DUBUC, Sir JOSEPH, lawyer, newspaperman, politician, and judge; b. 26 Dec. 1840 in Sainte-Martine, near Châteauguay, Lower Canada, son of Joseph Dubuc, a farmer, and Euphémie Garand; m. 26 June 1872 Marie-Anne Hénault in Saint-Cuthbert, Que., and they had ten children; d. 7 Jan. 1914 in Los Angeles and was buried in St Boniface, Man.
The eldest of 15 children, Joseph Dubuc attended elementary school irregularly because he had to help his father with the farm work. At the age of 18 he left for the United States to learn English and find employment in a factory. After returning to the province of Quebec in 1859, he enrolled in the Collège de Beauharnois, which was run by the Brothers of the Christian Schools, and then in the Petit Séminaire de Montreal, where he did his classical studies from 1860 to 1866. At the latter establishment he became friends with Louis Riel*, who attended it from 1858 to 1865. He obtained a bcl from McGill College in 1869 and was called to the bar in September of that year.
Dubuc had been practising only a few months when he received a request for help from Riel, who had just formed a provisional government in the Red River settlement (Man.). In January 1870 Riel wrote to him saying he needed “an educated assistant, a man of the law, energetic, determined.” Dubuc hesitated, but having met in Montreal with Abbé Noël-Joseph Ritchot*, who was negotiating terms with the federal government for Red River’s entry into confederation, he was persuaded and left with Ritchot for Manitoba in June 1870. On arriving he struck up a friendship with Bishop Alexandre-Antonin Taché* and became the champion of the provisional government and of the Métis. When the troops under Garnet Joseph Wolseley forced Riel to seek refuge in the United States on 24 August, Dubuc demanded an amnesty for him and the other Métis leaders. He wrote regularly to the Montreal newspaper La Minerve to explain the objectives of the Métis and encourage francophones to settle in the Canadian northwest. With Joseph Royal*, his compatriot and partner in his Winnipeg law practice, in May 1871 he would found a French-language weekly, Le Métis, in St Boniface to advocate Métis interests.
Young Dubuc was dynamic and forceful. In Manitoba’s first provincial election, held in December 1870, he ran in the riding of Baie St Paul and won by acclamation. During the early years of parliamentary life in the province, there was severe tension between supporters of the moderate lieutenant governor, Adams George Archibald*, and the so-called loyalists or anglophones from Ontario [see Sir John Christian Schultz*]. Although Riel was prevented from coming home by the dominion government’s refusal to grant him amnesty, Dubuc persuaded him to run for Provencher in the 1872 federal election. So many brawls and riots broke out during this election that troops were called in. At the subsequent trial in the Court of Queen’s Bench, Dubuc was counsel for the crown and Francis Evans Cornish* defended the rioters. On leaving the court, Dubuc was attacked on Main Street in Winnipeg and left for dead. His assailant would be convicted, but the rioters were acquitted.
From 1870 to 1878 Dubuc worked to preserve the often delicate alliance in the Manitoba legislature between French Canadian and French-speaking Métis mlas. A political Conservative and an ultramontane, he distrusted the Rouges, or Liberals, and focused on the maintenance of law and order. In July 1874 he was appointed attorney general in the new government of Marc-Amable Girard*, but he held office only a few months, since the ministry was replaced in December by that of Robert Atkinson Davis*. In the ensuing election, which returned Davis to power, Dubuc won in the riding of Saint-Norbert. On 31 March 1875 he was chosen speaker of the Legislative Assembly. From 1872 to 1876 he was also a member of the Council of the North-West Territories.
In the 1878 federal election Dubuc was acclaimed in Provencher. He continued to play the role of mediator between francophones and anglophones in provincial politics, until the divisions between the French Canadian and Métis mlas triggered a cabinet crisis that brought about Royal’s resignation in 1879 and reduced the power of the francophones in the legislature.
Dubuc left politics that year and became a judge of the Court of Queen’s Bench. He was glad of the appointment, for it enabled him to leave “the turmoil of political battles for the dignity of the judiciary.” He increasingly distanced himself from the Métis and their leader Riel. In 1885 he refused to sit as an appeal judge at Riel’s trial, on the grounds that the accused, whom he termed a “dangerous maniac,” was engaged in religious heresy, and that he knew him personally. Dubuc continued, however, to defend the rights of French-speaking Catholics. As superintendent of Catholic schools in the province and secretary to the Catholic section of the Manitoba Board of Education from March 1872, he tried in vain to halt passage of the bills put forward by the government of Thomas Greenway* in 1890 that would end the publication of official documents in French and would create a state-supported, non-denominational education system. He was the only judge on the Court of Queen’s Bench to dissent from the judgement brought down by Albert Clements Killam* in the case of Barrett v. City of Winnipeg [see John Kelly Barrett*], which ruled that the Greenway government had the right to establish such a public educational system. In 1903 Dubuc was appointed chief justice of Manitoba, an office he held until his retirement in 1909. In 1907 he had received an honorary doctorate from the University of Toronto and in June 1912 he became the first French Canadian from the west to be knighted (knight bachelor).
Dubuc’s retirement was marked by pleasant periods of family life and trips to the United States and Europe. He would always be grateful to Lady Dubuc, who as wife and mother embodied 19th-century Catholic and Victorian values, for her support in his private and his public life. A great admirer and supporter of British institutions, he was described by the English-speaking élite, amongst whom he had made a place for himself, as a “man of high ideals, with an ability to adapt and a great sense of civic duty.” His upright character and sound judgement ensured his success in professional and public spheres. At the same time, his memoirs and some of his actions also suggest a certain snobbishness and an appetite for honours. “Living in the world,” he remarked, “one does not remain indifferent to the minor successes one may achieve, or to the consideration shown one in the upper circles of good society.”
ANQ-M, CE5-19, 26 juin 1872; CE7-25, 26 déc. 1840. Arch. de l’Archevêché de Saint-Boniface, Man., Fonds Taché, lettres de Joseph Dubuc, 1870–85. PAM, MG 14, B26. CPG, 1873–79. “Feu sir Joseph Dubuc, k.b.,” Les Cloches de Saint-Boniface, 13 (1914): 33–36. Gerald Friesen, “Homeland to hinterland: political transition in Manitoba, 1870 to 1879,” CHA, Hist. papers, 1979: 33–47. Dale and Lee Gibson, Substantial justice; law and lawyers in Manitoba, 1670–1970 (Winnipeg, 1972). “L’honorable juge en chef Dubuc,” Les Cloches de Saint-Boniface, 8 (1909): 297–98. Édouard Lecompte, Un grand chrétien: sir Joseph Dubuc (1840–1914) (Montréal, 1923). Manitoba Culture, Heritage and Recreation, Hist. resources branch, L’honorable Joseph Dubuc, k.s.m.g. ([Winnipeg], 1981). Sister Maureen of the Sacred Heart [M. M. McAlduff], “Joseph Dubuc: role and views of a French Canadian in Manitoba, 1870–1914” (ma thesis, Univ. of Ottawa, 1966). L.-A. Prud’homme, “L’honorable Joseph Royal; sa vie; ses œuvres,” RSC, Trans., 2nd ser., 10 (1904),
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Cite This Article
Diane Paulette Payment, “DUBUC, Sir JOSEPH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 1, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/dubuc_joseph_14E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Diane Paulette Payment|
|Title of Article:||DUBUC, Sir JOSEPH|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1998|
|Year of revision:||1998|
|Access Date:||April 1, 2023|