DAVID, FERDINAND (baptized Ferdinand-Conon), painter, coach-builder, building contractor, and politician; b. 30 May 1824 at Sault-au-Récollet (Montréal-Nord), Lower Canada, son of David-Fleury David, a master sculptor, and Cécile Poitras; m. first 8 Oct. 1844 Olive Boyer, dit Quintal, in the church of Notre-Dame in Montreal, Canada East; m. secondly 29 Oct. 1868, in the same place, Sophie Homier, widow of Joseph Papin*; seven children were born of these two marriages; d. 16 July 1883 in Montreal.
Ferdinand David received his primary education in his native village, where he also learned the trade of carpentry. His father, who was quite well known for his decorative carvings in various churches, apparently was always in a precarious financial position and decided around 1835 to emigrate to the United States, where he died at Troy, N.Y., six years later. It is not known whether Ferdinand followed his parents and he may instead have established himself in Montreal, probably as an apprentice. In any case, he was married in Montreal in the fall of 1844. The Montreal directory for the following year lists David as a coachbuilder and painter but these activities did not bring him public recognition. In fact his name never appears in the business section of the city’s directories, which indicates his lack of importance in these fields and may imply that he worked for an established coachbuilder. Judging by newspapers, David owed his reputation more to his work on the city council of Montreal. First elected by popular vote in 1861, he represented the Saint-Louis Ward until 1864. The following year the councillors chose him as alderman, a post he held until his resignation in 1877. As a member and chairman of the roads committee he seems to have played an important role in the areas of highways and public transport; it may be assumed that he was one of the initiators of the horse-drawn tramway system which was introduced in Montreal on 27 Nov. 1861. In 1877 he stood as a candidate for the office of mayor of the city, but Jean-Louis Beaudry defeated him by 2,780 votes to 812.
At the time of his election to the city council David began to work as a building contractor. Little is known about his activities in this connection until the 1870s when he joined with lawyers Sévère Rivard and Gustave-Adolphe Drolet and architect Michel Laurent in the firm of David, Rivard, Laurent et Drolet which specialized in real estate speculation and housing construction. At the beginning of 1872, acting through this company, David bought a huge estate belonging to Benjamin-Godfroi Comte, situated in the Saint-Louis and Saint-Jacques wards of Montreal and in the village of Saint-Jean-Baptiste (now part of Montreal). Shortly after making the purchase the partners sold a section of the land in small lots. The most important speculative venture was in the village of Saint-Jean-Baptiste: David and his partners owned parcel number 15, which they subdivided into 1,298 lots of about 20 or 25 feet by 200. The group obviously took an active part in the development of the village for on 13 June 1872 David and his associates gave the bishop of Montreal, Ignace Bourget, 20 lots for the building of a Catholic church, on the understanding that henceforth they would be exempted from church tax. Also around that time they undertook the construction of several houses, particularly on Rue Drolet. David himself owned several lots and buildings in Saint-Antoine and Saint-Louis wards.
In the political sphere, apart from his participation on the city council, David briefly entered provincial politics. He was elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1871 on the Conservative party ticket in the riding of Montreal East, which he represented until 1875. During his term of office he sat on the special committee for industries appointed in 1871 [see Louis-Napoléon Larochelle]. In the interests of integrity he demanded that in the “Tanneries scandal,” which had implicated the government of Gédéon Ouimet* in a fraudulent deal with Montreal speculators in 1873, a bill be introduced requiring a secret vote and the holding of an impartial inquiry [see Louis Archambeault].
Active in other concerns, David was involved in the temperance campaigns around 1845, was vice-president of the Association Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal, and in 1868 was president of the Société de l’Union Saint-Joseph de Montréal. During the 1870s he held office as president of the Société de Colonisation de Montréal, and as director of the Montreal Northern Colonization Railway Company. His defeat in his bid to become mayor of Montreal apparently was the beginning of a period of semi-retirement. This enabled him about 1878–79 to embark on a long journey abroad which took him to such places as Nice and Paris in France.
Ferdinand David’s career illustrates an interesting phenomenon: the development during the 19th century of an urban bourgeoisie which was not exclusively professional and whose members had in common a modest social origin and an ability to seize upon opportunities for acquiring wealth during the process of urban growth – whether in the course of the expansion of the city’s area, as in David’s case, or of the urban market, as in the case of Louis Boyer*. The author of an obituary in La Minerve of Montreal said of David: “He was a self made man in the full sense of the term. He was indeed one who owed everything to his own efforts.”
AC, Montréal, État civil, Catholiques, Notre-Dame de Montréal, 19 juill. 1883. ANQ-M, État civil, Catholiques, La Visitation-de-la-Bienheureuse-Vierge-Marie, Sault-au-Récollet (Montréal), 30 mai 1824; Notre-Dame de Montréal, 8 oct. 1844, 29 oct. 1868; Minutiers, E.-P. Fréchette, 13 juin, 6 nov. 1872, 3 déc. 1873, 26 mai 1875,10 août 1880. AVM, Documentation, Biog. des conseillers, F.-C. David; Membres des conseils municipaux, 1833–99. Bibliothèque de la ville de Montréal, Salle Gagnon, Minutes de l’Union Saint-Joseph de Montréal. PAC, MG 30, D1, 9: 887. Extract of the official book of reference of the parish of Montreal . . . , ed. L.-W. Sicotte (Montreal, 1872). Extracts of the books of reference of the subdivisions of the city of Montreal, ed. L.-W. Sicotte (Montreal, 1874). L’Aurore des Canadas (Montréal), 28 août 1841. La Minerve, 17 juill. 1883. Le Monde (Montréal), 16 juill. 1883. Montreal Daily Star, 19 July 1883. L’Opinion publique, 19 juill. 1883. Borthwick, Hist. and biog. gazetteer, 178; Montreal, 67. CPC, 1874: 386–87. Dominion annual register, 1883: 307–8. Montreal directory, 1842–83. É.-J.[-A.] Auclair, Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal; monographie paroissiale, 1874–1924 (Québec, 1924). Histoire de la corporation de la cité de Montréal depuis son origine jusqu’à nos jours . . . , J.-C. Lamothe et al., édit. (Montréal, 1903).