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DEVAU, Retor, CLAUDE – Volume IV (1771-1800)

d. 14 April 1784 at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade (La Pérade, Que.)


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DALAIRE (Dallaire), OMER-EDMOND (baptized Edmond-Omer), educator, lecturer on agriculture, office holder, and author; b. 20 May 1856 in Saint-Jérôme, Lower Canada, son of Abraham Dalaire, a teacher, and Caroline Fresne; m. 5 Sept. 1881 in Sainte-Scholastique (Mirabel), Que., Malvina Filiatrault; they had two children, Marie, who was her father’s secretary and died suddenly the day he did, and Abraham, an employee of the Dairy School at Saint-Hyacinthe, Que.; d. 19 Feb. 1919 in Saint-Hyacinthe and was buried 22 February in Sainte-Rose (Laval), Que.

Omer-Edmond Dalaire started his career in education as a teacher in the elementary schools of his native region, at Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines from 1881 to 1886 and then at Sainte-Rose from 1886 to 1891. Along with teaching, at the invitation of Édouard-André Barnard* he began in 1884 to give the lectures on agriculture that would be largely responsible for bringing him to public attention on the provincial scene. At the beginning of the 1870s Barnard had advocated the dissemination of agricultural education by government-financed lectures, and in 1872 he had launched the process, giving the initial talks. He would be succeeded as lecturer by Jean-Charles Chapais, Dalaire, and Dr Wilfrid Grignon in turn.

In 1891 Dalaire entered the service of the province’s Department of Agriculture and Colonization as its first permanent lecturer on agriculture. The importance of this new position was due in part to the fact that the government was recognizing the educational value of the interaction between lectures and farmers’ clubs, as farmers’ institutes were called in Quebec. Dalaire would not neglect the second element of this interaction, since, according to Chapais, in the course of his career he helped establish at least 400 of these clubs. He actually had been active in that field long before he began working for the department. From as early as 1884, when he was still teaching, he had assisted in forming eight such groups in the counties of Terrebonne, Deux-Montagnes, and Laval. He is thought to have been responsible also for setting up a number of agricultural societies. His duties with the provincial government took him to every part of Quebec, sometimes as an adviser when farmers’ clubs were being organized, and sometimes as a lecturer. After his first year with the department he announced in the January 1893 issue of Le Journal d’agriculture illustré (Montréal) that in seven months he had visited no fewer than 92 communities. Dalaire’s work as a full-time official lecturer from 1891 to 1907 is widely regarded as the period in his career that made the best use of his personality and his talents as a communicator. According to his contemporary Chapais, his eloquence as a speaker, ability to popularize, and sense of humour enabled him to engage and hold the attention of audiences largely unfamiliar with theoretical or scientific concepts. The position of lecturer with the department would gradually disappear as more and more agronomists took over the task of disseminating knowledge during the decade after 1910. In any case from 1907 Dalaire was performing other duties which forced him to give lower priority to his lectures.

On 1 April 1907, an important date in his career, Dalaire became principal of the Dairy School at Saint-Hyacinthe and secretary to the Industrial Dairy Society of the Province of Quebec, which was also located in Saint-Hyacinthe. He would hold both positions for nearly 12 years, until his retirement in February 1919. As the successor to Emile Castel, a Frenchman, he became the society’s third secretary since its foundation on 28 Nov. 1882, and the second principal of the school, which had been set up ten years later.

As principal, Dalaire busied himself pursuing the school’s primary objectives, which revealed the difficulties in a rapidly expanding field of activity with a still-fragile base. The training offered at the Dairy School aimed first and foremost to establish some uniformity in the manufacturing processes used by makers of cheese and butter, and also to ensure the maintenance of quality standards for Quebec dairy products. Two years before Dalaire became principal, the provincial government had rebuilt the school so the needs of a growing clientele could be met more adequately. From 1909, under Dalaire’s direction, it assumed even greater importance in the dairy industry because the government required all cheese and butter makers to obtain a certificate of competence from it. In 1915 the law became even stricter, obliging them to obtain a certificate as milk or cream graders. As a result, the number of those attending continued to increase. In his penultimate report to the minister of agriculture (1917–18), Dalaire mentioned that the school generally had about 300 to 400 students every year, but that enrolment had reached a peak in 1913 with 658. Expert graders, butter and cheese makers, and inspectors obtained their qualifications from it.

As secretary of the Industrial Dairy Society, Dalaire pursued essentially the same objectives, the dissemination of knowledge about agriculture and the development of the dairy sector, but he was serving a larger constituency. The society was involved in several ways in the progress of the Quebec dairy industry. It undertook to send inspectors into the plants; beginning in 1890 it had set up operators’ unions; in 1892 under the presidency of Abbé Théophile Montminy*, it had founded the Dairy School at Saint-Hyacinthe; it organized public meetings and an annual convention. The members included primary producers, operators of creameries and cheese factories, and distributors of dairy products.

