CHAPERON, JOHN (baptized Jean), notary and office holder; b. 1 April 1825 in La Malbaie, Lower Canada, son of Michel Chaperon, a merchant, and Constance Simard; d. 13 Nov. 1851 in Rivière-du-Moulin (Chicoutimi), Lower Canada.
John Chaperon belonged to a family that had come from Berne, Switzerland, and settled in the Charlevoix region. He went to the primary school in La Malbaie, but apparently did not receive a classical education. Around 1842 he entered the office of Laughlan Thomas Macpherson at Quebec to train as a notarial clerk. Chaperon received his commission from the Quebec Board of Notaries on 2 Dec. 1847, at the age of 22. On 18 Jan. 1848 at Quebec he married Aurélie-Rosalie Bolduc, the daughter of Henri Bolduc, a notary of that city; they were to have three children. A few months later he moved with his young wife from Quebec to Rivière-du-Moulin, near Chicoutimi.
Chaperon was the first notary to settle in the Saguenay region, where he drew up his first deed on 18 April 1848. Peter McLeod, then the undisputed lord of the region, lost no time in making him his regular notary. A Montagnais on his mother’s side and an associate of William Price* of Quebec in the timber trade, McLeod insisted on his status as a native son, claiming he was entitled to all rights to the lands and forests in the Chicoutimi area. An analysis of Chaperon’s minute-book makes clear McLeod’s stubborn determination to defend his rights, ambitious claims which embroiled him in numerous altercations with local settlers. Of the 378 notarized documents Chaperon drew up, 66 were at the express request of McLeod. There were a good many protests (18) and admissions of judgement in favour of McLeod (17). Then, in order of importance, come receipts, loans, powers of attorney, transfers of debts, and, lastly, a cancellation of sale.
Chaperon’s minute-book in its own way provides a picture of the anonymous mass of ordinary people, the men who primarily worked in the forest but surprisingly called themselves farmers. Against this background of struggling people, certain individuals stand out by adding the imposing title “master” before their occupation: navigators, stevedores, timber cullers, and blacksmiths, not to mention, of course, the baker, shoemaker, and furniture maker. In this Chicoutimi society, which had a well-defined structure based on occupation, the higher level was the bourgeois class, represented by the manager McLeod, Chaperon’s brother-in-law Dr Pierre-Cyrille-Adolphe Dubois, agent general George Forest, and parish priest Jean-Baptiste Gagnon. Also included were the foreman, bookkeeper, schoolmaster, store clerks, and bailiffs.
As the local notary, Chaperon fitted into this social hierarchy at the top, just below McLeod. Yet his income, drawn from his professional practice, was by no means excessive. At the end of each year he drew up his balance-sheet carefully. In 1848 he entered 84 instruments, which earned him £54 4s. 0d. He reached a peak in 1849: 163 for £104 17s. 6d. The following year he had to face competition for clients from a newcomer to Chicoutimi, Ovide Bossé. A number of people immediately ceased doing business with him and in 1850 he drafted only 79 instruments, which brought him a modest £46 17s. 6d. On 31 October of that year he was appointed clerk of the circuit court of Chicoutimi, and the additional revenue from his new duties was welcome in the circumstances. In 1851 he drew up only 52 documents, and he was not to have time to account for the last, dated 21 October. On 13 November his life ended prematurely at Rivière-du-Moulin, when he was 26. He was buried two days later in the cemetery of Saint-François-Xavier parish in Chicoutimi.
Primarily known as the first notary of the Saguenay region, John Chaperon left a minute-book that, although not large, none the less furnishes valuable information on the economic, political, and social life of this corner of Lower Canada in the late 1840s when it was changing from a purely lumbering area into an agricultural settlement.
ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 18 janv. 1848; CE4-3, 1er avril 1825. ANQ-SLSJ, CE1-2, 15 nov. 1851. Arch. de la Compagnie Price Limitée (Chicoutimi, Qué.), no.699. PAC, RG 68, General index, 1841–67: 35. Le Canadien, 24 nov. 1851. Frère Éloi-Gérard [Talbot], Recueil de généalogies des comtés de Charlevoix et Saguenay depuis l’origine jusqu’à 1939 (La Malbaie, Qué., 1941), 118. J.-E. Roy, Hist. du notariat, 3: 175. Léonidas Bélanger, “Les notaires du Saguenay,” Saguenayensia (Chicoutimi), 8 (1966): 128–30.