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d. 15 April 1906 in Central Falls, R.I.


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DRAPEAU, STANISLAS (baptized Jean-Baptiste-Stanislas), printer, publisher, editor, civil servant, and author; b. 28 July 1821 at Quebec, Lower Canada, son of Jean-Baptiste Drapeau of Charlesbourg and Marie-Angèle Bourbeau of Beauport; d. 21 Feb. 1893 in Pointe-Gatineau (Gatineau), Que., and on the 24th was buried in the local cemetery.

While Stanislas Drapeau was still alive, his friend Charles Thibault* published his Biographie de Stanislas Drapeau, auteur desÉtudes sur les développements de la colonisation du Bas-Canadaet promoteur des sociétés de secours pour venir en aide aux colons défricheurs (Ottawa, 1891). The work was prompted by political circumstances in Quebec; its sub-title, which refers to Drapeau’s book on the colonization movement in Lower Canada from 1851 to 1861 and to his promotion of colonists’ aid societies, obscures his major contribution to the province as a newspaperman.

Drapeau first attended simultaneously two private schools run by Antoine Légaré* and by Charles Dion at Saint-Roch. He then was educated in the monitorial system run by the British and Canadian School Society of the District of Quebec. At the age of 14 he entered the Petit Séminaire de Québec, before taking up typography in 1837. As an apprentice typographer at Le Fantasque he had become a reliable proof-reader by the time its owner Napoléon Aubin* and printer Adolphe Jacquies* were sent to prison on 2 Jan. 1839, one week after the jailing of Étienne Parent* and Jean-Baptiste Fréchette, the editor and printer of Le Canadien. In their absence, young Drapeau kept both print-shops running, with regular publication and tri-weekly distribution, even delivering papers himself.

Having served as chief type-setter and compositor or foreman for Le Canadien from 1838 to 1843, in January 1844 Drapeau acquired from James Huston* the presses of the newspaper LArtisan, which had been out of circulation for six months. The newspaper soon started up again, and Drapeau printed his first book, Charles Chiniquy’s Manuel ou règlement de la société de tempérance dédié à la jeunesse canadienne. A protégé of Louis Panet and René-Édouard Caron*, in June 1844 he launched Le Ménestrel with the aid of Marc-Aurèle Plamondon; in this literary and musical magazine he reproduced musical scores using a lithographic process. At the same time he was Plamondon’s partner in the publication of the daily Courier and Quebec Shipping Gazette, 2,000 free copies of which were delivered every morning at six o’clock. Renamed the Commercial Courier/Le Courrier commercial in January 1845, it ceased to appear as a result of the great fires in Saint-Roch and Saint-Jean wards on 28 May and 28 June 1845.

Drapeau then left for Montreal, where he became printer and foreman for the Revue canadienne and the Revue de législation et de jurisprudence, both owned by Louis-Octave Le Tourneux. On 5 Aug. 1846 he married Caroline Drolet at Quebec. They lived in Montreal until his father’s death in July 1847. Returning to Quebec, Drapeau was commissioned by booksellers Joseph and Octave* Crémazie to print 5,000 copies of a Tableau de la messe with illustrations and of Le petit catéchisme du diocèse de Québec, using the presses of Joseph-Édouard Cauchon* and Augustin Côté* of Le Journal de Québec.

When the Crémazie brothers decided that their “religious and classical bookstore” should have a newspaper, it was Drapeau who on 18 Dec. 1847 began publication of LAmi de la religion et de la patrie. This periodical took the innovative step of publishing telegraphed dispatches and lasted until 13 March 1850. It reappeared on 28 March under the title LOrdre social. However, at the end of the year it was discontinued because of a lack of subscribers.