Besides his professional responsibilities, Dalaire was engaged in many other activities, all related to agriculture. The one that attracted the greatest attention was probably the creation of school gardens. As a former teacher and even more as a natural science enthusiast, according to the agronomist Jean-Charles Magnan, Dalaire from 1904 promoted the idea of school gardens. In his view farmers could only become familiar with the basic principles of their occupation at the local school and in childhood, given that most of them did not continue their schooling after the fifth year. At conventions of women teachers, for which he was responsible as inspector of schools of domestic science, he spread the idea that such gardens should inculcate in the pupils “a love for and interest in their future profession.” This initiative, of which Dalaire remained the chief organizer until he retired, was so successful that in 1919 some 18,000 children across the province had their own school gardens. Around 1910 Dalaire’s educational work among the farming population took a new form when he became director of travelling schools. These units, often housed in railway cars, were an integral part of the Quebec government’s policy of disseminating knowledge about agriculture and were organized with the cooperation of the railway companies and the lecturers on agriculture. Using them, it was possible to cover an immense territory and reach rural communities otherwise inaccessible.

Dalaire’s name is also associated with the organization of the Order of Agricultural Merit, of which he served as secretary from its inception in 1890 until 1901. In response to a request from Barnard, who wanted to see competitors from Deux-Montagnes and Laval counties take part in the first competition held in 1890, Dalaire decided to become actively involved. He travelled about the two counties to persuade farmers to enter the event. The first gold medallist in the history of the order, Charles Laplante, dit Champagne, came from Deux-Montagnes. In addition, Dalaire was a contributor to Le Journal d’agriculture illustré virtually throughout his active career in agriculture. Most of his signed articles were accounts of his visits or of lectures he had given to various farmers’ clubs and agricultural societies in the province. His articles also dealt with more practical questions, such as agricultural markets, techniques for livestock breeding, and cultivation of the soil.

A man of boundless energy, Dalaire was secretary of the province’s Council of Agriculture for four years; a director of the Société Générale des Éleveurs d’Animaux de Race Pure de la Province de Québec, founded in 1895; the first secretary of the Good Roads’ Association of the Province of Quebec, organized in 1895 (although he would almost immediately turn over his position to Barnard); president of the Union Expérimentale des Agriculteurs de la Province de Québec, set up in 1909; and the first secretary of the Société Coopérative Agricole des Producteurs de Semences de Québec, launched in December 1914. He also had a hand in founding the Syndicat des Cultivateurs of the province in 1892 and the Comptoir Coopératif de Montréal in 1913. On 10 Jan. 1919, near the end of his career, he was elected president of the Confédération des Sociétés Coopératives Paroissiales de la Province de Québec, which had been established that day in Saint-Hyacinthe. He held this office only briefly, however, since he died suddenly a month later.

A number of Dalaire’s writings, mostly specialized works, also shed light on the significance of his activities in the development of Quebec agriculture at the end of the 19th century. He was the author of several agricultural treatises, including Les mauvaises herbes dans la province de Québec et différents moyens de les détruire (1904), L’égouttement du sol: le drainage (Québec, [1905]), Comptabilité agricole et domestique à l’usage des écoles primaires et des cultivateurs (Québec, 1906), Le drainage superficiel et souterrain, Les insectes utiles et les insectes nuisibles, and Les jardins scolaires. During his years with the Department of Agriculture, Dalaire had also written a number of technical bulletins for the use of the farming population.

To illustrate the breadth of Omer-Edmond Dalaire’s accomplishments Chapais, in his tribute in the 39th annual report of the Industrial Dairy Society, pointed out that to replace him as head of the two large organizations he had directed from 1907 until his retirement, the Department of Agriculture had appointed two incumbents, A.-T. Charron as principal of the Saint-Hyacinthe school and Alexandre Dion as secretary of the dairy society.

Régis Thibeault

AC, Montréal, État civil, Catholiques, Sainte-Rose (Laval, Qué.), 22 févr. 1919. ANQ-M, CE6-13, 22 mai 1856; CE6-22, 5 sept. 1881. Le Courrier de Saint-Hyacinthe (Saint-Hyacinthe, Qué.), 22 févr., 1er mars 1919. La Presse, 11 janv., 20 févr., 13 déc. 1919. Gilles Bachand, “Aperçu historique de l’école de laiterie,” La Liaison (Saint-Hyacinthe), mars 1992: 3–4; Une école de laiterie à Saint-Hyacinthe en 1892, pourquoi? (Saint-Hyacinthe, 1991). J.-C. Chapais, “Feu Omer-Édouard Dalaire,” Le Journal d’agriculture (Montréal), 22 (1918–19): 197. DPQ, 150. Bruno Jean, “Les idéologies éducatives agricoles (1860–1890) et l’origine de l’agronomie québécoise” (thèse de ma, univ. Laval, Québec, 1977). Firmin Létourneau, Histoire de l’agriculture (Canada français) (Montréal, 1959), 220, 233, 254–56, 259, 262, 274–75, 300. J.-C. Magnan, Le monde agricole (Montréal, 1972), 27–28. M.-A. Perron, Un grand éducateur agricole: Édouard-ABarnard, 1835–1898; étude historique sur l’agriculture de 1760 à 1900 ([Montréal], 1955). J.-B. Roy, Histoire du Mérite agricole (2e éd., mise à jour par André Richard, Québec, 1985), 23–24. Soc. d’industrie Laitière et École de Laiterie de la Prov. de Québec, Rapport (Québec), 1907–19.

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Cite This Article

Régis Thibeault, “DALAIRE, OMER-EDMOND,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 14, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/dalaire_omer_edmond_14E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/dalaire_omer_edmond_14E.html
Author of Article:   Régis Thibeault
Title of Article:   DALAIRE, OMER-EDMOND
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1998
Year of revision:   1998
Access Date:   April 14, 2024