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GARNEAU, NÉMÈSE (baptized Dieudonné-Némes), businessman, farmer, and politician; baptized 15 Nov. 1847 (and probably b. on that day) in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade, Lower Canada, son of Jean-Baptiste Garneau, a physician, and Nathalie Rinfret, dit Malouin; m. first 24 Oct. 1870 Élodie Plamondon (d. 30 Dec. 1920) in the parish of Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Quebec City, and they had one son; m. there secondly 2 July 1921 Marie-Anne Paradis in the parish of Notre-Dame; they had no children; d. there 16 Nov. 1937 and was buried two days later in Notre-Dame de Belmont cemetery in Sainte-Foy (Quebec City).

Born into a well-to-do family, Némèse Garneau studied at the Académie Saint-Cyr in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade and then left it to attend the school of teacher William Thom on Rue Sainte-Angèle in Quebec City. Towards the end of 1860, at the age of 13, he entered the world of commerce and apprenticed on the job. For four years he was a clerk for the dry-goods business of A. Merrill and Company, on Rue Saint-Jean. He then worked for two years for Laird and Telfer, wholesalers and importers of dry goods, at the corner of Rue de la Fabrique (Côte de la Fabrique) and Rue Sainte-Famille. When that company went out of business after the death of William Laird in 1866, he offered his services to Thomas Laidlaw, the owner of the largest retail establishment in the Upper Town, on Rue Saint-Jean.

On the strength of his ten years’ experience in the commercial realm, Garneau became the owner, along with William Fyfe, of a modest dry-goods business on Rue de la Fabrique, which they operated from 1870 to 1877. In 1878 Garneau founded the firm Au Bon Marché, modelled on the store of the same name in Paris, which Aristide Boucicaut and Marguerite Guérin had opened some 30 years earlier. The enterprise was in a very good location at the corner of rues Collins (Rue de l’Hôtel-Dieu), Couillard, and Saint-Jean. He lived nearby at the time, on Rue Saint-Flavien. Over a period of nearly 20 years Garneau became prosperous through selling dry goods, fashion items, and novelty merchandise. In 1885 the firm had capital assets of $3,000 to $5,000, with an excellent credit rating. Ten years later this amount had grown sixfold, with the company maintaining the same credit rating. Garneau managed his very profitable store until 1897, when he was succeeded by his son Jules and his former partner François-Xavier Petitclerc.

Garneau became involved in various projects of an economic nature for developing Quebec City and the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region. In 1896 he undertook to promote the Chicoutimi Pulp Company [see Joseph-Dominique Guay*], of which he was vice-president (1900–1) and then president (1901–19); he was also a shareholder (1897–1914). Headed by Julien-Édouard-Alfred Dubuc*, this French Canadian firm, which was among the first in the pulp and paper business, operated mills in the Saguenay, Lac-Saint-Jean, and Gaspé regions. It had offices in Quebec City, where from May 1901 its board meetings were held. Garneau stood up for French Canadian representation in industry and, with his friend Dubuc, promoted the French language in the business world. In February 1908, in Le Progrès du Saguenay, he described the Chicoutimi Pulp Company – which would go into receivership in 1927 – as “one of the largest mechanical pulp operations in the universe, [an] operation whose production ranks first on the European market.” Between 1897 and 1919 the share capital of the company increased from $50,000 to $3,000,000. Between 1899 and 1903 the number of employees rose from 125 to 350 day labourers and from 450 to 800 site workers, while between 1900 and 1914 production increased from 11,820 to 50,000 tons. It is thought that Garneau inspired the forest-resource management policy of Sir Lomer Gouin*’s provincial Liberal government, which in 1910 banned the export of pulpwood cut on crown land to force foreign forestry companies to build wood-processing facilities in Quebec. He supported this embargo and declared that by implementing this measure the premier deserved the gratitude of his fellow citizens. Garneau became a member of the executive committee of the North American Pulp and Paper Companies Trust, founded in 1915, and four years later he was vice-president of the Saguenay Pulp and Power Company.

