DENAULT, JOSEPH-MARIE-AMÉDÉE (baptized Marie-Joseph-Amédé), poet, journalist, and office holder; b. 14 Sept. 1870 in Saint‑Timothée (Salaberry-de-Valleyfield), Que., son of Gédéon-Benjamin Denault, a lock-keeper, and Léocadie-Caroline-Delphine Coursolles, widow of Théophile-Romuald Bergeron; m. 27 Aug. 1895 Marie-Alda Bernard in Belœil, Que., and they had three sons and three daughters; d. 22 April 1939 in Quebec City and was buried in Belœil.
Joseph-Marie-Amédée Denault was born in humble circumstances. The eighth child in a family of nine, he was preceded by six sisters! There is every indication that his childhood was steeped in an atmosphere of faith in a “God felt by the heart” – as Blaise Pascal says in his Pensées – and also in one of love and affection; this milieu left its mark on him to the end of his days. After attending the primary school run by the Clerics of St Viator in his native village, he pursued classical studies with the Sulpicians at the Petit Séminaire de Montréal, and then in the Séminaire de Philosophie, from 1882 until 1889. A brilliant student, Denault placed first in the examination for the baccalauréat ès lettres, thereby winning the Governor General’s Medal. He went on to study law at the Université Laval in Montreal, graduating in 1894. He would never, however, practise law, and for good reason.
Denault’s bent and talent for writing became apparent very early. Between 1886 and 1892 he composed about 87 poems that would constitute the greater part of his only literary collection, entitled Lueurs d’aurore, which was published in Montreal in 1894. The book bears evidence of a remarkable sensibility and a youthful spontaneity barely held in check by the prevailing literary and moral culture. Love figures much more as a theme than religion. Robertine Barry*, known as Françoise, was not mistaken in observing in La Patrie of 14 Jan. 1895 that “there are, in the stanzas addressed [to two women] ‘À la plus chère,’ ‘À la brune adorée,’ and to many others referred to just as tenderly, exquisite touches which have all that is needed to delight and charm.” In 1893 the poem “Crois en Dieu,” dedicated to Édouard‑Zotique Massicotte*, was awarded a prize in France by a jury chaired by François Coppée.
In 1890 and 1891, while still a university student, Denault was an editor at La Minerve in Montreal. From 1892 until around 1895, as literary director of Montreal’s Le Monde illustré, he campaigned to encourage young writers to send him their material. Similarly, in 1892, writing on behalf of the editorial board of the review Le Glaneur‑Recueil littéraire des jeunes (Montréal), a merging of Le Glaneur (Lévis) and Le Recueil littéraire (Montréal), he announced that the publication was intended specifically to be “the voice of the young, their mouthpiece.” Not surprisingly, Denault participated in the founding of the École Littéraire de Montréal in 1895; he became a member in 1898.
One wonders then how to explain the confession that this amiable and sensitive individual, in whom Albert Ferland* could discern the traits of a “gentle mystical poet,” had put in the preface to Lueurs d’aurore: his “poetic sketches” were but “feeble wailings of a child’s lute,” which “he hastened to swap for a sword of battle.” The answer lies no doubt in Denault’s having internalized, more deeply and coherently than most others, the pre-eminent symbols and ideal values of his society during his formative years. That society must be called the French Canadian Église-nation, its centre certainly being in Quebec, but its reach beyond the province’s borders embracing the francophone and Roman Catholic diaspora of North America. A distinguished representative of this nation, he firmly believed its people to be vested with the providential mission of extending the grand designs of God in the New World. They would be accomplished by the sons of France – the deeds of God through the Franks, according to a favourite expression of French Canadian religious nationalism that strikingly recalls one used eight centuries earlier by Guibert de Nogent as the title of his account of the first crusade, Gesta Dei per francos. Denault would essentially be a crusader, his Catholic journalist’s pen his sword.