From 1851 to 1857 Drapeau was foreman at Le Journal de Québec. Nevertheless his own first work, the Petit almanach de Québec pour lannée bissextile de 1852, religieux, historique, littéraire, agricole et de connaissances utiles, was printed in the shop at the Crémazies’ store. This volume, compiled and published by Drapeau, “member of the Institut Canadien of Quebec,” was a mine of useful information for journalists about eclipses, days of fast or abstinence, and religious societies. It also contained poetry; articles – particularly on education, agriculture, novels, and the Great Exhibition of 1851; a section on “Science/Astronomy”; a list of savings banks; nearly 20 statistical tables on imports and exports, population, liquor sales, tonnages of ships, and customs revenue; statistics on the Consolidated Fund from 1796 to 1840; not to mention the list of the staff of government offices and their salaries, the table of courts of justice, and the names of clergy for the city of Quebec. The work must have helped Drapeau’s friend Joseph-Charles Taché in writing his Esquisse sur le Canada considéré sous le point de vue économiste on the occasion of the universal exposition in Paris in 1855. Drapeau’s voracious appetite for exact information and reliable statistics led him to include marginal notes refuting “many false ideas” on the eve of a census and to express the hope that “country people” would show a willingness “to provide all the information that will be required.”

The new interest in country people, who at that time made up almost 80 per cent of the population, lay behind the Manifeste dated 15 Aug. 1856 for the establishment of the Société de Colonisation. More than 300 prominent citizens signed this document, which originated with Plamondon. In 1858 Drapeau published the pamphlet Appel aux municipalités du Bas-Canada: la colonisation du Canada envisagée au point de vue national, which contained a “Plan de colonisation par l’État.”

Consulted as a public accountant by the archdiocese of Quebec in connection with Abbé Narcisse Bellenger’s plan to establish Le Courrier du Canada, Drapeau became the newspaper’s first business manager in 1857 and probably helped to draw up the agreement in July 1858 between the archdiocese and printer Jean-Docile Brousseau*, who became the proprietor and publisher at that time. His friend Taché was the co-editor, along with Hector-Louis Langevin*.

Drapeau left Le Courrier du Canada to take up a position which he was to hold from 1859 to 1865 and for which he had been recommended by Narcisse-Fortunat Belleau: colonization agent on the Elgin–Taché road in L’Islet County, with residence in Saint-Jean-Port-Joli. There he started a colonists’ aid society which enabled him to distribute 430 minots of grain and potatoes to new settlers in 1860. He thus succeeded in adding a communal dimension to this colonization project, as Jean-Baptiste-Eric Dorion* was trying to do for Bois-Francs, no easy matter in a period of chronic political instability and successive ineffectual governments.

Drapeau wrote a regular agricultural column for Le Courrier du Canada until 1865. His most noteworthy activity otherwise was his Études sur les développements de la colonisation du Bas-Canada depuis dix ans (1851–1861) . . . , published by Léger Brousseau* in 1863. This 593-page volume had tables, maps, and fold-out pages. The following year he added a sequel entitled Coup d’œil sur les ressources productives et la richesse du Canada . . . , a 36-page pamphlet in which he reprinted his “Plan d’organisation.” His use of a systematic analytical table and a method of composition combining social and geographical elements was much admired. A note criticizing the reliability of official statistical sources, “particularly for Lower Canada,” appeared at the end of the text. From his work in the field, Drapeau judged that land values in Lower Canada had been underestimated “by at least a third.”

When his friend Taché was appointed deputy minister in the Department of Agriculture and Statistics in August 1864, Drapeau became his assistant. He was put in charge of compiling retrospective demographic statistics to be published in the 1871 census. While Taché was undertaking archaeological excavations in Upper Canada, Drapeau became involved in a historical controversy in 1866 and 1867 with historians Abbé Charles-Honoré Laverdière* and Abbé Henri-Raymond Casgrain*, during digs at Quebec to determine the location of Samuel de Champlain*’s grave. In the end, Drapeau’s view prevailed. From 1849 to 1859 he had directed the choir of the combined Quebec religious associations at the church of Saint-Jean-Baptiste, and among other activities after he moved to Ottawa he was choirmaster at the basilica there. As a federal civil servant he seems to have led a quiet but laborious life, since in addition to his normal duties he undertook to write and publish “in 150-page issues every four months” an Histoire des institutions de charité, de bienfaisance et déducation du Canada depuis leur fondation jusquà nos jours in a “limited edition of 2,000 copies” that was “offered only to subscribers.”

