DEBLOIS, JOSEPH-FRANÇOIS, militia officer, lawyer, businessman, politician, and judge; b. 22 April 1797 at Quebec, son of François Deblois, a merchant, and Marie-Geneviève Létourneau; d. there 10 Aug. 1860.
Joseph-François Deblois entered the Petit Séminaire de Québec in 1810 and studied there until 1813. In the autumn of 1812, after war had broken out with the United States, he was serving as an ensign in Quebec’s 1st Militia Battalion. At the time of his father’s death in January 1814 the family business was doing reasonably well and, since Joseph-François was the eldest son, he gave his mother a hand in running the store. He received legal training in the office of Louis Lagueux*, a Quebec lawyer, from 1821 to 1826, while continuing to work part time for his mother. He was called to the bar on 1 April 1826.
To help his mother, who was being pursued by various creditors for more than £980, Deblois in May released her from the obligation to repay a substantial sum she owed him, and along with his brothers gave up his rights of inheritance. With others, he also stood surety for her. Since her creditors had granted an extension of time for payment, Deblois decided to try his luck in the district of Gaspé, “which he had heard much about.” After visiting the region, he thought he had found an effective way to solve the family’s financial problems and returned to Quebec to make the preparations and purchases for operating a large herring fishery at Baie de Cascapédia in the Baie des Chaleurs. At the end of August 1826 he was back in the Gaspé with his brother François-Xavier, who was to manage the store established in New Richmond. However, the results of the fishery were meagre and Deblois incurred liabilities that included wages and food for the workers and rent for the sheds. In addition, the boats, nets, and fishing tackle suffered damage. The business therefore showed financial losses in the autumn of 1826.
Concurrently with this venture, Deblois began to practise as attorney and lawyer for the Provincial Court in the district of Gaspé. Thus he became one of the first lawyers to engage in his profession on a permanent basis in the Gaspé. On 28 July 1827 he purchased a farm and two lots at New Carlisle, a small loyalist village which was the chief administrative and judicial centre of the region. François-Xavier soon joined him, as did his mother and younger brother. Deblois acquired two other properties at New Carlisle in December 1828, and another in April 1830. Around 1830 the farm had a few animals, which were tended by a hired hand.
In the autumn of 1834 Deblois ran for the House of Assembly in Bonaventure, a riding with two members. He was elected on 5 December with another lawyer, Édouard Thibaudeau*, who was returned for a second term. Le Canadien called both men “reformers,” and ascribed the defeat of the previous member, John Robinson Hamilton, to his vote against the 92 Resolutions. Deblois seems to have benefited from the help of the missionary based at Carleton, Louis-Stanislas Malo, whose territory included the western part of the constituency.
Meanwhile, it seems that Deblois’s financial position had not really improved. On 13 Sept. 1834 he borrowed money from Amasa Bebee, the clerk of the Provincial Court in the district of Gaspé, and mortgaged his five properties and farm at New Carlisle. On 15 April 1835, a few months after his arrival in Quebec for the assembly session, he learned that Bebee was suing him for £64, and that a judgement against him for non-payment of debt had been delivered in the Provincial Court in the district of Gaspé during his absence by Judge John Gawler Thompson. Hamilton, a lawyer at New Carlisle and Thompson’s nephew seems to have been behind both this action and another launched by Peter Du Val, a merchant of Île Bonaventure, around the same period.
On 16 Nov. 1835 Deblois called in the house for the dismissal of Judge Thompson. Deblois accused Thompson of incompetence and of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” of being “partial, capricious, arbitrary and vindictive,” of frequent drunkenness while exercising his office, and of having meddled in the last election in Bonaventure along with “the declared enemies of the liberties of the People.” This affair, which had begun with two rival groups in conflict at the local level, quickly moved onto the provincial stage, with successive clashes between the assembly and the Executive Council. At the same time the Patriote members were also protesting against the appointment of Samuel Gale* in 1834 to the Court of King’s Bench in Montreal. During this debate on government appointments, it became known that Thompson was, in fact, a friend of Lord Dalhousie [Ramsay*], the former governor, and of Robert Christie, an erstwhile member for Gaspé.
