BOIS, LOUIS-ÉDOUARD, Roman Catholic priest and historian; b. 11 Sept. 1813 at Quebec City, son of Firmin Bois and Marie-Anne Boissonnault; d. 9 July 1889 at Maskinongé, Que.
The parents of Louis-Édouard Bois lived in Quebec’s Lower Town at the corner of Notre-Dame and Sous-le-Fort in a house said to have been built by Samuel de Champlain* in 1624. In 1819 they put their son in an English school, and four years later he entered the Petit Séminaire de Québec. In 1827 Louis-Édouard was sent to the new Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière to finish his classical education; he then taught at the college while studying theology. Ordained priest on 7 Oct. 1837 at Quebec, he was immediately appointed curate at Saint-Antoine-de-Padoue, Rivière-du-Loup (Louiseville), to parish priest Jacques Lebourdais, dit Lapierre; from 1840 to 1843 he served as curate at Saint-Jean-Port-Joli to his uncle François Boissonnault. In 1843 he was named parish priest of Saint-François at Beauceville, where he gave a new stimulus to education, and opened in Tring, Forsyth, and Lambton townships chapels that later became the parishes of Saint-Victor, Saint-Éphrem, Saint-Évariste, and Saint-Vital. He left Beauce in 1848 to assume the office of parish priest of Saint-Joseph at Maskinongé, which he was to hold for 41 years.
A missionary and spiritual guide, Bois was also always a collector, a scholar, and a lover of history. While at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière (La Pocatière), he copied the manuscript of “Journal d’un voyage en Europe, 1819–1820,” by Bishop Joseph-Octave Plessis*, and began to collect original documents, the first being the “Journal du Voyage” of Luc de La Come*, which he received from his uncle François. At Saint-Jean-Port-Joli his acquaintance with Philippe-Joseph Aubert* de Gaspé prompted him to take a keener interest in history and to gather material. In 1842 he began compiling “Garde notes ou recueil de notes diverses relatives à l’histoire du Canada,” in which he included a hodgepodge of notes on his readings, extracts of documents, and summaries of interviews; he left 19 notebooks, which are indexed. He also left 7 volumes of newspaper clippings entitled “L’Œuvre de mes ciseaux” (“The work of my scissors”) and 14 volumes of original or copied “Manuscrits.” In addition he put together a “Collection de seings, vues, armoiries, portraits” in three large in-folio albums, and a coin collection. But his greatest wealth was his library which at his death contained some 4,300 volumes and 1,013 pamphlets, mostly dealing with history, especially Canadian history.
Abbé Bois brought together this vast documentation for the specific purpose of writing a history of the first 12 bishops of Quebec. By 1845 he had finished a life of Bishop François de Laval*, a work of 371 pages in-quarto, with a large number of appended documents; from it he published an Esquisse de la vie et des travaux apostoliques de Sa Grandeur Mgr. Fr. Xavier de Laval-Montmorency . . . under the pseudonym of De Vapeaume. Two years later he put the final touches to a biography of the second bishop of Quebec, Jean-Baptiste de La Croix* de Chevrières de Saint-Vallier; Bois gave a summary of it in 1856, as the introduction to a reprint, published in Quebec, of Saint-Vallier’s Estat présent de l’Église et de la colonie française. . . . Furthermore, by 1880 he had written studies of bishops Louis-François Duplessis de Mornay, Pierre-Herman Dosquet*, François-Louis de Pourroy* de Lauberivière, Henri-Marie Dubreil* de Pontbriand, Jean-Olivier Briand*, Louis-Philippe Mariauchau* d’Esgly, Jean-François Hubert*, Pierre Denaut*, Plessis, and Bernard-Claude Panet*, 2,100 pages in all, not including documents. Of this impressive labour only the biography of Bishop Mornay has been published in full, in 1912. Historian Henri Têtu’s comment on the manuscript of this work explains why most of the writings of Abbé Bois remain unpublished: “his weakness is that he does not give sufficient indication of his sources of information, and does not quote often enough the authors he consulted. Furthermore . . . he obviously amplifies excessively, and a panegyrical tone prevails from beginning to end.” Working under difficult conditions – access to sources was often impossible – Bois unhesitatingly made assertions often contradicted later by documents. He was not much concerned by all this, for in his opinion history should unveil only “deeds of heroism, true grandeur, unshaken integrity,” in order to “foster emulation,” and keep people “in the path of duty and honour.”
Bois was the first to admit “that the task is far beyond the reach of my strength and capabilities,” and that it would be better that his work remain in its boxes. But, while he was working at his major undertaking, he used the materials he collected to publish, again anonymously, a large number of brief historical accounts and some more substantial studies, for example on abbés Jean Raimbault* and Joseph-Onésime Leprohon*, Colonel François Dambourgès, Judge Adam Mabane*, and the French émigré clergy in Canada. He was also “the initiator and true compiler” of the 1858 edition of the Relations des jésuites, and he suggested to his protégé, Jean Blanchet, the publication of the Collection de manuscrits contenant lettres, mémoires, et autres documents relatifs à la Nouvelle-France . . . , for which he wrote the preface. In this way the “learned abbé” came to public attention. A number of Canadian intellectuals including James MacPherson Le Moine* and the abbé’s great friend Jean-Baptiste Meilleur* regularly called upon his knowledge and his library; historian Francis Parkman twice went to Maskinongé to consult him. The Université Laval recognized his work by conferring on him the honour of docteur ès lettres in 1883; the Royal Society of Canada admitted him to membership in 1885. That year his bishop, Louis-François Laflèche*, appointed him a canon in recognition of his “industrious research” in history, particularly religious history. More than any other this honour must have gratified a scholar who considered discretion and charity the main attributes of an historian, and who dedicated to research all the time he could snatch from his ministry. The promotion did not change the way of life of this unusual parish priest, a man of commanding presence, who, often absent-minded and absorbed in thought, emerged from his meditations only to speak in maxims or mystify those with whom he talked.