Denault would mount this crusade through various periodicals. In 1893 he founded La Croix de Montréal, which became La Croix du Canada the following year and ceased publication in 1895. He contributed to La Feuille d’érable in Montreal in 1896, as well as to Le Pionnier de Sherbrooke, and then to Montreal’s Le Pionnier from 1899 to 1902. In 1906 the newly established Coopérative des Colons du Nord in Nominingue appointed him secretary and named him editor of L’Ami du colon, the weekly paper that was its organ. The following year he made it a biweekly and renamed it Le Pionnier. The two subtitles he added to the paper, (Ami du colon) and Organe d’action sociale catholique et patriotique, call to mind the forms of Catholic social action – colonization and cooperation – that would always be dear to his heart.
Meanwhile, in 1907 in Quebec City, Archbishop Louis-Nazaire Bégin* set up the Action Sociale Catholique and the Œuvre de la Presse Catholique, whose purpose quickly found expression in L’Action sociale (renamed L’Action catholique in 1915), a daily paper edited by François-Xavier-Jules Dorion. In December 1909 Bishop Paul-Eugène Roy* and Adjutor Rivard*, respectively director and secretary of the permanent central committee of the Action Sociale Catholique, judged it necessary to organize a general secretariat for the activities brought together by the movement. Rivard, a “very dear friend, a kindred soul,” as Denault noted in his “Livre généalogique de la famille,” invited him to set up and run this secretariat as well as contribute articles “ad libitum” to the paper. Denault then moved to Quebec City, where he was to remain until the end of his life.
The Action Sociale Catholique sought to establish an “integralist” form of Catholicism in which public as well as private life was imbued with faith; it thus also encompassed active participation in a temperance society or caisse populaire or Catholic trade union. In April 1910 the permanent central committee put Denault in charge of editing and publishing Le Croisé, the monthly newsletter in which members could share their successes and their difficulties; the first issue came out in September. Its crusading tenor was captured in its title. Foreign experiences were frequently evoked, and the word “social” was hammered home. In 1910, to increase the efficiency and the impact of the Catholic press, the permanent central committee asked Denault to set up the Ligue de la Presse Catholique de Langue Française du Canada et des États-Unis. He would serve as secretary and liaison officer for this body, which included 31 periodicals in 1914 and 38 in 1920. Denault also took part in organizing and managing the staff of the first Congrès de la Langue Française, which was held in June 1912 [see Stanislas-Alfred Lortie*]. According to the subtitle of a brochure published in Quebec City in 1919, “to ensure the execution of the program of national defence [that was] set out,” the conference created the permanent committee of the Congrès de la Langue Française, which would be supported by a propaganda and action arm, the Ralliement Catholique et Français en Amérique. Denault became the archivist of this permanent committee, with the title “managing director of the Ralliement, acting as secretary.” Thus in 1916 and 1917, “on the occasion of the persecution of French Canadians in Ontario and elsewhere (1915),” as he put it in the “Livre généalogique de la famille,” he ensured the dissemination of Prières pour la race, a propaganda broadsheet approved by Cardinal Bégin. In 1916 Le Croisé became the official organ of both the committee and the Ralliement; however, it ceased publication in June 1922, with no explanation to readers.
In 1920 Denault went through a period of depression that led him to resign his position as head of the general secretariat for the activities of the Action Sociale Catholique to become its deputy head. He continued to labour for the causes dear to him, such as promoting the reign of the Sacred Heart, participating in the Ligue Nationale de Colonisation as its secretary, and helping set up and develop the Union Catholique des Cultivateurs. But all the evidence suggests that around him the original grandiose dream of the Action Sociale Catholique gradually faded away and the newspaper became the focus while the secretariat was essentially downgraded to a bookstore. Denault refused to be turned into a shopkeeper, as this change implied. But above all, as the visionaries and pioneers of the early days disappeared one after the other (Cardinal Bégin died in 1925, Archbishop Roy in 1926), and both the newspaper and the Action Sociale Catholique were staffed increasingly by clerics, a crusader was of questionable use to a firm such as Action Sociale Limitée, or to the man who would personally sign the document condemning him to unemployment, “Father Joseph Fortin, Manager.” As manager of the paper and assistant director of the Action Sociale Catholique, it was he who, although prevented from firing Denault by the personal intervention of Joseph-Omer Plante, auxiliary to the archbishop of Quebec, nevertheless contrived to oust him from the secretariat in 1929, demoting him to the role of proofreader for Action Sociale Limitée. And it was Fortin, too, who, on 28 May 1931, informed Denault of the immediate and indefinite suspension of his employment.
