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BOUCHER, CYRILLE, journalist and lawyer; b. 30 July 1834 at Saint-Rémi, Lower Canada, son of François-Xavier Boucher, a journeyman, and Félicité Roy; d. 9 Oct. 1865 at Montreal.

When Cyrille Boucher was born the parish of Saint-Rémi-de-La-Salle, created by canonical decree six years before, was developing rapidly under the impetus given by its priest, Abbé Pierre Bédard. Thanks to Bédard, Boucher began his classical studies at the age of 17 under the Sulpicians at the Collège de Montréal. In the prize-giving of July 1852 his name appeared only once on the honours list: he placed first in religious instruction, as he was to do unfailingly each year. He was remarkably successful as a student in his subsequent years. During his third, or poetry year, for unknown reasons, he left the college.

In September 1855 Boucher was admitted without fee to the Collège Sainte-Marie. Its rector and founder, Father Félix Martin*, exempted him from the belles-lettres class and advanced him to rhetoric under a remarkable educator, Father Jean-Baptiste-Adolphe Larcher. Among his classmates were Joseph Royal* and Joseph-Édouard Lefebvre de Bellefeuille. In 1856 poverty forced him to break off his studies. He turned to teaching at the Collège Masson, which the parish priest of Terrebonne, Abbé Adrien Théberge, had founded in 1847 with the help of the seigneur, Joseph Masson*. During the leisure which his apparently limited teaching duties left him, Boucher indulged in an orgy of reading, principally it seems of the works of Veuillot. Boucher’s first known article, “Essai sur le guerrier,” which appeared in La Minerve on 26 Nov. 1856, was a direct paraphrase of Veuillot’s work La Guerre et l’homme de guerre, published the year before. Adolphe Ouimet, under the pseudonym Sophog Velligul, in 1858 put together a pamphlet against Boucher in his series Les contemporains canadiens, in which he claimed that this essay was simply “outright plagiarism” of Veuillot.

While teaching, Boucher had thus begun to try journalism. He contributed to La Patrie and La Minerve. But it was primarily when he began to contribute to Le Courrier du Canada and received the advice of the experienced editor in chief Joseph-Charles Taché*, that he undertook a journalistic career in earnest. Articles in the paper from 1 to 4 July 1857 took issue with the thesis of Abbé Jean-Joseph Gaume, who had unleashed a widespread controversy in France over the use of pagan authors in Catholic colleges. Félix Dupanloup, bishop of Orléans, France, had disputed the validity of Gaume’s thesis that the pagan classics contributed to the moral decadence of adolescents. In his articles Boucher recapitulated Dupanloup’s arguments. Abbé Norbert Barret, of the College de L’Assomption, quickly replied in the Gaumist vein. The Boucher–Barret controversy was just a harmless prelude to Abbé Alexis Pelletier*’s furious campaign eight years later against the authorities and the teaching of the Séminaire de Québec. Hence Boucher is at the origin of the first vehement assertion of ultramontanism in Quebec; later, the arguments that Boucher defended as editor of L’Ordre foreshadowed the phase of ultramontanism which would be initiated by the publication of the “Catholic programme.”

In September 1857, when he was ending his controversy with Abbé Barret, Boucher was about to return to study at the Collège Sainte-Marie, where a law school had been created in May 1851. Among other somewhat peculiar characteristics, this school had only one professor, François-Marie-Uncas-Maximilien Bibaud*. Leaving aside McGill University, which was attended by few young French Canadians, Bibaud monopolized the teaching of law at Montreal. The students at Saint-Marie (who numbered 14 when Boucher joined them) were compelled to take only the bar examinations. The programme of study was by no means exacting, and classes were held three times a week. An energetic man, Boucher was able to continue to contribute to newspapers while studying law. In December 1857, with the help of Ouimet, now his friend, he founded the weekly La Guêpe, and was for a while its principal editor.

Until he entered law school, Cyrille Boucher had acted as a franc tireur in Catholic journalism. On his return to Montreal, he began to take an active part in the bishop of Montreal’s offensive against the Institut Canadien. In three pastoral letters published on 10 March, 30 April, and 31 May 1858, Bishop Ignace Bourget* condemned the liberalism professed by the leading figures of the institute. As a result some 135 members resigned and founded the Institut Canadien-Français, which was established on 16 December 1858. According to Boucher, this institute immediately took “a truly national direction.” Bishop Bourget’s act of authority was only a dramatic expression of a bitter resistance to the Institut Canadien’s influence, which was thought to be harmful to young Montreal Catholics. This resistance was embodied principally in the Union Catholique of the Collège Sainte-Marie and the parish Cabinet de Lecture of the Sulpicians.

