ECUIER, CHARLES, Roman Catholic priest, Sulpician, and musician; baptized 20 Nov. 1758 in Montreal (Que.), son of Jean Ecuier and Marie-Josephte Cimère; d. 29 May 1820 in Yamachiche, Lower Canada.
Charles Ecuier’s parents – his father was a soldier in the Régiment de Béarn – came to Canada during the Seven Years’ War. They settled in Montreal, where they had at least five children. Charles probably went to the primary school run by the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice in Montreal. From 1771 to 1778 he pursued secondary studies at the college founded at Longue-Pointe (Montreal) by the Sulpician Jean-Baptiste Curatteau*, which was moved in 1773 to Montreal and named Collège Saint-Raphaël. He took the final two years of the classical program (Philosophy) at the Petit Séminaire de Québec from 1778 to 1780, and on 15 August of the latter year he began theological studies at the Grand Séminaire. To enable him to enter the priesthood, on 7 Aug. 1781 his parents bestowed a life annuity of 150 shillings on him by mortgaging the family patrimony, which consisted of a seven-acre property with an orchard, located at Côte-Saint-Antoine (Westmount) and valued at 20,000 livres. On 5 April 1783 Ecuier was ordained priest in Montreal by Bishop Briand* of Quebec.
Ecuier, on whom his earliest teachers, the Sulpicians, had left a strong mark, joined that society and in the month of May 1783 began to minister in the parish of Notre-Dame in Montreal. He was given specific responsibility for the Confrérie de la Sainte-Famille, a religious association for women, and he succeeded Étienne Montgolfier* as chaplain to the nuns of the Congregation of Notre-Dame, an office he held from 1788 to 1790. On 21 Oct. 1788 he was admitted as a member of the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice in Montreal, and on 2 September of the following year was appointed to the assembly of the seminary’s assistants. According to Gabriel-Jean Brassier*, the assistant to the superior, Ecuier did not spare himself, and his health suffered as a result. In the summer of 1790 his doctor, François-Xavier Bender, recommended appointment to a country charge as the sole cure for the illnesses he had suffered in the preceding six months. Ecuier left the Sulpician seminary on 18 September, and on 11 October took charge of Saint-Joachim parish (at Pointe-Claire).
There were roughly 150 families in this rural parish, about 50 of whom lived in the village. Ecuier hoped to change the immoral ways of certain of his parishioners, but some were not ready to meet his wishes. Furthermore, there were disagreements within the fabrique over the distribution of responsibilities, duties, and salaries between the sacristan and the nuns of the Congregation of Notre-Dame. In September 1793, on the occasion of the feast of the parish’s patron saint, there was a violent confrontation between the priest and some of his parishioners, with threats of physical violence being uttered; Ecuier consequently refused to celebrate the feast that had been planned. Vicar general Brassier severely condemned the parishioners but nevertheless suggested to Bishop Hubert* that Ecuier be moved. Early in October 1793 Ecuier took charge of the parish of Purification-de-la-Bienheureuse-Vierge-Marie (at Repentigny). On arrival he did not know where to live because the presbytery was in ruins, but he was not discouraged. He had the buildings belonging to the fabrique repaired and the interior of the church repainted. In 1799, to ensure a better source of income, the fabrique decided to have a rood-loft built. Despite these extensive alterations, income always exceeded expenditures while Ecuier was at this parish.
Ecuier twice came before the Court of King’s Bench. In October 1797 the merchant James Woolrich demanded payment of an account, which Ecuier repaid with interest and charges in March 1799. The priest’s lawsuit against Joseph Poitevin d’Anglebert and his wife Marie-Anne Garnom caused more of a sensation. Ecuier had lent money and rendered all sorts of services to these two, who were distant relatives from France. He suspected them of wanting to leave Canada in a hurry and demanded that their property be seized. The process-server estimated the sequestered property at £94; however, the couple retaliated, seeking £100 in damages. The dispute caused a great stir in the little village. There was no judgement, but Ecuier and vicar general Jean-Henri-Auguste Roux* informed Bishop Denaut of Quebec that the difference had been resolved in the priest’s favour in February 1799.
Late in October 1802 Ecuier was appointed to the larger church in Yamachiche, and in this parish, which had been deeply divided by quarrels under his predecessors, he was able to restore peace. He made improvements to the church, and added a new presbytery in 1804 and a sacristy, rood-loft, and dwelling for the schoolmaster in 1807. Although he was a big, strong man of somewhat dour appearance, with a weather-beaten and rather forbidding countenance, and although he evidently lacked eloquence, Ecuier was able to win the trust of his parishioners, thanks to the liveliness of the music and of the way in which he conducted the liturgy. He was an accomplished musician and is supposed to have left a Sanctus, a Magnificat, and a number of motets and psalms of remarkable musical quality. He also had a beneficent influence in clerical circles: he took under his protection John Holmes*, a Protestant who was converted to Catholicism in 1817 and who became an eminent priest and member of the Séminaire de Québec.
Charles Ecuier gave up his ministry in February 1820 because of illness, and he died on 29 May. Vicar general François-Xavier Noiseux and a great many priests and ecclesiastics showed their esteem for him by attending his funeral. He was buried under the sanctuary of the church then standing at Yamachiche, but his remains are now in the parish cemetery.
AAQ, 1 CB, VII: 4; IX: 161; 71–31 CD, I: 81; 303 CD, I: 20. ANQ-M, P-10, 30 oct. 1797, cause no.64; février 1798, cause no.32; CN1-158, 7 août 1781. AP, Purification-de-la-Bienheureuse-Vierge-Marie (Repentigny), Cahier des délibérations de la fabrique; Sainte-Anne (Yamachiche), Cahiers des délibérations de la fabrique, 1789–1843; Reg. des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures, 1812–20. Arch. de la chancellerie de l’archevêché de Montréal, 355.104, 793-3, 794-1, 799-1; 355.110, 793-2, -3, -4. ASSM, 21; 24, Dossier 5; Dossier 6. Le séminaire de Québec (Provost), 465. Allaire, Dictionnaire. Gauthier, Sulpitiana, 202. Napoléon Caron, Histoire de la paroisse d’Yamachiche (précis historique) (Trois-Rivières, Qué., 1892). Helmut Kallmann, A history of music in Canada, 1534–1914 (Toronto, 1960), 40.