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BOUCHETTE, ROBERT-ERROL, lawyer, journalist, office holder, and author; b. 2 June 1862 at Quebec, eldest son of Robert-Shore-Milnes Bouchette*, a collector of customs, and Clara Lindsay; grandson of Joseph Bouchette* and brother of Marie-Caroline-Alexandra*; m. 27 April 1891 Alice Pacaud, daughter of Édouard-Louis Pacaud*, in Saint-Christophe-d’Arthabaska (Arthabaska), Que., and they had six children; d. 13 Aug. 1912 in Ottawa.

In 1865 the Bouchettes, like other families of office holders in the city of Quebec, moved to Ottawa, the new capital of the Province of Canada. There Robert-Errol attended kindergarten, where he learned English and met Léon Gérin*, who would become his friend and closest associate. When the family returned to Quebec in 1875, the boy, now an adolescent, entered the Petit Séminaire as a boarder, and after the death of his father in 1879 he remained as a day-pupil. An average student, he attained excellent marks in English, but his behaviour in class and his perseverance left something to be desired. He enrolled in the law faculty of the Université Laval in the fall of 1882. After studying with Joseph-Guillaume Bossé, he was called to the bar on 14 Jan. 1885.

Like many law graduates of his day, Bouchette soon abandoned the gown for the pen. During the next eight years journalism captivated him. From 1885 to 1893 he took advantage of his new profession to further his training and his knowledge, build up a valuable network of acquaintances, and begin expounding his ideas about developments in French Canada, which he was watching closely.

In the summer of 1885 Bouchette made his debut as a columnist for the Revue canadienne of Montreal. Some authors claim that he subsequently moved to the Montreal paper La Minerve, but this collaboration is far from certain. There is no doubt, however, that he was a contributor to LÉtendard. From August 1886 to May 1888 he wrote some 30 articles for it under the pseudonym Onondaga. He then returned to his home town and joined the staff of LÉlecteur, an influential Liberal organ whose editor was Ernest Pacaud*. The various positions Bouchette would hold with it, such as assistant editor, parliamentary correspondent at Quebec and Ottawa, and reporter, would make him an accomplished journalist. He left LÉlecteur during the Baie des Chaleurs scandal, which tarnished the reputation of its management and brought about the fall of Honoré Mercier*’s government near the end of 1891. Some months later, in May 1892, Bouchette was named local correspondent for the Montreal Herald. Soon he was doing the same work for the Toronto Globe. His career as a journalist came to an end early the following year, when he decided he would return to Montreal and practise law.

For Bouchette, the life of a journalist must have been highly instructive, since it allowed him to rub shoulders with the élite and to witness from the inside the debates rocking French Canada. For instance, his work had brought him into frequent contact with various French-speaking political figures and intellectuals, including some already well known in the Liberal party, such as Wilfrid Laurier, Honoré Mercier, the brothers François and Charles Langelier, and others rising to prominence, notably Simon-Napoléon Parent, Lomer Gouin*, and Rodolphe Lemieux*. His position as private secretary to the provincial minister of public works, Pierre Garneau*, in 1890 and 1891 helped bring him into even closer contact with political circles. Bouchette also had the opportunity of associating with the likes of Ulric Barthe, Jules Helbronner*, Jules-Paul Tardivel*, Arthur Buies*, Louis Fréchette*, and many others who would leave their mark on the world of journalism and the intellectual life of French Canada. Joining the Institut Canadien de Québec in February 1891 enhanced his connections with the élite of the city.

Having begun his journalistic career during the turmoil of the Riel affair [see Louis Riel*], when editorial journalism was at its height, Bouchette became the sounding-board for the concerns of French Canadians and Liberals of the day. In his articles, he defended basically two principles: provincial autonomy and the rights of Catholics. His hero was Mercier, his scapegoats the Conservative trio of Sir John A. Macdonald*, William Ralph Meredith*, and Joseph-Adolphe Chapleau*. Behind the traits of the partisan journalist could scarcely be discerned the post–1900 Bouchette, obsessed by economic issues, which he would then link to the discussion of French Canada’s future. For the time being he confined himself to commenting on the current economic scene, without expounding the ideas for which he would be known to his contemporaries and recognized by later generations.

