DESROCHES (Desroches), GILBERT, businessman, farmer, and politician; b. 23 or 24 July 1848 in Miscouche, P.E.I., son of Jean DesRoches and Nanette Poirier; m. there 21 April 1873 Sophie Poirier; they had no children; d. there 2 June 1915.
Gilbert DesRoches was the eldest of ten children born to a relatively prosperous Acadian family. His father was a mason who owned one of the largest farms in Miscouche. Gilbert went to the local elementary school and then learned the trade of shoemaker, which he practised for only two years.
DesRoches married into a prominent family of Acadian merchants. His father-in-law, Joseph-B. Poirier, who can be regarded as the forerunner of Acadian merchants on Prince Edward Island, had opened his first store in 1857, and his four sons would follow him in business. Mme DesRoches’s uncle, the politician Joseph-Octave Arsenault*, had been running a large commercial operation in Abrams Village since 1865.
Gilbert DesRoches went into business in 1876. In partnership for a few years with his brother-in-law Joseph Poirier, in 1880 he set himself up on his own, building a new store and a grain storehouse. He became not only the biggest businessman in Miscouche, but also one of the leading merchants in the province. He was nicknamed the “R. T. Holman of Miscouche” – Robert Tinson Holman* was a business magnate in the nearby town of Summerside. Like most merchants of the time, DesRoches purchased the products he exported, such as grain, eggs, and potatoes. In particular, he gained a reputation for dealing in the famous Malpeque oysters. In 1896 he described himself as “the biggest exporter of oysters in all of Canada,” and by 1884 Pascal Poirier* was calling him “the Oyster King.” In the 1890s Des-Roches also began shipping lobster on a large scale. He owned a lobster cannery and also bought and sent to England produce from a few other lobster factories. In addition to his commercial activities, he successfully operated a 60-acre farm, served as postmaster, and ran a construction business for some years.
Within the community, DesRoches made his mark as a leader. On the occasion of the second Convention Nationale des Acadiens, which was held in Miscouche in 1884, he played an important role in the local organization. He had been one of the Island delegates to the Convention Nationale des Canadiens Français at Quebec in 1880, where the idea of the Acadian conventions, at which he was a regular participant, was first put forward. He was president of the debating club organized in his parish in 1886, and in 1902 he became treasurer of the new farm club in his district.
DesRoches could not resist the lure of political life. A member of the Conservative party, he ran unsuccessfully in the 1890 and 1893 provincial elections, but was finally elected for the 5th district of Prince County in the following election, held on 21 July 1897. He sat in the opposition until he was defeated again on 12 Dec. 1900, when the Liberals, who had formed the government since 1891, were returned to power in a general election.
Gilbert DesRoches died at the age of 66, after an illness of several years. A self-made man, he is an outstanding example of the first generation of Acadian businessmen, who carved out a respectable place for themselves in the world of trade.
Arch. paroissiales, Saint-Jean-Baptiste (Miscouche, Î.-P.-É.), RBMS. NA, RG 31, C1, 1901, Prince County (East), P.E.I., Lot 17. Examiner (Charlottetown), 8 Feb. 1888. L’Impartial (Tignish, Î.-P.-É.), 30 nov., 21 déc. 1893; 16 janv., 6, 27 févr. 1896; 8, 22 juill. 1897; 30 nov. 1899; 6 déc. 1900; 6 juin 1901; 27 févr. 1902. Le Moniteur acadien, 12 août 1880; 10 août 1882; 26 juin, 20 nov. 1884; 22 oct. 1885; 25 déc. 1886. Pioneer (Summerside, P.E.I.), 5 June 1915. Prince Edward Island Agriculturist (Summerside), 16 April 1888, 23 Dec. 1889. Summerside Journal, 31 Aug. 1882, 9 June 1915. Georges Arsenault, “Le senateur: Joseph Octave Arsenault,” Island Magazine (Charlottetown), no.33 (spring/summer 1993): 25–29. J.-H. Blanchard, Acadiens de l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard ([Charlottetown], 1956). Conventions Nationales des Acadiens, Recueil des travaux et délibérations des six premières conventions, F.-J. Robidoux, compil. (Shédiac, N.-B., 1907). L’illustration du journal “Le Moniteur acadien” . . . . supplément illustré publié à l’occasion du 25e anniversaire de sa fondation ([Shédiac, 1892]). The mercantile agency reference book . . . (Montreal), 1878–80. Past and present of Prince Edward Island . . . , ed. D. A. MacKinnon and A. B. Warburton (Charlottetown, ).