CASGRAIN, HENRI-EDMOND, dental surgeon, inventor, and first motorist in Quebec; b. 5 Aug. 1846 in L’Islet, Lower Canada, son of Olivier-Eugène Casgrain, a notary and the seigneur of L’Islet, and Hortense Dionne, daughter of Amable Dionne*, a seigneur and member of the Legislative Council; m. 16 Oct. 1879 Emma Gaudreau* in Montmagny, Que.; they had no children; d. 30 Oct. 1914 at Quebec.
Henri-Edmond Casgrain was a cousin of Abbé Henri-Raymond Casgrain* and Monsignor Henri Têtu, and he spent his childhood years at the manor in L’Islet. He did the classical program at the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière from 1857 to 1864 and studied medicine at the Université Laval at Quebec from 1866 to 1868. He then went to the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery in Philadelphia to learn the basics of dentistry, which he took up at Quebec. From 1898 he practised in his office on Rue Saint-Jean with his wife, Emma Gaudreau. Born in Montmagny on 2 June 1861, she had studied in the Ursuline convent at Quebec and then trained as a dentist under her husband, who was 15 years her senior. In 1898 she became the first woman in Canada to be admitted to the profession, and she remained in practice at Quebec until 1920.
Like his neighbour on Rue Saint-Jean, watchmaker and jeweller Cyrille Duquet*, Casgrain made a name for himself with a number of inventions, and his reputation as an inventor spread far afield. On 30 March 1895, for example, the Scientific American (New York) publicized one of the Quebec dentist’s inventions: an ingenious and convenient device for fusing aluminum with other metals. Casgrain had been using it in his own practice for three years and had just patented it. That same year he sold a procedure for making dentures to a large firm in the United States, the Buffalo Dental Manufacturing Company. In 1896 he was granted a patent for an acetylene lamp whose forthcoming appearance on the market was announced. He had also invented a “cigarette-making machine.” According to Têtu, “His dental office, moreover, gives some idea of his inventive genius, and visitors are astounded at all the instruments and improvements they see there.” In his work on the Casgrain, Baby, and Perrault families, Philippe-Baby Casgrain would later say, “I have noticed that the Casgrain family, both in France and in Canada, has a special aptitude for inventions and the mechanical arts.”
Endowed “with Herculean strength,” as one journalist put it, Casgrain participated in a number of sports. Initially an avid cyclist, he succumbed to the lure of motoring during a visit to the United States. In May 1897 he received an automobile from France, one manufactured by the firm of Léon Bollée. “The first car of its kind in Canada” according to La Semaine commerciale (Québec), it “aroused the public’s keen curiosity.” It had a gasoline engine and three speeds: five, nine, and eighteen miles per hour. When Casgrain did a trial run at the highest speed on Chemin Sainte-Foy in suburban Quebec, his passenger, Ulric Barthe, declared that “the effect was dizzying.” A skilled mechanic, Casgrain made substantial modifications to his Bollée automobile. In 1867 Henry Seth Taylor, a watchmaker in Stanstead, had built a steam-powered car, the first self-propelled vehicle to be driven in Quebec and in Canada. In the spring of 1897, in Sherbrooke, George Foote Foss had driven an automobile that he had designed. But because the cars of Taylor and Foss were mainly experimental, unsuited to pleasure driving, the press and Dr Casgrain’s contemporaries in 1897 considered him the first true motorist in Quebec. A year later two Montrealers bought their first automobiles.
Casgrain was active for many years in the College of Dental Surgeons of the Province of Quebec, incorporated in 1904, and he served as its vice-president. Well known and highly regarded by his fellow citizens, he sat on the city council from 1900 to 1904 as alderman for Palais ward. He belonged to the Congrégation des Hommes de la Haute Ville and took part every Sunday in the service at the chapel maintained by the Jesuits on Rue d’Auteuil. Like a number of his family, he was a musician, and he owned a superb “pianista,” a player-piano which was “reputedly the only one of that quality at Quebec.”
Henri-Edmond Casgrain practised as a dentist until the very last weeks of his life and he was for a number of years the senior member of the profession in the old capital. He died at his residence on Rue Saint-Jean on 30 Oct. 1914, at the age of 68. His funeral was held on 3 November in Notre-Dame basilica and he was buried in the cemetery of Notre-Dame de Belmont, where his widow had an imposing mausoleum erected to his memory in 1915. The press drew attention to the ingenuity of Casgrain the dentist and recalled what he himself may have considered his greatest claim to fame, that he had been the first motorist in the province of Quebec.
ANQ-Q, CE2-3, 5 août 1846; CE2-7, 2 juin 1861, 16 oct. 1879. L’Action sociale (Québec), 30–31 oct. 1914. Le Courrier du Canada (Québec), 11 juin 1900. L’Evénement, 31 oct. 1914. La Semaine commerciale (Québec), 19 avril, 3 mai 1895; 18 oct., 11 déc. 1896; 28 mai, 4 juin, 12 nov. 1897; 15 avril 1898. Le Soleil, 31 oct. 1914, 8 oct. 1934. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1912), 209. P.-B. Casgrain, Mémorial des familles Casgrain, Baby et Perrault du Canada (Québec, 1898), 41–42, app. Denis Duquet, “Automakers in Canada,” in Horizon Canada; a new way to discover the history of Canada, under the direction of B.-A. Robert et al. (10v., Quebec, 1987), 1: 44–48. D. W. Gullett, A history of dentistry in Canada (Toronto, 1971). J.-M. Lebel, “Le premier automobiliste québécois,” Cap-aux-Diamants (Québec), 5 (1989–90), no.1: 65. P.-G. Roy, “Le premier automobile dans la province de Québec,” BRH, 30 (1924): 94–95. Scientific American (New York), 30 March 1895. Henri Têtu, Histoire des familles Têtu, Bonenfant, Dionne et Perrault (Québec, 1898),449–50, 562.