With his move to Montreal in the fall of 1893 Bouchette left Quebec for good. The following year he settled in Saint-Lambert, but he practised as a lawyer in the city. Little is known about this period of his life, except that he contributed to La Revue légale (Montréal et Sorel) on one occasion and did a few translations. He appears to have had few regrets about leaving the law when he was offered a position in the federal civil service early in 1898. Bouchette’s arrival in Ottawa at the age of 35 was the final turning-point in his short life. His most intense and productive period now began. He would put to use the experience gained in previous years and employ his talents to the fullest.

Bouchette was appointed a clerk in the Department of Public Works on 13 April 1898. On 1 November he took on the added duties of private secretary to the minister of inland revenue, Sir Henri-Gustave Joly* de Lotbinière, who would be succeeded on 22 June 1900 by Michel-Esdras Bernier. In January 1901 he reverted to being an ordinary clerk in the Department of Inland Revenue. Within three years, on 12 Dec. 1903, he was appointed clerk to the Library of Parliament, a position he would retain for the rest of his life. His entry into the civil service enabled him to reconnect with the world of politics, which he knew so well. Above all, it gave him the chance to enjoy at last a secure and even interesting position that brought him a steady income and gave him free time for thinking and writing. He would take advantage of this opportunity, becoming more involved in intellectual life and in the debates agitating French Canada.

On arrival in Ottawa, Bouchette sought to make a place for himself in the French Canadian intellectual circles by getting into the most respected cultural institutions. In 1898 he joined the Ottawa Institut Canadien-Français, in which he would remain active to the end of his life. He was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 1905, and from the following year until his death he held the office of secretary for section i. He was also a member of a literary club, the Cercle des Dix, and of the Historic Landmarks Association. Always looking for milieux that would foster progress in the realm of thought, in May 1905 Bouchette himself founded a group to study economic and social questions. Consisting of a few civil servants and politicians, it had the benefit of Léon Gérin’s teaching, but does not appear to have been active for more than three or four years.

One aspect of Bouchette’s intellectual involvement was his determination to see French Canadians take an interest in the economic and social sciences. He waged a lifelong campaign for this cause, his activity within the Royal Society of Canada being especially significant. In 1908 he became the driving force behind a movement to create a new section that would focus on these sciences. The efforts of the committee set up the next year led in 1912 to a compromise: sociology and political economy were added to sections i and ii as official subjects of study.

Bouchette took part with as much or even more intensity in the debates shaking French Canadian society at the turn of the century. This time his participation in them would be more personal and original. The journalist gave way to the thinker, partisanship to careful consideration. Although he was active in various organizations of interest to French Canadians, such as the Association Canadienne-Française d’Éducation d’Ontario, and was a member of the Ligue de l’Enseignement and the committee for the Monument Champlain in Ottawa, he was involved first and foremost through his writing. Considering the short period during which he wrote, his literary output is extensive and varied. It includes books such as Lindépendance économique du Canada français and a novel Robert Lozé, pamphlets such as Emparons-nous de lindustrie, many articles, and a few lectures. Many of his pieces have been reprinted. They were published in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada and in some of the most important magazines of the early 20th century, such as the Montreal periodicals Revue canadienne and La Revue franco-américaine. He contributed to the Montreal weeklies Le Journal de Françoise and Le Bulletin, and had articles appear in Le Nationaliste, Le Canada, and La Patrie of Montreal, as well as in the Ottawa papers Le Temps and Justice. A few authors have suggested, without providing further details, that Bouchette also wrote for French and Belgian periodicals.

