillan dict. Abbott, Hist. of medicine, 50. T.-P. Bédard, Histoire de cinquante ans (1791–1841), annales parlementaires et politiques du Bas-Canada, depuis la Constitution jusqu’à l’Union (Québec, 1869), 104, 237. F.-X. Chouinard et al., La ville de Québec, histoire municipale (4v., Québec, 1963–83), 2: 36–37. Ouellet, Bas-Canada, 16–18. P.-G. Roy, La famille Juchereau Duchesnay (Lévis, Qué., 1903), 275, 277–301. J.-P. Wallot, “Le Bas-Canada sous l’administration de sir James Craig (1807–1811)” (thèse de PHD, Univ. de Montréal, 1965). Jacques Bernier, “François Blanchet et le mouvement réformiste en médecine au début du xixe siècle,” RHAF, 34 (1980–81): 223–44. “Les Blanchet,” BRH, 38 (1932): 735–40.