The charges by Deblois were laid before the assembly’s standing committee on grievances, on which he sat. On 12 March 1836 the committee declared that it endorsed them, and it recommended to Governor Gosford [Acheson*] that Thompson be suspended from office, pending dismissal. The house approved a resolution on the matter by 37 to 4. However, Gosford was unwilling to reach a decision before hearing Thompson. In the autumn of 1836 the latter, along with a number of his supporters, assured the governor that Deblois was contradicting himself, for he had previously defended the judge when complaints were levelled against him in 1827 and 1828; they suggested that Deblois had resented the competition from Hamilton and wanted to be appointed to the judiciary in Thompson’s place. Gosford referred the question to Lord Glenelg, the colonial secretary, who turned it over to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The governor decided not to dismiss Thompson before receiving a reply from London. The decision apparently was favourable to Thompson for he continued to hold office.
Following the outbreak of rebellion and the suspension of Lower Canada’s constitution, parliament was dissolved on 27 March 1838. Deblois none the less remained at Quebec, where he continued to practise law. He was also a captain in Quebec’s 1st and 2nd militia battalions (in the 1830s he had been an adjutant of militia in the Gaspé).
Deblois was appointed one of two circuit judges for the district of Gaspé on 9 July 1849, and took up residence at Percé on 6 August. His circuit also included the Îles de la Madeleine. The second magistrate was none other than Judge Thompson, who was stationed at New Carlisle. As magistrate, Deblois was sought after in many ways by the inhabitants of the peninsula. On 27 Feb. 1852, for instance, he became the president of the Société d’Agriculture de Gaspé. His financial problems apparently had been settled, for he often gave or lent large sums to various fabriques of Gaspé County, especially to help with the construction of churches at Grande-Rivière and Cap-d’Espoir and of a school at Percé. In 1857 he lent £300 to the archdiocese of Quebec. He had entrusted the administration and management of his affairs at Quebec to notary Michel Tessier. Between 1852 and 1857 he had purchased a piece of land and two building sites at Saint-Lazare, near Quebec, on which he set up his brother François-Xavier.
In June 1857 the post of circuit judge was abolished by act of parliament, and Deblois was not assigned to any other office. It had been suggested that he seek retirement, to avoid appearing to have been dismissed. He thus obtained a pension equivalent to one-third of his salary as judge. In May 1858 he moved to Quebec, where he died on 10 Aug. 1860 after a few days of illness.
AAQ, T, D. AC, Bonaventure (New-Carlisle), Minutiers, J.-G. Lebel, 25 janv., 10 oct. 1835; Martin Sheppard, 28 juill. 1827, 12 nov. 1830. ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 22 avril 1797; CN1-261, 6 juin, 26 juill. 1859; P1000-27-505. ASQ, E, 4. PAC, MG 30, D1, 10: 94–96; RG 4, B8, 22: 8018–27; RG 9, I, A5, 13–16; A6, 1–3; A7, 18. Bas-Canada, Chambre d’Assemblée, Journaux, 1835–36: 143–44, 500–1, 693–94, app.EE, app.OO. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, App. to the journals, 1841, app.W. Le Canadien, 7 janv. 1835. Le Courrier du Canada, 13, 15 août 1860. La Gazette de Québec, 7 janv. 1835. F.-J. Audet, “Les législateurs du Bas-Canada.” Quebec almanac, 1826–41. Quebec directory, 1847–50. P.-G. Roy, Les avocats de la région de Québec; Fils de Québec, 3: 79–81; Les juges de la prov. de Québec, 153. J.-G. Barthe, Souvenirs d’un demi-siècle ou mémoires pour servir à l’histoire contemporaine (Montréal, 1885), 169–80. Jules Bélanger et al., Histoire de la Gaspésie (Montréal, 1981). Christie, Hist. of L.C. (1848–55), 4: 205–8. “Les disparus,” BRH, 32 (1926): 172.