The dominant theme in Bouchette’s work is his determination to see French Canadians share fully in the unprecedented wave of prosperity being experienced in Canada at the end of the 19th century. He thought the situation extremely urgent, given their inferior economic and social status and the pervasive presence of foreign monopolies. This observation led him to propose intervention by the Quebec government, the only really effective lever available to French Canadians. He set out three main steps to be taken: the state should expand primary education and establish a complete network of technical and professional education; increase the protection of natural resources; and organize a system of industrial loans for French Canadian settlers and businessmen. Bouchette justified his program, with its liberal reformist tendency, by reference to the teachings of political economy and the historical evolution of industrialized countries. He would see the government of Lomer Gouin pass legislation in line with his first two proposals. Only the third would be shelved by the politicians. Indeed, the idea that the state might intervene specifically to help French Canadians carve a better place for themselves in the economy of their province clashed with their strong attachment to the theory of laissez-faire. Inspired by his knowledge and his nationalism, and spurred by the current situation, Bouchette had reached the point of expressing a novel concept of the state’s role in the economy, one that would be adopted half a century later by the political class of Quebec.

Bouchette’s writings reveal a cultivated man fascinated by the teachings of political economy and social science. His contemporaries also drew a flattering portrait of him and acknowledged his importance, as witness his inclusion in the Canadian whos who (1910) and in Canadian men and women of the time (1912), by his friend Henry James Morgan. He was said to be a well-mannered man, a brilliant conversationalist, and a talented lecturer. He also reputedly had a vast knowledge of French and English literature and was considered a competent “economist” and sometimes even a “sociologist.” When he died in Ottawa of typhoid fever on 13 Aug. 1912, his passing was mourned across Canada and indeed in the United States.

In recognizing his worth as an intellectual, Robert-Errol Bouchette’s contemporaries appreciated equally his literary works and the ideas he advanced. Notwithstanding a long historiographical tradition, Bouchette was not a prophet crying in the wilderness, nor was he a victim of ostracism.

Alain Lacombe

[This biography is based in large part on my thesis, “Errol Bouchette (1862–1912), un intellectuel” (thèse de phd, univ. du Québec à Montréal, 1994), which also contains complete listings of Bouchette’s publications and of the pertinent documentary sources, studies, and articles. It should be noted that there is no collection of Bouchette’s personal papers; about 15 letters by him are in the Arch. de la Compagnie de Jésus, Prov. du Canada Français (Saint-Jérôme, Qué.), Fonds Léon-Gérin, 5442-1–16.

Bouchette’s principal works include Lindépendance économique du Canada français (Arthabaska, Qué., 1906), a new edition of his Études sociales et économiques sur le Canada (Montréal, 1905), which reproduced a series of articles published in the Rev. canadienne (Montréal) between January and October 1905. The latest edition of Lindépendance économique, including a long introduction by Rodrique Tremblay, was issued at Montreal in 1977. Also important are Bouchette’s pamphlet Emparons-nous de lindustrie (Ottawa, 1901) and his novel Robert Lozé (Montréal, 1903).  a.l.]

ANQ-MBF, CE2-2, 27 avril 1891. ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 3 juin 1862. Centre de Recherche en Civilisation Canadienne-Française (Ottawa), C 36/32/3. LÉlecteur (Québec), 7 avril 1888–28 févr. 1894. LÉtendard (Montréal), 1er juill. 1886–17 mai 1888. Gazette (Montreal), 24 Aug. 1912: 15. Le Temps (Ottawa), 1904–10. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1912). Canadian whos who (1910). Clorinde De Serres, “Bio-bibliographie de Errol Bouchette” (mémoire, école de bibliothécaires, univ. de Montréal, 1944). DOLQ, vol.2. Édouard Fabre Surveyer, “The Bouchette family,” RSC, Trans., 3rd ser., 35 (1941), sect.ii: 135–46. Léon Gérin, “Errol Bouchette,” RSC, Trans., 3rd ser., 7 (1913), proc.: v–x (photo facing p.vi); “La vulgarisation de la science sociale chez les Canadiens français,” RSC, Trans., 2nd ser., 11 (1905), sect.i: 82. Paul Perreault, “Errol Bouchette: sa pensée, son œuvre” (thèse de ma, univ. du Québec à Trois-Rivières, 1976). RSC, Trans., 2nd ser., 11, proc.: xvii. Univ. Laval, Annuaire, 1882–83: 28–29.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Alain Lacombe, “BOUCHETTE, ROBERT-ERROL,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 3, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bouchette_robert_errol_14E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bouchette_robert_errol_14E.html
Author of Article:   Alain Lacombe
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1998
Year of revision:   1998
Access Date:   December 3, 2023