Garneau was also involved in railway projects. He was one of the promoters and directors of the Trans-Canadian Railway Company, incorporated on 22 July 1895. This “utopian railway” (as it would be called) was part of the plan to colonize the north [see François-Xavier-Antoine Labelle*] by constructing a network that would compete with the Grand Trunk Railway Company and would transport the resources of the country’s northwest region to the port of Quebec City. With Chicoutimi (Saguenay) and Quebec City as terminuses of the network, it was intended that this line would run from east to west through the regions of Lac-Saint-Jean, James Bay, and north of Lake Winnipeg, crossing the Rockies to reach Port Simpson (Lax Kw’alaams) on the Pacific coast. With a capital of $20,000,000, this ambitious undertaking was backed by businessmen in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean and Quebec City. Garneau was among them; he was even a member of a delegation that, in May 1903, made the case for the project in Ottawa before the railway committee of the House of Commons. The promoters were unable to raise the necessary funds, and the governments of Sir Wilfrid Laurier* and Simon-Napoléon Parent* decided to support the Grand Trunk project. The Trans-Canadian, therefore, would never see the light of day. From 1887 to 1908 Garneau was also a director of the Quebec Bridge Company (which became the Quebec Bridge and Railway Company in 1903) as well as a shareholder, with a $5,075 stake.

In 1904 Garneau helped found the Industrial Life Insurance Company [see Bernard Leonard*]. Incorporated in May 1905, this institution offered accident, health, and life insurance policies. In addition, Garneau was the president, from its creation in 1909, of the Prévoyants du Canada, a French Canadian company that sold insurance in the form of pension funds and was structured along the lines of the Prévoyants de l’Avenir in Paris. Garneau lent office space free of charge to the firm. From 1910 to 1925 he was a board member, and then Quebec City district adviser, of the Banque Provinciale du Canada. This Montreal bank, whose directors were francophones, put its capital at the disposal of French Canadian merchants.

Garneau was also a council member of the Quebec Chamber of Commerce. On 11 Jan. 1916 he received the title of commander of the Order of St Gregory the Great, an honour granted by the Holy See. In 1918 he was named the representative of the federal minister of agriculture on the Leave of Absence Board (created that year) of Military District No.5 in Quebec, and he was a member of the agricultural qualification committee (created in 1919) of the Soldier Settlement Board.

Having come from a rural background, Garneau took a keen interest in agriculture. Beginning in 1885 he operated a 67-acre farm on Chemin Sainte-Foy, five miles from Quebec City. He had purchased it in 1883 for $1,015. At that time, Sainte-Foy was a predominantly agricultural parish municipality with just over 1,000 inhabitants. Garneau’s property was called La Grimaudière, after the birthplace of his ancestor Louis Garnault, a native of La Grimaudière in the department of La Vienne, France. Like many middle-class residents of the capital, Garneau sought the tranquillity and pure air offered by this holiday area. He lived on his Sainte-Foy property during the summer but maintained his principal residence in Quebec City, first on Rue Saint-Flavien and then on Avenue Saint-Denis. On his dairy farm this gentleman-farmer experimented successfully with various agricultural techniques. In 1895 the quality of his farming operation won him the Order of Agricultural Merit prize. Le Soleil would describe him in 1905 as “one of the best agronomists in the country.”

With the aim of promoting the agricultural sector, Gameau participated in the activities of various organizations. In 1894 he was appointed a founding director of the Quebec Colonization Society, which was active in the regions of Lac-Saint-Jean, Matapédia, and Beauce. He was thus able to facilitate the opening up of new agricultural areas and thereby support the research and exploratory journeys of Dominique-Napoléon Saint-Cyr, his former teacher in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade. He was a member of the Council of Agriculture of the Province of Quebec from 1896, and of the executive committee of the Industrial Dairy Society of the Province of Quebec from 1897 to 1929. Garneau served as vice-president and then president of the Société Générale des Éleveurs d’Animaux de Race Pure de la Province de Québec. He was a member of Canadian National Live Stock Records, and one of the founders and directors of the Syndicat des Cultivateurs de la Province de Québec. In 1920 he became a champion of free trade to encourage the development of agriculture in the province.