A prospectus was issued in 1872 to promote interest in this grandiose project, which was next mentioned in a letter Drapeau wrote on 4 Dec. 1874 to Léger Brousseau asking him to use his influence with Pierre Garneau*, a minister in the Quebec cabinet and his brother-in-law, to ensure that the provincial government would “purchase several hundred copies.” Drapeau subsequently submitted the first part of the manuscript for the approval of the bishop of Ottawa, and once approved, on 27 May 1875, it was sent to the other Canadian bishops. Encouraged by their support, Drapeau went ahead with the publication of his work. The first volume, Hôpitaux et lazarets, which came out on 1 July 1877 at the promised length of 148 pages, was designed as an art book, printed in polychrome, and dedicated to the governor general, Lord Dufferin [Blackwood*]. It was an inspired display of graphic, typographic, and chromolithographic ingenuity, with a baroque and romantic exuberance of style reminiscent of Gustave Doré’s work. However, Drapeau was unable to proceed with his project; the volume did not sell well and the four other projected volumes – on poorhouses or asylums; orphanages; education; the Society of St Vincent de Paul, mutual aid societies, and calamities or disasters – were never published.

At the same time, on 1 April 1876 in Ottawa, Drapeau launched a family magazine, Le Foyer domestique, with an initial print-run of 6,000, then 5,000 in 1877, and 3,250 in 1878. The monthly statements show wide swings in receipts: only $149 in May 1876 but a huge increase to $861 in December, $520 in January 1877, and $686 in April; October only brought in $182, and earnings in 1878 were very low, except for January, July, and September. Although there was a distinct surge in the first quarter of 1879, it came too late. On 12 Dec. 1879 Drapeau acknowledged that “there is no longer the same confidence” among the subscribers to Le Foyer domestique, who “are not as ready to risk advance payment.” In addition, the failure of his previous work, Histoire des institutions, had repercussions for the magazine, which had to absorb the outstanding printing costs. Drapeau’s brave venture with Le Foyer domestique lasted three full years under his personal management and he could boast of having brought together 63 contributors, including Pierre-Joseph-Olivier Chauveau*, Narcisse-Henri-Édouard Faucher de Saint-Maurice, Louis-Honoré Fréchette*, Alfred Garneau, Napoléon Legendre*, Léon-Pamphile Le May*, James MacPherson Le Moine*, Dr Jean-Baptiste Meilleur*, Benjamin Sulte*, Abbé Cyprien Tanguay*, and historian Louis-Philippe Turcotte*.

In the face of these difficulties, Drapeau suggested that Léger Brousseau, who alone could “command the influence that was gone” should become his “partner” as proprietor and publisher; he himself would remain “editor” and send copy from Ottawa to Brousseau at Quebec for type-setting, printing, and mailing. Brousseau refused the “partnership,” but apparently agreed to do the printing and distribution, since a series of letters Drapeau sent to him in 1882 and 1883 are full of complaints and recriminations about deadlines and delays in publication, which, Drapeau said, ruined the chances of collecting subscriptions quite apart from the problems of mailing and home delivery.

With this reorganization, Le Foyer domestique, renamed LAlbum des familles, lasted from January 1880 to July 1884; the list of its distributing agents covered rural areas in 20 counties in Quebec and included the names and addresses of 20 agents in the United States, three-quarters of them in New England and one-quarter in the midwest. The subscription rate rose from one to two dollars and the new magazine solicited advertisements for its cover. Drapeau estimated his readership at “more than 50,000 . . . in the course of the year.” He had two agents in Rimouski, Kamouraska, Terrebonne, and Sainte-Rose (Laval), and three in Lévis, but only one in Chicoutimi.

