DUFRESNE, JACQUES, printer and promoter of mutual aid societies; b. 26 April 1844 at Quebec, son of Jacques Dufresne, carpenter, and Éléonore Perrault; m. there 1 May 1866 Delphine Bédard, and they had three daughters and a son; d. 16 July 1896 in Ottawa.
As a young man in Quebec, Jacques Dufresne was apparently apprenticed in typography. Shortly after his marriage in 1866, he most likely followed thousands of his fellow French-speaking Quebeckers to eastern Ontario in search of employment during a period of recession in Quebec. He landed up in Ottawa around 1870 to take a position as a printer with the federal government. He became foreman of its printing department and was a lifelong member of Ottawa Typographical Union No.102, serving as president for two terms.
Soon after his arrival in Ottawa, Dufresne and other French-speaking Roman Catholics began to form themselves into mutual aid societies, partly to provide an array of social-welfare benefits, including life insurance and employment agencies, and partly out of the realization that Franco-Ontarians would require strong national organizations to fend off the assimilating influences of Anglo-Ontario. As well, non-French or non-Catholic American fraternal societies were pouring into Ontario at this time to organize thousands of local societies. Concerned Franco-Ontarians viewed such societies as a distinct national menace because they threatened to speed the assimilation of the migrating Quebeckers, most of whom settled along the Ontario–Quebec border. Particularly feared in Ottawa was the Irish-controlled Catholic Mutual Benefit Association. Dufresne was part of the Ottawa-based élite who took it upon themselves to counter this tendency by forming their own French-Catholic societies, which initially concentrated on building up membership, attending national celebrations, and instilling a sense of national sentiment into their members.
Dufresne held executive positions with two local mutual aid societies, the Union Saint-Thomas and the Union Saint-Pierre, and was president of a Catholic charity, the Société de Saint-Vincent-de-Paul of Ottawa. His most important work, however, was done with the Union Saint-Joseph d’Ottawa (founded in 1863). A member from 1872, he was elected second vice-president seven years later, vice-president in 1880 and 1881, and president for 1881–83. As an executive member he was instrumental in converting this tiny Ottawa-based mutual aid society into a modern mutual insurance company founded on sound actuarial principles in 1895. That year, recognizing the need for the growing Franco-Ontarian community to form a province-wide association, Dufresne persuaded the members of the Saint-Thomas and Saint-Pierre societies to fuse with the Union Saint-Joseph d’Ottawa under the banner “Union fait la force.” Elected to the Union Saint-Joseph’s board of directors that year, Dufresne travelled the Ottawa valley to persuade fellow Franco-Ontarians to join the reorganized body. Although he would not live to see the fruits of his efforts, the Union Saint-Joseph (later named the Union du Canada) would expand so that by 1910 it had established 150 branches throughout the province. Most important, its executive members provided the impetus and organizational network for the formation in Ottawa in 1910 of the Association Canadienne-Française d’Éducation d’Ontario [see Napoléon-Antoine Belcourt*].
Dufresne had been diagnosed in 1895 as suffering from kidney failure. Although he visited a medical specialist in Montreal in 1896, complications set in at mid year and he was forced to quit his position with the Department of Public Printing and Stationery. In the light of his long dedication to the cause of French-Catholic mutuality and national survival, his death in July was accompanied by a touch of pathos: he died in the former meeting-place of the Union Saint-Joseph at 392 Sussex Street, a building that he had converted into his dwelling and a lodging home.
[Information concerning Dufresne’s membership in the Ottawa Typographical Union, obtained from the Typographical Journal (Indianapolis, Ind.), 1 (1889)–4 (1892), was provided by Professor Gregory S. Kealey of the Memorial Univ. of Nfld., St John’s. g.m.c.]
ANQ-Q, CE1-97, 26 avril 1844, 1 mai 1866 (mfm. at Bibliothèque de la ville de Montreal, Salle Gagnon). CRCCF, C 20. NA, RG 31, C1, 1891, Ottawa. L’Union Saint-Joseph (Ottawa), 15 juill., 15 août 1896 (copies at CRCCF). Daily Free Press (Ottawa), 16 July 1896. Ottawa Evening Journal, 16, 18 July 1896. Le Temps (Ottawa), 16 juill. 1896. G. M. Comeau, “The role of the Union St-Joseph du Canada in the organization of the Association Canadienne-Française d’Éducation d’Ontario, 1900–1910” (ma thesis, Univ. de Montréal, 1982). Charles Leclerc, L’Union St. Joseph du Canada; son histoire, son œuvre, ses artisans . . . , 1863–1913 (Ottawa, 1919), 62–63. L. G. Robillard, Les sociétés de bienfaisance ([Montréal, 1897?]).