Garneau had also become publicly active, politics being a field with which, through his relatives, he had close ties. He was the nephew of Pierre Garneau*, an mla, provincial cabinet minister, and then member of the Legislative Council, and of Rémi-Ferdinand Rinfret, dit Malouin, a municipal councillor and mla. His cousin Édouard-Burroughs Garneau* would become a member of the Legislative Council. In 1897 Garneau, a Liberal, was elected to the provincial legislature for the constituency of Quebec with a majority of 1,100 votes over Edward O’Brien, a notary. He thus succeeded the Liberal Charles Fitzpatrick*, who was now a cabinet minister under Laurier, having been sent to the House of Commons for the same riding. Garneau was re-elected by acclamation in 1900. As an mla, he chaired the committee on agriculture, immigration, and colonization. Although he rarely spoke in the Legislative Assembly, he was a strong advocate for free trade. He also took an interest in agricultural matters, in rural credit unions [see Jérôme-Adolphe Chicoyne*], whose creation he supported in a very detailed speech, and in the Quebec Bridge – “an absolute necessity,” he would say. He held this seat until his appointment as the legislative councillor representing the division of Shawinigan on 5 June 1901, which paved the way for a young up-and-coming candidate, Cyrille-Fraser Delâge, in the constituency.

In the Legislative Council, Garneau chaired the contingency committee. After the revolt of Gouin, Adélard Turgeon*, and William-Alexander Weir, who left Parent’s cabinet, he replaced Turgeon as minister of agriculture from 1 to 23 March 1905, the date on which Gouin’s government was sworn in following Parent’s resignation. The latter was well acquainted with Garneau, who sat with him on several boards of directors in the Quebec City area. When Gouin became premier, Garneau was relieved of his ministerial duties.

The defence of the French language, which he had mastered and which he used eloquently, was one of the battles Garneau waged in the Legislative Council. In 1910 he supported Bill 160, put forward by mla Armand La Vergne, which would require public companies such as railways to print notices, tickets, and contracts in both languages. When it was introduced in the Legislative Council, this bill did not at first receive unanimous approval. Garneau, along with Turgeon and Thomas Chapais*, supported it. The council bowed to nationalist pressure and public opinion. An Act to amend the Civil Code respecting contracts made with public utility companies received royal assent on 4 June.

As a legislative councillor Garneau belonged to an institution that his party had tried to abolish on several occasions, but without success. He was a member of the most important group in the council: the businessmen. Since its creation this “council of old men” had often been the target of criticism and attacks. Garneau himself would be a legislative councillor for nearly 37 years and die in office at the age of 90. Although not the oldest member of the upper house, he was among the most senior. Since the council sat for only about 40 days a year, this role did not interfere in any way with his other activities. In 1936 Joseph-Napoléon Francœur wanted his own turn as legislative councillor, which was a highly coveted appointment: the resignation of the then 89-year-old Garneau would further his plan. Hector Laferté would recount in his memoirs how he acted as a mediator with Garneau, who refused to take part in “this kind of shady business,” even though at the time he did not often show up for work. Moreover, that very year he ran the risk of losing his position by not taking his seat. One day, after he had become blind, he had a page guide him to his seat.

Despite his long career Némèse Garneau made little impression on the political history of the province of Quebec. Although he had held the offices of mla and cabinet minister, he was above all a legislative councillor, an undistinguished post to which he clung. As a farmer who was ahead of his time and a participant in various associations, he left his mark on the development of agriculture in the province. Able to take advantage of his status as a parliamentarian, he was above all a man who wielded influence, as well as a visionary and accomplished businessman in the fields of finance, commerce, industry, and insurance. A defender of his nationality and language, he furthered the emergence and development of a French Canadian business middle class by taking pains to work for the advancement of his fellow citizens and by justifying their presence in the world of business at a time when they were few in number.

