BROSSEAU, JULIEN, ship’s captain, militia officer, politician, and office holder; b. 14 Aug. 1837 in La Prairie, Lower Canada, son of Julien Brosseau, an innkeeper, and Émérence Robidoux; m. first there 29 Aug. 1857 Philomène Fortin (d. 1887), and they had 13 children; m. secondly 8 Oct. 1889, in Trois-Rivières, Que., Marie-Anne-Alphonsine Normand, widow of lawyer Joseph-François-Wenceslas Bureau, and two sons from this marriage survived him; d. 15 March 1912 in La Prairie.
Julien Brosseau’s forebears had lived in La Prairie for several generations and many of them had been leading citizens. Little is known about the first 20 years of his life, except that he studied at the Séminaire de Saint-Hyacinthe from 1847 to 1851. In 1857, at the time of his marriage, he was captain of the steam ferry L’Aigle, which plied between La Prairie and Montreal. Brosseau was involved in the development of his village. In 1867 he was one of a group of local residents who set up the Laprairie Navigation Company, which was incorporated three years later. The partners intended to build ships, wharves, and docks, and carry freight and passengers between the port of Montreal and La Prairie. Brosseau was manager of the company for a number of years and was appointed its president in 1885.
From 21 Jan. 1864 to 1 June 1875 Brosseau had served as secretary-treasurer of La Prairie. Having been required to follow municipal life closely throughout these years, he decided to run for mayor in January 1876. Elected on 17 January, he remained in office until 19 Jan. 1885. From 1892 until the end of his life he would be registrar of the county of La Prairie.
A politician and businessman, Brosseau also found time for military activities. On 14 June 1872 he was appointed captain of an infantry company in the 21st Battalion Voluntary Militia Infantry (Richelieu Light Infantry), although two years earlier his name was not on the list of militia officers. On 4 June 1880 he was promoted direct to the rank of lieutenant-colonel and put in command of the 85th, a new militia infantry battalion. He had raised this unit with the help of other French Canadians of the lower middle class from the north and south shores around Montreal, as well as from the city itself, and its officer corps was almost entirely French Canadian.
Brosseau was a good organizer. Recruitment to the battalion and its early activities caused him no serious problems. Soon a band and a target-shooting club had been formed for the part-time militiamen. The minister of militia and defence issued a laudatory report on the unit’s first training camp. Even though the funds made available to battalions at that time were so meagre that officers sometimes had to provide financial support for them, Brosseau seems not to have complained. He declared himself completely satisfied with the rules and regulations of the Militia Act of 1879, under which he had formed his battalion, and did not contemplate adding supplementary conditions.
Although Lieutenant-Colonel Brosseau embarked enthusiastically on his career as a volunteer and thereby became part of the wave of militarism then sweeping much of Europe and the British empire, he does not appear to have been an outstanding soldier. At the battalion’s first target-shooting competition, held in La Prairie in September 1882, his score was one of the lowest. It was the lack of opportunities to earn distinction in military action, however, that was most distressing to the men and to Brosseau. The battalion could not take part in the only military campaign of the period, the North-West expedition of 1885 [see Sir Frederick Dobson Middleton*]. The 65th Battalion of Rifles (Mount Royal Rifles) and the 9th Battalion Volunteer Militia Rifles made up the main military effort of French Canada in this endeavour. After 12 years in command, Brosseau left military service on 22 July 1892 without ever having seen action.
The story of the 85th Battalion of Infantry, raised by Julien Brosseau, is one of success. The unit continued to function well after he left, and in the long run the Régiment de Maisonneuve, as it became known on 23 March 1920, made a name for itself. Because of its long tradition and its achievements during World War II, it would become an example and act as a powerful leaven in the French Canadian military tradition. It owes its reputation in part to Julien Brosseau.
ANQ-M, CE1-2, 14 août 1837, 29 août 1857; P-60 (copies at the Soc. Hist. de La Prairie de la Magdeleine, La Prairie, Qué.). ANQ-MBF, CE1-48, 8 oct. 1889. Arch. du Régiment de Maisonneuve (Montréal), D, 2 (biog. du lieutenant-colonel Julien Brosseau); 29 (articles de journaux, 85e bataillon); 85e bataillon, reg. A. Arch. du Séminaire de Saint-Hyacinthe, Qué., Fichier des étudiants. NA, RG 9, 11, B4, 2: 97. La Minerve, 15 mai 1885. La Presse, 15, 19 mars 1912. Le Richelieu (Saint-Jean, Qué.), 11 juin 1936. E. J. Chambers, Histoire du 65ème régiment Carabiniers Mont-Royal (Montréal, 1906). Joseph Chevalier, Laprairie: notes historiques à l’occasion du centenaire de la consécration de l’église (s.l., 1941). Philippe Constant [J.-J. Lefebvre], “Le Breton Denis Brosseau † 1711, Trois-Rivières, tige d’une famille d’officiers canadiens,” Soc. Généal. Canadienne-Française, Mémoires (Montréal), 24 (1973): 20–25; “Le sénateur Pierre Fortin (1823–1888); son ascendance – ses alliés,” BRH, 68 (1966): 87–96. Jacques Gouin, Bon cœur et bon bras: histoire du régiment de Maisonneuve, 1880–1980 (Montréal, 1980). Qué., Statuts, 1870, c.43. P.-G. Roy, La famille Rocbert de La Morandière (Lévis, Qué., 1905). Benjamin Sulte, Histoire de la milice canadienne française, 1760–1897 (Montréal, 1897).