His honours had come late, at a time when illness had almost incapacitated Abbé Bois and was to prevent him from continuing his research. He was able none the less still to direct the parish of Maskinongé, where he died on 9 July 1889; his funeral attracted priests and laymen from all parts of Quebec. In his will, dated 5 Feb. 1880, Abbé Bois bequeathed all his possessions, including his manuscripts and library, to the Séminaire de Nicolet.
[Among the published writings of Louis-Édouard Bois (some under pseudonyms), are the following: Un neveu, “Extraits du vieux livre de mon oncle,” Le Journal de Québec, 1843; De Vapeaume, Esquisse de la vie et des travaux apostoliques de Sa Grandeur Mgr. Fr. Xavier de Laval-Montmorency, premier évêque de Québec . . . (Québec, 1845) (a review of this work appeared in Le Journal de Québec, 9 mars 1847); Études et recherches biographiques sur le chevalier Noël Brulart de Sillery, prêtre, commandeur . . . ([Québec, 1855]); “Notes sur Sa Grandeur Monseigneur de S. Vallier, second évêque de Québec . . . ,” issued as an introduction to a reprint in Quebec in 1856 of the Estat présent de l’Église et de la colonie française dans la Nouvelle-France of Mgr Jean-Baptiste de La Croix de Chevrières de Saint-Vallier, first published in Paris in 1688; Michel Sarrasin, médecin du roi à Québec, conseiller au Conseil supérieur, etc., etc. ([Québec, 1856]); “Notice sur Mgr. Patrice Phelan, troisième évêque de Kingston,” Le Journal de Québec, 20 juin 1857; Le colonel Dambourgès, étude historique canadienne (Québec, 1866); Étude biographique sur M. Jean Raimbault, archiprêtre, curé de Nicolet, etc. (Québec, 1869); Notice sur M. Jos O. Leprohon, archiprêtre, directeur du collège de Nicolet, etc., etc. (Québec, 1870); “Quelques observations à propos des notes historiques sur la paroisse Ste-Anne de la Pocatière . . . ,” L’Événement (Québec), 11 févr.–4 mars 1870; Ruricola, “Les noms propres en Canada,” La Minerve, 17 mars 1874 (this article was also issued as a preface to Pierre-Georges Roy*’s Les noms géographiques de la province de Québec (Lévis, Qué., 1906); Z, “Monseigneur Alexandre Macdonell,” Rev. canadienne, 13 (1876): 8–20, 94–107, 352–74, 411–29; “Madame d’Youville et l’Hôpital Général de Montréal,” Le Journal de Québec, 20 avril 1878; Le juge A. Mabane, étude historique (Québec, 1881); S. J. M., “Biographie du rév. père Emmanuel Crespel,” Le Journal de Québec, 5, 7 févr. 1885, a text that was also published as a preface to a new edition in Quebec in 1884 of the Voiages du R. P. Emmanuel Crespel, dans le Canada et son naufrage en revenant en France, edited by Louis Crespel and first published at Frankfurt am Main (Federal Republic of Germany) in 1742; “L’Angleterre et le clergé français pendant la Révolution,” RSC Trans., lst ser., 3 (1885), sect.i: 77–87; L’île d’Orléans . . . (Québec, 1895); “L’honorable Adam Mabane,” BRH, 7 (1901): 42–46; “Mgr Duplessis-Mornay,” BRH, 18 (1912): 246–56, 311–19.
The ASN has Louis-Édouard Bois papers (AP-G, L.-É. Bois), and a complete description is available through an inventory prepared by Thomas-Marie Charland (copy at PAC, MG 24, B26). The collection consists of about 44 volumes of historical notes and documents and more than 600 letters received by Abbé Bois from Jean-Baptiste Meilleur, Mgr Louis-François Laflèche, James MacPherson Le Moine, and Augustin Côté*. n.v.]
Le Canadien, 10 juill. 1889. Le Journal de Québec, 12 juill. 1889. Le Monde illustré (Montréal), 27 juill. 1889. J.-E. Bellemare, “L’abbé Louis-Édouard Bois,” L’Écho de Saint-Justin (Louiseville, Qué.), 1er janv. 1923:1–7. T.-M. Charland, “L’œuvre historique de l’abbé Louis-Édouard Bois,” SCHÉC Rapport, 3 (1935–36): 13–24. “La paroisse de Saint-François de Beauce; quelques notes,” L’Eclaireur (Beauceville, Qué.), 9 déc. 1909: 10. P.-G. Roy, “Les œuvres de M. l’abbé L.-É Bois,” BRH, 6 (1900): 280–81. Henri Têtu, “Mgr Duplessis de Mornay,” BRH, 4 (1898): 258–65.