Jocelyn Saint-Pierre

Némèse Garneau’s baptismal record (BANQ-MCQ, CE401-S21, 15 nov. 1847) does not give his date of birth. However, the Canadian censuses of 1851, 1861, 1881, and 1891 indicate that he was born in 1847, and the census of 1901 gives 15 November as the precise date.

Among other works, Garneau wrote the text published in Comité du Drapeau National des Canadiens Français, Le drapeau national des Canadiens français: un choix légitime et populaire (Québec, 1904), 146–50, as well as the article “L’industrie de la pulpe,” Le Progrès du Saguenay (Chicoutimi [Saguenay, Québec]), 6, 13, and 20 févr. 1908.

BANQ-Q, CE301-S1, 21 sept. 1841, 3 janv. 1921; CE301-S97, 24 oct. 1870. FD, Cathédrale Notre-Dame (Québec), 2 juill. 1921; Notre-Dame-de-Foy (Sainte-Foy [Québec]), 18 nov. 1937. Québec, Ministère de l’Énergie et des Ressources Naturelles, “Reg. foncier du Québec en ligne,” no.68521rb, no.2151218rb: www.registrefoncier.gouv.qc.ca/Sirf (consulted 22 Jan. 2016). Le Devoir, 17 nov. 1937. Le Journal d’agriculture illustré (Montréal), 15 avril 1895. La Presse, 9 nov. 1905. Le Soleil, 27 nov. 1897, 2 mars 1901, 3 mars 1905. BCF, 1923. Raoul Blanchard, L’est du Canada français, province de Québec (2v., Montréal et Paris, 1935). Bradstreet’s commercial reports … (New York), 1878–85, 1891–95. Daniel Couture, “Évolution du chemin Sainte-Foy, à l’ouest de l’avenue Saint-Sacrement à Québec” (travail de ba, univ. Laval, 1982). CPG, 1937. Directory, Québec, 1860–67. Raymond Douville, Hommes politiques de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade ([Trois-Rivières, Québec], 1973). Jérôme Gagnon, “Le Trans-Canada: l’utopie ferroviaire du Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean,” Saguenayensia (Chicoutimi), 49 (2007), no.3: 11–16. Louise Gagnon-Arguin, “Chronologie de la Compagnie de pulpe de Chicoutimi,” Saguenayensia, 22 (1980), nos.3–4: 101–6. Lucie Grenier, “Évolution morphologique du chemin Ste-Foy” (travail de ba, univ. Laval, 1982). Hector Laferté, Derrière le trône: mémoires d’un parlementaire québécois, 1936–1958, Gaston Deschênes, édit. (Sillery [Québec], 1998). Armand La Vergne, Trente ans de vie nationale (Montréal, 1934). J.‑M. Lebel, Le Vieux Québec: guide du promeneur (Sillery, 1997). Michel Lessard et al., Sainte-Foy, l’art de vivre en banlieue au Québec: du temps des seigneuries à l’aurore du XXIe siècle ([Montréal], 2001). Newspaper reference book. Edmond Orban, Le Conseil législatif de Québec, 1867–1967 (Paris et Montréal, 1967). Que., Legislative Assembly, Debates, 1897–1901, 1910; Legislative Council, Journals, 1910; National Assembly, “Québec dictionary of parliamentary biography, from 1792 to the present”: www.assnat.qc.ca/en/membres/notices/index.html (consulted 3 Dec. 2015); Statutes, 1909, c.121. A.‑B. Routhier, Québec et Lévis à l’aurore du XXe siècle (Montréal, 1900). Rumilly, Hist. de la prov. de Québec, vols.12, 14–16, 25. B. L. Vigod, Quebec before Duplessis: the political career of Louis-Alexandre Taschereau (Montreal and Kingston, Ont., 1996).

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Cite This Article

Jocelyn Saint-Pierre, “GARNEAU, NÉMÈSE (baptized Dieudonné-Némes),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 7, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/garneau_nemese_16E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/garneau_nemese_16E.html
Author of Article:   Jocelyn Saint-Pierre
Title of Article:   GARNEAU, NÉMÈSE (baptized Dieudonné-Némes)
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   2020
Year of revision:   2020
Access Date:   December 7, 2023