The Union Catholique had started in 1854 first in the form of a congregation, then of an academy. On 16 April 1858 Boucher was chosen its secretary. He was also an active member of the literary circle of the parish reading room, which was organized on 2 Feb. 1857 with a programme of “instruction, teaching, and dissemination for the religious and moral sciences and the arts, by the circulation of books and newspapers and public readings or lectures.”

The Union Catholique contributed to the common struggle by founding the newspaper L’Ordre, the first number of which appeared on 23 Nov. 1858. The initiative for this venture came from Joseph Royal who brought in his friend Cyrille Boucher, and a little later Joseph-Édouard Lefebvre de Bellefeuille and Louis Beaubien*, all four former students of the Collège Sainte-Marie and members of the directorate of the Union Catholique. The idea of a Catholic paper was attributed to Canon Venant Pilon of the bishopric of Montreal; Denis-Benjamin Viger guaranteed the necessary financial assistance for the publication. Boucher would have liked a daily paper, but they decided finally on two issues a week. On 5 March 1860 L’Ordre became a tri-weekly publication, and its format was enlarged. But on 15 November the paper passed into other hands, and the ultramontane L’Ordre was succeeded by the moderate liberal L’Ordre.

According to the founders’ plan, L’Ordre was to be essentially a journal of opinion, devoted to the defence of truth in the religious, national, and political spheres. Although all the editors considered themselves as equals in a fraternal team, Boucher soon stood out as their leader, and the task of presenting the programme devolved on him. He frequently drafted the press review and alternated with Royal in attending the sittings of the assembly; into this review and the report of the parliamentary debates he occasionally slipped moral reflections, on men and events, whose sharp tone often sparked controversy. Already feared because of his irrepressible and uncompromising spirit, he soon became the target at L’Ordre for partisan attacks. He was a trouble-maker and his undeniable influence on the young people of his time, the voters of the future, threatened to upset many plans. From then on Boucher set about attacking not only the liberal democrats of the Institut Canadien and their organs Le Pays and Le Courrier de Saint-Hyacinthe, but also the supporters of George-Étienne Cartier* and La Minerve, the Conservatives’ paper.

In the initial article outlining his programme, Boucher had asserted unequivocally that the paper would be independent of parties. “Our place in the press,” he wrote on 26 Nov. 1858, “. . . is above the parties manœuvring in today’s political arena; our duty is to state the truth to every man, frankly and without deference to public opinion, without fear and without shameful compromise, as soon as we perceive that anyone is departing from it.” Being an inflexible idealist, Boucher could not tolerate the compromises to which the leaders of the Conservative party resorted to stay in power in this period of unstable governments: “A grovelling and gutless politics is not what my country needs; it is destined to be governed in a more noble fashion.” The young paladins of L’Ordre proved so virulent in their criticism of Cartier’s party that Joseph-Charles Taché, the editor in chief of Le Courrier du Canada, thought it advisable to bring his young confrère to a more realistic appreciation of Canadian politics: “People may certainly censure what they believe reprehensible,” wrote Taché on 23 Feb. 1859, “. . . but to set oneself to destroy a party which, whatever its failings in other respects, after all represents order and sound ideas, and to do so for the benefit of the wrong party, is something we fail to understand, and it distresses us.”

But Boucher and his friends turned a deaf ear to Taché’s appeals, and continued to cut and thrust. Since La Minerve shifted in matters of principle and refused to attack the liberal theses of the democrats, L’Ordre unmasked the latter, thanks to Lefebvre de Bellefeuille, who published his “Essai star le rougisme” in the issues of 13 to 27 May 1859: “Properly speaking a Rouge is one who seeks (1) the separation of church and state; (2) the abolition of the right of property; (3) the sovereignty of the people. Accordingly, a Rouge is one who supports and upholds three abominable principles, which promise anarchy and disastrous consequences and can never find acceptance in the conscience of an enlightened Christian.” This analysis of the liberal theses drew its inspiration from the works of Veuillot. An influence upon French Canadian journalists had never before been as evident. It became even more obvious when Boucher and Royal had occasion to express opinions on the Italian war of 1859. Catholics saw the movement for Italian unity, carried out under the principle of nationalism, simply as an attempt on the part of hostile forces to reduce the church to impotence, since its outcome was the annihilation of the temporal power of the pope. Among ultramontanes, Veuillot probably sustained most forcefully and eloquently this thesis which totally disregarded the Italian people’s aspirations for their country’s independence. Cyrille Boucher and Joseph Royal adopted the ultramontane point of view from the outset, so that L’Ordre was nothing but the Canadian offshoot of L’Univers in Paris in its reporting of Italian affairs.

