FORGUES, MICHEL, priest and teacher; b. 13 Feb. 1811 at Saint-Michel, Lower Canada, son of Michel Forgues and Marie-Anne Denis; d. 28 Nov. 1882 at Saint-Laurent, Île d’Orléans, Que.
Michel Forgues entered the Petit Séminaire de Québec as a boarder in 1826 and completed classical studies in 1834 with a brilliant record. As seminarist he taught literature classes from 1834 to 1840; during this period he was ordained priest on 23 Sept. 1837. Leaving the seminary in 1840, he served in the parish of Sainte-Marguerite-de-Dorchester for five years and then in Sainte-Marie-de-la-Nouvelle-Beauce (Sainte-Marie) from 1845 to 1847. Abbé Forgues supervised the incorporation of the latter parish in 1846 and began the construction of a new presbytery. In the summer of 1847 he and several other priests devoted themselves to helping those stricken with typhus at the quarantine station on Grosse Île [see George Mellis Douglas*], and he was obliged to spend time recuperating in the Hôpital Général of Quebec. He returned to the seminary as assistant bursar in 1847 but continued to serve as a parish priest on occasion. Perhaps in an attempt to ensure his attachment to the seminary, he was made a member of the house and brought into the council as titular bursar, a position he held from 1849 to 1859. However, in 1859 he accepted the parish ministry at Saint-Germain-de-Rimouski (Rimouski). After two years there he rested for four years at his family’s home at Saint-Michel, and in 1865 ended his wandering career at Saint-Laurent on the Île d’Orléans. There he built the present church and a convent. He also compiled a genealogy of families on the Île d’Orléans which was published in the report of the Public Archives of Canada for 1905.
As bursar of the seminary, Forgues had immediately effected a double reform in the accounting system: to conform with the Canadian economy, he substituted British currency for the livres, deniers, and sols the seminary was still using in its accounts; to the primitive systems of the “Brouillard” (day-book) and the “Journal du séminaire” (seminary account book), he added a more rational, indexed “Grand Livre” (ledger), in which details could be verified quickly. His most significant contribution, however, was to make a striking improvement in the institution’s finances by getting rid of the annual deficit of a number of farms and mills, by making timely sales of land, and by collecting debts and outstanding seigneurial dues; in all these transactions he conducted business with strict fairness and firmness. Thanks to his skilful stewardship, the seminary, with a cash surplus of £6,600 and an enviable credit rating, was able in 1852 to assume responsibility for founding the Université Laval, as well as for the costs of its first three buildings [see Louis-Jacques Casault*]. Forgues was one of the nine directors of the seminary to sign the petition to Queen Victoria for a university charter. The years of construction, from 1854 to 1857, took about £50,000 from the seminary’s coffers and obliged it to borrow funds. But in 1857 it was possible to begin to repay the debt by utilizing a small financial surplus. The abolition of seigneurial tenure in 1854 was fought by the seminary along with many other seigneurs; Forgues himself drafted a report on the subject. Nevertheless the change meant substantial payments in compensation after a few years, and enabled the seminary to make sizeable loans in its turn.
After his departure in 1859 Forgues remained on good terms with the seminary; he transacted business with it (including selling potatoes which he received as a tithe in his parish) and he supported as patron certain pupils at the seminary who were his parishioners. At the time of his death the “Journal du séminaire” wrote: “to its former bursar the seminary owed the good order now established in the bursar’s office. He was also a benefactor of the seminary, to which he bequeathed $8,000 for the board of pupils” – they came from Saint-Laurent, his last parish.
Michel Forgues compiled a “Genealogy of the families of the island of Orleans,” published in the PAC Report, 1905, II, pt. ii.
AAQ, 210 A, XXI: 603; 61 CD, Sainte-Marie-de-la-Nouvelle-Beauce. ASQ, mss, 12: f.88; 13, 27 nov. 1874; 34, I, 5 juill. 1849; Séminaire, 34, nos.11–14. Le Courrier du Canada, 2 déc. 1882. Annuaire de l’université Laval pour l’année académique 1883–84 (Québec, 1883), 92–93. Dominion annual register, 1882: 342. Wallace, Macmillan dict. David Gosselin, Figures d’hier et d’aujourd’hui à travers Saint-Laurent, I.O. (3v., Québec, 1919), I: 25–36. J.-E. Roy, Souvenirs d’une classe au séminaire de Quebec, 1867–1877 (2v., Lévis, Qué., 1905–7).