CARBONNEAU, JEAN-BAPTISTE (baptized Jean-Baptiste-Mathias), colonist, carpenter, colonization agent, politician, and office holder; b. 10 Aug. 1864 in the parish of Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption-de-Bellechasse in Berthier-en-Bas (Berthier-sur-Mer), Lower Canada, son of Édouard Carbonneau, a carpenter, and Marguerite Mercier; m. 11 Oct. 1886 Rosana Caron in the parish of Saint-Roch in Quebec City, and they had nine children; d. 4 Dec. 1936 in that city and was buried there on 7 December in the Saint-Charles cemetery.
Jean-Baptiste’s father had to move from place to place in order to earn a living, which is probably why Jean-Baptiste attended schools in Windsor, Ont., and in Detroit. Indeed, in 1869 Édouard went to the United States, where he became a manufacturer. He returned with his family to Jean-Baptiste’s birthplace, Berthier-en-Bas, in 1871. After listening to a talk by the missionary Zacharie Lacasse*, an Oblate of Mary Immaculate, about the Lac-Saint-Jean region, Édouard and his two sons, Joseph and Jean-Baptiste, joined a group of colonists in the early 1880s and settled in what would become the township of Normandin several years later. This region was described as an ideal farming area; it was even the subject of a book by Arthur Buies* published in Quebec City in 1890, La région du Lac Saint-Jean, grenier de la province de Québec … (released a year later in the same city as The Lake Saint John region: the granary of the province of Quebec …). Life in these newly settled areas was, however, very difficult. Poverty and isolation drove many to leave after a few years. Of the 29 families who had chosen to make their homes in the township of Normandin in 1884, only a dozen would still be there in 1888.
For his part, Jean-Baptiste took up residence in Quebec City and in Montreal for several years, and in 1886 he married Rosana Caron in the Quebec City parish of Saint-Roch, where four of the couple’s children were baptized. On his marriage certificate he described himself as a carpenter residing in the Montreal parish of Notre-Dame.
In 1893 Carbonneau returned to the township of Normandin (by then called Normandin-et-Albanel) and assisted the colonization movement in facilitating the settlement of new arrivals. This work would be one of the most important activities of his career. During the same period he became involved in politics. Elected a municipal councillor on 9 Jan. 1893 and mayor on 26 Jan. 1895, he resigned on 21 July 1896 because the electorate refused to support a by-law authorizing a $200 loan for work on roads and bridges and for the settlement of a few debts. He was mayor again from 16 Jan. 1899 to the beginning of 1902. He also served as prefect from 4 March 1899 until early March 1902.
When he became an agent for the Société de Colonisation et de Rapatriement du Lac Saint-Jean in 1902 [see Benjamin Alexander Scott*], Carbonneau moved to Roberval. He gave talks across the province to try to persuade young people to settle in the colonization regions rather than in the United States.
Carbonneau was the independent Liberal candidate for the riding of Lac-Saint-Jean in the provincial election of 1904. Georges Tanguay, a Quebec City merchant and the incumbent Liberal mla, had the support of Premier Simon-Napoléon Parent*, as well as that of the Conservative mp for Chicoutimi-Saguenay, Joseph Girard. The newspaper Le Lac Saint-Jean also got involved and attempted to convince the populace that Carbonneau was not influential enough and that his election would be detrimental to the riding’s development. On 25 November Carbonneau lost by 172 votes. His defeat did not shake his determination to remain in politics. He was elected municipal councillor for the south ward of Roberval in 1906.
In January 1907 the federal government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier*, which was making a great effort at the time to repatriate French Canadians who had gone to the United States, appointed Carbonneau immigration agent in Biddeford, Maine. On 21 February Carbonneau noted in Le Lac Saint-Jean: “My days are devoted to talking about the advantages that our country has to offer, both to financiers and to sturdy colonists. The Americans, as well as the French Canadians, are more concerned about our country than we seem to think.”
Carbonneau was still living in the United States in 1908 when the Liberal Party leaders chose him as their candidate in the riding of Lac-Saint-Jean. As a result, following the death of Liberal mla Théodore-Louis-Antoine Broët, he won by acclamation in the by-election of 14 October. He retained his seat in 1912 with a majority of 842 votes. In the Legislative Assembly he continued to support the colonization movement. His speeches were devoted to the defence of the colonists and the promotion of their interests. To facilitate travel in the Lac-Saint-Jean area he secured funds for constructing roads and bridges and for extending the railway around the lake. The bridge that crosses the Rivière Ashuapmushuan at Saint-Félicien bears his name (1909) to pay homage to his outstanding involvement in the region. Carbonneau also wanted to improve the educational system in his riding, particularly by establishing a normal school at Roberval and an agricultural school. He was unable to complete his projects because, to everyone’s surprise, he submitted his resignation in 1915 to accept an appointment as warden of the Quebec City prison at an annual salary of $1,400. On 17 June Le Lac Saint-Jean commented: “The position to which M. Carbonneau has just been named is usually regarded as a political reward, but such rewards are not always given to men who are as deserving as M. Carbonneau.” At Roberval his departure was marked by a reception in his honour on 1 Aug. 1915. That year, in his first published report as warden, he noted that the prison had 1,100 inmates, including 365 repeat offenders, and that the prisoners had done most of the maintenance and repair work, labour worth some $4,000. Carbonneau lived in Quebec City, where for 12 years he was active in the Quebec Chamber of Commerce and, according to an article in Le Soleil on 4 Dec. 1936, was a “grand master” of the Knights of Columbus.
Jean-Baptiste Carbonneau died in office on 4 Dec. 1936. His involvement in the colonization movement and his political career made him a significant figure in the development of the Lac-Saint-Jean region. At the time of his death, Le Colon, Le Soleil, and Le Progrès du Saguenay portrayed him as a likeable man who was wholly devoted to the public.
Access to most of the archival files concerning the Quebec City prison is restricted until the year 2075. Jean-Baptiste Carbonneau wrote the last published report on the prison, in 1916. He is also the author of Adresse aux électeurs du comté de Lac Saint-Jean (Roberval, Québec, 1908).
BANQ-Q, CE301-S22, 11 oct. 1886; CE302-S2, 11 août 1864. Centre d’Arch. Domaine-du-Roy (Roberval), Arch. de la Ville de Roberval, procès-verbaux de la Municipalité de la seconde division, comté Lac-Saint-Jean, 1892–1906; PA4-8/124. Le Colon (Québec), 17 déc. 1936. Le Devoir, 4 déc. 1936. Le Lac Saint-Jean (Roberval), 3 mars, 11 août, 17 nov. 1904; 17 janv., 14, 21 févr. 1907; 24 sept., 15 oct. 1908; 17 juin, 5 août 1915. Le Progrès du Saguenay (Chicoutimi [Saguenay, Québec]), 23 oct. 1908; 4 avril, 16 mai 1912. Le Soleil, 4, 7 déc. 1936. Patrick Hamel, Normandin et son terroir (Dolbeau [Dolbeau-Mistassini, Québec], 1988). Que., Parl., Sessional papers, 1916 (report of the inspectors of prisons, 1915). Québec, Assemblée Nationale, “Journal des débats”: www.assnat.qc.ca/fr/travaux-parlementaires/journaux-debats.html (consulted 9 Sept. 2014). Rossel Vien, Histoire de Roberval, cœur du Lac-Saint-Jean ([Chicoutimi, 1955]).