Stripped of his powers by those who perhaps owed him the most, Joseph-Marie-Amédée Denault, past the age of 60, had to find a new job in the midst of the Great Depression. From 1933 until his death, he thus worked as a municipal welfare-payment officer. Despite all these vicissitudes, he summed up his life in March 1934, quoting from memory “the master, Louis Veuillot”: “So it was a happy life / Since, after all, I have greatly loved.”
The author wishes to thank Professor Bernard Denault of the Univ. de Sherbrooke (now retired), the subject’s grandson, who has been able to clarify a number of questions, thanks mainly to the “Livre généalogique de la famille,” which is in his possession. Copies of large extracts from this handwritten document, in Denault’s writing and dated 1934, can be found in Arch. de l’Univ. Laval (Québec), P217 (fonds Joseph-Marie-Amédée Denault). This article is based largely on an exhaustive study of this collection, which is entered in the Registre des Biens Culturels du Québec. The author has been able to use here only a very small part of the information in the fonds, which calls into question, on more than one point, the accepted view of the province at that time.
The collection of poetry that Denault published in 1894 is his most easily accessible work. He also wrote La forme chrétienne de l’assurance populaire: essai sur la mutualité (Montréal, [1898?]), which he presented to the Société d’Économie Sociale de Montréal as a speech in the spring of 1898, when he was the first general vice-president of the Union Franco-Canadienne. He is also given partial credit for the work entitled Ligue de la presse catholique de langue française du Canada et des États‑Unis (Québec, 1914), published during the years when he was both secretary of the league and director of the general secretariat for the activities of the Action Sociale Catholique. He signed, sometimes in collaboration with others and sometimes under pseudonyms such as Jules Saint‑Elme and Jehan Dutaillis, the pieces that appeared in Le Glaneur‑Recueil littéraire des jeunes and in La Feuille d’érable. One copy of his two books and a complete collection of Le Croisé, as well as some biographical notes that appeared at various stages of his career and the obituaries published by a large number of newspapers, have all been judiciously preserved in the collection studied by the author.
There is as yet no full-scale biography of Denault. The few accounts that were published after his death are often marred by imprecise information, errors, or discrepancies or are lacking in perspective. Despite the author’s many reservations with respect to its interpretations, it is appropriate to mention here the article by P. M. Senese, “La Croix de Montréal (1893–1895): a link to the French radical right,” CCHA, Hist. studies, 53 (1986): 81–95. This is probably the most elaborate study devoted to a publication with which Denault’s name is connected. The following two titles may shed light on different aspects of the context in which he worked: François Couture et Pierre Rajotte, “L’École littéraire de Montréal et ses mythes,” Études françaises, 36 (2000): 163–83; and Histoire du catholicisme québécois, sous la dir. de Nive Voisine (2 tomes en 4v. parus, Montréal, 1984– ), tome 3, vol.1 (Jean Hamelin et Nicole Gagnon, Le XXe siècle (1898–1940), 1984).
BANQ-CAM, CE601-S49, 8 févr. 1869, 27 août 1895; CE607-S19, 28 juill. 1859, 15 sept. 1870. Le Devoir, 24 avril 1939. Albert Ferland, “Les jeunes littérateurs canadiens,” La Feuille d’érable (Montréal), 1 (1896): 111–12. Le ralliement catholique et français en Amérique … (Québec, 1919).