The return to prosperity did not mean less work for Drapeau. On 15 Nov. 1882 he announced his intention to “create more interest in the Album in 1883 by reprinting novels and essays more in keeping with popular taste.” On 10 Jan. 1883 he admitted to working “night and day during the last three weeks for the government.” At the same time he was writing a 39-page pamphlet, Biographie de sir NF. Belleau, premier lieutenant-gouverneur de la province de Québec . . . , which was published by Léger Brousseau in 1883. Drapeau’s optimism was so great that he offered to buy Brousseau’s printing and bookselling firm at the height of its productivity, and he even named a price of $100,000 in a letter of 30 March 1883. Four years later he wrote Canada: le guide du colon français, belge, suisse, etc. . . . , a book to foster francophone immigration to Canada. Even though LAlbum des familles had failed, he started a new family magazine, “at a low price affordable to all.” La Lyre dor was published from 1 Jan. 1888 to June 1889, with only 40 contributors this time. The venture produced a deficit of $600, which was paid off in 1890.

Since 1883 Drapeau had been toying with another project, LUnion nationale, a “first-class political newspaper that would be independent.” The prospectus appeared in 1885, and Drapeau tried in vain to enlist the support of Joseph-Adolphe Chapleau. The project was revived in the autumn of 1889 and submitted to the premier of Quebec, Honoré Mercier, on 18 November in a “Memoire privé” drawn up after Drapeau had had a private meeting in Montreal with him. Le National would be a “weekly newspaper . . . to counter the attacks of the new political journal Le Drapeau whose mission . . . is to destroy the influence of the Parti National.” Le National’s proposed target, Le Drapeau, had been begun in September 1889 by the circle around the Clerics of St Viator from the Collège Bourget at Rigaud, who were influential in the countryside near Montreal. “Resolutely determined to serve the party in every way possible,” Drapeau offered to put his printing equipment at the service of Mercier and to contribute his royalties from other publications as initial capital. In return he demanded complete discretion: “the bomb must not go off before the appointed time,” when he would publicly announce his affiliation with the Parti National.

On 9 Dec. 1889 Mercier acknowledged receipt of a draft “open letter” entitled Un Projet national and intended to help raise funds. On 8 Jan. 1890 a letter from Drapeau to Mercier was enclosed with a draft copy numbered zero of a paper entitled “Drapeau national,” with the subtitle “Journal des Patriotes” followed by the motto “Pour le soutien des idées favorables au Peuple,” and in a banner above the title the words “Religion/Patrie/Famille.” The mock-up, which Drapeau had planned and made up, bore a handwritten marginal note: “Instead of the Stars and Stripes carried by an American, it will be the Drapeau Canadien carried by a Patriote with a Canadian tuque.” The engraving is already printed superimposed like a watermark. The mock-up of this issue is partly handwritten and partly pasted-in insertions of texts previously printed in 1885. In addition to the 11 features already planned (including a serialized novel, short historical article, and advertisements), there was also a “Tribune du Peuple” or readers’ column. Since the initial title, “Le National,” had just been taken over by Gonzalve Desaulniers* of Montreal and was no longer available as of 14 Dec. 1889, Drapeau had chosen “Le Drapeau national,” but on 20 Feb. 1890 he suggested two other titles, “L’Ami du peuple” and “L’Echo des campagnes,” leaving the decision to Mercier. In his January letter Drapeau again stressed the need for discretion so that the paper “might have the effect of a trumpet blast at the appointed hour,” in order to “strike better and more effectively when the time comes.” He offered to borrow money in his own name or to guarantee shares to be issued by mortgaging his equipment and even his steam press.

Mercier, however, did not arrange for an answer to be given to Drapeau until 25 February, pleading the “labours” of the parliament in session. Because of this delay the date of 2 March on the draft copy was changed to 1 May. Drapeau again sent a memorandum on 16 April and wrote another letter on the 28th, but Mercier answered on the 30th that it was “not possible to attend to this matter immediately. . . . As soon as I am ready, I shall let you know.” This blunt refusal came shortly before an election campaign which would bring Mercier a landslide victory.

Still vigorous in old age, Drapeau conceived the idea of publishing his “Drapeau national” at Deschaillons, where he intended to spend his retirement with his brother-in-law, Pierre-Olivier Drolet, a parish priest. His biographer Charles Thibault mentions a rumour about a retirement to the countryside, but says it was for the purpose of writing the second volume of the Histoire des institutions, which had been set aside. Drapeau died at Pointe-Gatineau without revealing his plans to his friend, and they remained a well-kept secret for more than three-quarters of a century.

