BOUCHER, FRANÇOIS, mariner, merchant, and office holder; b. 10 Dec. 1730 at Quebec, eldest son of François Boucher, a mariner, and Marie-Anne Mattel, an innkeeper; m. 12 Feb. 1759 Marie-Joseph Tremblay in the parish of Saint-Louis (at Saint-Louis de-l’Isle-aux-Coudres, Que.), and they had seven sons and four daughters; d. 3 May 1816 at Quebec.
From childhood François Boucher was in contact with the seafaring world through his mother, who kept an inn near the port of Quebec. His father, a captain on fishing vessels, probably passed on to him a taste for the mariner’s life and the rudiments of that profession, since by 1758 François Boucher was engaged by a shipowner as a sea captain at 200 livres a month.
During the 1760s Boucher also became a river pilot on the St Lawrence, a sideline to his work as a ship’s captain. It is impossible to determine exactly when he started serving as a pilot, but the fact that he lived on he aux Coudres, the point of departure for pilots guiding ocean-going ships to Quebec, may suggest that he was among a score of candidates who received licences for the first time in 1769 and who were the only ones authorized to pilot such vessels. Moreover, he taught navigation to Joseph Bonnet, an apprentice pilot from the island who was licensed in 1777, and his own name appears on the first known list of pilots, dated 13 June 1780. In 1781 Boucher’s experience in inland navigation was turned to account when he was chosen by Governor Haldimand to serve with Peter Napier, Augustin Raby*, and Martin Dechinique* on the committee to examine those seeking qualification as pilots on the St Lawrence. Four years later he was even one of the group of examiners licensing his son Pierre.
In 1784 Boucher sold his property on Île aux Coudres for 800 livres and went to live at Quebec. In the years that followed he seems to have concentrated on shipping and commerce. Thus from 1792 to 1797 he bought or hired schooners to trade in flour and various products. His transactions took him to both shores of the St Lawrence and sometimes to more distant places such as Baie des Chaleurs and Halifax, N.S. To ensure the growth of his business he went into partnership with his son Louis-Michel, and together they set up three stores, at Quebec, Saint-Thomas-de la-Pointe-à-la-Caille (Montmagny), and Kamouraska, and then a distillery at Saint-Roch-des-Aulnaies. On 17 Oct. 1799 the firm closed down because of financial difficulties arising particularly from the shipwreck of one of its vessels; at that time it owed £5,318, including £3,700 to George Davison and Company of London, England. Unable to pay their debts, the two Bouchers had to surrender some of their real and personal estate to John Blackwood, the creditors’ agent. This bankruptcy apparently took Boucher’s properties at Quebec, since in 1800 he rented a two-storey stone house for £25 a year, and six years later leased another, much larger one from Jean-Baptiste Le Comte Dupré for £90 a year.
On 12 Aug. 1803 Sir Robert Shore Milnes*, the lieutenant governor of Lower Canada, awarded Boucher the important post of captain of the port of Quebec, to succeed James Frost who had died on 18 June. In view of the complexities involved in ensuring the efficiency and improvement of navigation on the St Lawrence, the parliament of Lower Canada in 1805 set up Trinity House of Quebec, on the English model of Trinity Houses. Founded in 1514, these establishments were highly respected in marine matters by the early 19th century. Boucher was reappointed to his duties within this organization with the new title of harbour-master. Trinity House also had a master, a deputy master, and a superintendent of pilots, as well as five wardens chosen from among the merchants of Quebec and Montreal. In particular these officers were to look after anchorage, the building of quays and lighthouses, and the removal of obstructions from sea lanes; in addition they could make regulations concerning ships’ security and recommend the licensing of pilots.
A sudden increase in traffic at the port of Quebec in 1810, evident in the docking of 600 ships that year, prompted Boucher to ask for an assistant to carry out his tasks more efficiently. On 18 May 1811 Lieutenant Governor Francis Nathaniel Burton* agreed to his request and authorized Trinity House to take on an assistant to the harbour-master. However, on 30 May Boucher resigned his office. Because of his long years of service he received an annual pension of £150 and remained an honorary member of Trinity House. John Lambly, who was also an experienced mariner, immediately succeeded him as harbour-master.
ANQ-Q, CN1-178, 29 janv. 1806; CN1-207, 6 oct. 1758, 2 mars 1759; CN1-256, 11 Sept., 29 Oct. 1792; 9 June 1795; CN1-262, 17 oct. 1799. BL, Add. mss 21805: 14; 21879: 248; 21882: 44 (copies at PAC). Port of Quebec Arch. (Quebec), Corr., Paul Boucher à Louis Beaudry, 8 févr. 1943; Trinity House, letters patent, 6 May 1805; minute-books, I: 541; II: 42, 47–48. Bas-Canada, Statuts, 1805, c.12. “Les dénombrements de Québec” (Plessis), ANQ Rapport, 1948–49: 32, 82, 131, 185. “Ordonnances édictées pour la province de Québec par le gouverneur et le conseil de celle-ci, de 1768 à 1791 . . . ,” PAC Rapport, 1914–15: 11–14. “Le recensement de Québec, en 1744,” ANQ Rapport, 1939–40: 122. “Le recensement du gouvernement de Québec en 1762,” ANQ Rapport, 1925–26: 141. Quebec Gazette, 31 Oct. 1799; 23 June, 25 Aug. 1803; 16 May 1805; 6 June 1811; 20 June 1816. P.-G. Roy, Inventaire des jugements et délibérations du Conseil supérieur de la Nouvelle-France, de 1717 à 1760 (7v., Beauceville, Qué., 1932–35), 3: 197. Tanguay, Dictionnaire, 2: 379, 387. “Le pilotage sur le Saint-Laurent,” BRH, 19 (1913): 117.