It was with a commentary on Castelfidardo, which on 18 Sept. 1860 marked the defeat of the small papal army, that Boucher ended his regular and acknowledged collaboration with L’Ordre. His three colleagues were to follow his lead. Indeed, circumstances forced the team to this course. The two promoters of the enterprise died within a short time of each other, Canon Pilon on 30 Nov. 1860 and Viger on 13 Feb. 1861. Deprived of the support of their counsellor and their financial backer, they resigned on 25 June 1861. The printer Jacques-Alexis Plinguet, who had actually owned L’Ordre since 15 Nov. 1860, succeeded in getting the leader of the Lower Canadian Liberals, Antoine-Aimé Dorion*, to take over the paper.

Apart from an occasional contribution to L’Écho du cabinet de lecture paroissial, Cyrille Boucher no longer worked as a journalist. He was called to the bar in December 1861, and he no doubt was completely engrossed in his new profession, for he appeared in public only on two occasions: at the Union Catholique on Sunday 8 June 1862, when he spoke on “the part played by the papacy in society,” and at an evening reunion of former students of the Collège Sainte-Marie on 26 Sept. 1865, when he figured in the programme along with Honoré Mercier*, Napoléon Legendre*, and Charles-Chamilly de Lorimier*.

He died suddenly on the morning of 9 Oct. 1865, and was buried in his native parish. “Some time later,” according to Lefebvre de Bellefeuille, “a frightful rumour reached us: he was said to have been buried alive.” Ten years afterwards journalist Oscar Dunn* was still repeating this story.

Joseph Royal, in his account of Boucher’s life in L’Ordre on 11 Oct. 1865, gave this description of his colleague: “M. Cyrille Boucher was tall and well proportioned; he had a magnificent forehead and slightly aquiline nose; the cast of his features showed an extraordinary firmness, that was quickly belied by the expression in his eyes. His face, when animated, was truly handsome and masculine. His gentle, lively glance revealed all the goodness and spontaneity of his proud nature.”

François-Edmé Rameau de Saint-Père was of the opinion that in the great world of the Paris press a most brilliant success would have greeted Boucher, so unquestionable was his literary talent. “But,” according to Laurent-Olivier David*, “like many young men he lacked patience and perseverance. To resign oneself to poverty for several years when one has talent and ambition requires a very resolute character.”

Did he leave a manuscript of a novel entitled “Émilie de Bruneville,” as Henry James Morgan* and La Minerve of 17 Sept. 1864 asserted? No trace of it has been found.

Philippe Sylvain

[This biography is a synthesis of a study entitled “Cyrille Boucher (1834–1865), disciple de Louis Veuillot,” published in the Cahiers des Dix, 37 (1972), 295–317. The basic source for Boucher is an unpublished study by Father Paul Desjardins, “Cyrille Boucher,” to which is attached an anthology of Boucher’s articles. This study, preserved at the ASJCF in the Papiers Paul Desjardins, deserves publication. Another unpublished work of 48 pages, deposited in the same archives under the classification 3162, proved helpful in determining Boucher’s share in the ultramontane Catholic reaction that affected Montreal from 1858 on: “Apologie de l’Union catholique,” written around 1864 by Father Firmin Vignon.  p.s.]

Le Courrier du Canada, juill.–sept. 1857. La Guêpe (Montréal), 1857–58. La Minerve, 1856–58. L’Ordre (Montréal), 23 nov. 1858–25 juin 1861. Morgan, Bibliotheca Canadensis, 41. Sophog Velligul [Adolphe Ouimet], Les contemporains canadiens (Trois-Rivières, 1858), 23–33. L. O. David, Mélanges historiques et littéraires (Montréal, 1917), 256; Souvenirs et biographies, 1870–1910 (Montréal, 1911), 8. Paul Desjardins, Le collège Sainte-Marie de Montréal (2v., Montréal, 1940–[44]), II, 60–75. C.-A. Gareau, Aperçu historique de Terrebonne (Terrebonne, Qué., 1927), 37–38. Olivier Maurault, Le collège de Montréal, 1767–1967, Antonio Dansereau, édit. (2e éd., Montréal, 1967), 198. Oscar Dunn, “Une pièce inédite de Cyrille Boucher,” Revue canadienne (Montréal), XII (1875), 642. Henri Gauthier, “Le Cabinet de lecture paroissial,” Revue canadienne, nouv. sér., VIII (1911), 387–400. J.-É. Lefebvre de Bellefeuille, “Cyrille Boucher,” Revue canadienne, XLIX (1905), 67–69. É.-Z. Massicotte, “Adolphe Ouimet,” BRH, XXXII (1926), 57. L.-A. Prud’homme, “L’honorable Joseph Royal; sa vie, ses œuvres,” Revue canadienne, XLIX (1905), 36–66.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Philippe Sylvain, “BOUCHER, CYRILLE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 7, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/boucher_cyrille_9E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/boucher_cyrille_9E.html
Author of Article:   Philippe Sylvain
Title of Article:   BOUCHER, CYRILLE
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1976
Year of revision:   1976
Access Date:   December 7, 2023