An urbane man endowed with keen intelligence and immense curiosity, largely unmarked by classical education, Stanislas Drapeau still felt at 70 the passion he had developed at 15 for typography and lithography, the enthusiasm for choral singing, the eagerness for accurate statistical tables that had sent him into the field at 38 to make contact with “country people.” He had a pragmatic, even positivist turn of mind; he transformed “project[s]” into “plan[s] for implementation,” and his talents for organization were as evident when he was allocating plots of land and assembling minots of grain as when he was blending singers’ voices and arranging musical scores, lining up contributors or distributors for his family magazines, and constructing statistical tables or matching his polychrome illustrations with the “careful typography” of his texts.

A man dedicated to the newspaper, he created space for a fledgling national literature. Drapeau was an “intellectual by nature,” and demonstrated by his consistent standards the quality of teaching in the schools before the advent of a public system and of apprenticeship before trade schools. From Le Ménestrel of 1844 and LAmi de la religion et de la patrie of 1847 to La Lyre dor of 1888 and the project of “L’Ami du peuple” he pursued a consistent path in the noble urban trade of the typographer, who, setting his type with care so that the thoughts and voices of his people will live, is comparable to the rural man of the soil, who aligns his furrows carefully on the cleared fields to receive the seed which will make the land fruitful.

Elzéar Lavoie

ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 5 août 1846; CE1-22, 13 janv., 5 juill. 1847; CE1-93, 28 juill. 1821; P-16; P1000-32-597, dossier “Le drapeau national,” 1889–90; corr. Stanislas Drapeau–Honoré Mercier. AP, Saint-François-de-Sales (Gatineau), reg. des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures, 24 févr. 1893. Le Monde illustré, 15 avril 1893. DOLQ, 1: 127, 230–31, 820, 845. J. Hamelin et al., La presse québécoise, vols.1–3. “Ouvrages publiés par Stanislas Drapeau,” BRH, 34 (1928): 295. Claude Poirier, “Inventaire analytique du fonds Léger Brousseau,” ANQ Rapport, 1972: 159–253. L.-P. Audet, Histoire de lenseignement au Québec (2v., Montréal et Toronto, 1971), 1: 365; Le système scolaire de la province de Québec (6v., Québec, 1950–56), 4: 19; 6: 204–9. Éveline Bossé, Joseph-Charles Taché (1820–1894), un grand représentant de lélite canadienne-française (Québec, 1971). Elzéar Lavoie, “Les crises au Courrier du Canada: affaires et rédaction,” Les ultramontains canadiens français, sous la direction de Nive Voisine et Jean Hamelin (Montréal, 1985): 143–49, 320–24. Réjean Robidoux, “Les Soirées canadiennes et Le Foyer canadien dans le mouvement littéraire québécois de 1860” (thèse de d.e.s., univ. Laval, Québec, 1957). Rumilly, Mercier et son temps, vol.2. “Biographies canadiennes: Stanislas Drapeau (1821–1893),” Le Droit (Ottawa), 19 août 1947: 3. Claude Galarneau, “La presse périodique au Québec de 1764 à 1859,” RSC Trans., 4th ser., 22 (1984): 156–61. Elzéar Lavoie, “La clientèle du Courrier du Canada,” Culture (Québec), 30 (1969): 299–309; 31 (1970): 40–57. Ernest Myrand, “La chapelle Champlain,” BRH, 4 (1898): 293. “Les revues de Stanislas Drapeau,” BRH, 42 (1936): 613. Réjean Robidoux, “Les Soirées canadiennes et Le Foyer canadien dans le mouvement littéraire québécois de 1860, étude d’histoire littéraire,” Rev. de luniv. dOttawa, 28 (1958): 411–52.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Elzéar Lavoie, “DRAPEAU, STANISLAS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 15, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/drapeau_stanislas_12E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/drapeau_stanislas_12E.html
Author of Article:   Elzéar Lavoie
Title of Article:   DRAPEAU, STANISLAS
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1990
Year of revision:   1990
Access Date:   April 15, 2024