GASTONGUAY, JOSEPH-NARCISSE, surveyor, civil engineer, office holder, professor, and promoter of colonization; b. 13 Jan. 1849 in Saint-Roch-des-Aulnaies, Lower Canada, son of Jean-Baptiste Gastonguay, a farmer, and Hortense Pelletier (Peltier); m. first 28 April 1879 Marie-Delphine Larivière in Saint-Norbert-d’Arthabaska (Norbertville), Que.; m. secondly 8 June 1901 Hortense-Eugénie Lemieux at Quebec; d. there 28 June 1922.
Joseph-Narcisse Gastonguay was a descendant of Gaston Guay, who arrived at Quebec around 1630 and settled there with his family. During the 18th century the family spread out across the city and on the Beaupré shore. In the 1780s the Gastonguays also established themselves in communities on the south shore, including Saint-Roch-des-Aulnaies, the parish in which Joseph-Narcisse’s family were farmers.
Gastonguay attended the classical college de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière from September 1860 to June 1870. Its director at that time was François Pilote*, an enthusiastic promoter of colonization and agricultural education, and one of the teachers was Alexis Pelletier*, a staunch defender of French Canadian ultramontanism. Gastonguay also spent the year 1871–72 there, studying theology and teaching. He finally opted for secular life.
Gastonguay served his apprenticeship as a surveyor in L’Islet under Pierre-Amable-Eugène Casgrain. On being accepted into the profession on 10 Jan. 1876, he left the south shore and moved to Arthabaskaville (Victoriaville), where he practised until 1895. He soon made a name for himself as a man of practical experience by drawing up the register of property for Arthabaska County and part of the one for Drummond County. Gastonguay was a leading citizen in his community. On 7 July 1884 he was appointed to the village school board and on 9 Dec. 1894 he co-signed with Wilfrid Laurier*, future prime minister of Canada, an application to purchase a bell for the church of Saint-Christophe in the parish of Arthabaskaville, of which he had been a churchwarden since 1892.
At the outset of the 20th century Gastonguay was among those who, through the colonization movement, would help change the pattern of settlement of Quebec. At the time, the government considered colonization a temporary solution to the growing exodus of the rural population to the factories of New England. The traditional elites saw it, instead, as the ideal way for French Canadians to protect their religion, language, and nation. In this context, because of his experience as a surveyor Gastonguay was well qualified to identify lands suitable for settlement. In 1895 he was appointed director of colonization operations in the provincial Department of Agriculture and Colonization, an office he held until 1914. His work involved visiting the main regions for settlement in the province in order to evaluate the new sites selected. He helped settlers get established, in particular by arranging for roads and bridges to be built and by endeavouring to provide them with a bit of money. In some regions he helped with the purchase of horses, oxen, cows, and sacks of flour for the new arrivals.
Around 1900 Gastonguay moved to the parish of Notre-Dame-du Chemin at Quebec, where he soon became active in various organizations: the Comité de Québec, which was formed in 1902 to get the symbol of the Sacred Heart included on the French Canadian national flag, the Ligue du Sacré-Cœur, and the Association de l’Adoration Perpétuelle du Très Saint-Sacrement de Québec. He was also a prefect of the Sodality of Our Lady and vice-president of his parish’s branch of the Society of St Vincent de Paul. In 1916, along with Monsignor Thomas-Grégoire Rouleau, the principal of the École Normale Laval, he founded the Cercle de Colonisation Notre-Dame-du-Chemin. Affiliated with the Action Sociale Catholique and sponsored by Archbishop Paul-Eugène Roy, this group undertook to attract settlers into the Matapédia valley and provide for their immediate needs. The project began in Albertville and in 1918 the village that had sprung up as a result of logging operations already had 66 families and nearly 450 people. Seven settlements were under the group’s guidance; almost all were located in the Matapédia valley (Saint-André-de Restigouche, Sainte-Florence, Causapscal, and Awantjish), but the work also spread into the Gaspé, the lower St Lawrence region, and the south shore. To keep the settlers informed about current laws, lots, and the sale of wood – which brought them additional income – about 20 circles were set up on the south shore.
To unite the efforts of the some 40 groups patterned after the Cercle de Notre-Dame-du-Chemin, in 1917 Gastonguay helped create the Ligue Nationale de Colonisation, of which he was chairman and coordinator. To make its work known, he conducted a major publicity campaign in various newspapers; as well, he had a log cabin built at the provincial exhibition held in Quebec in 1918 to give a practical demonstration of the life awaiting the new settler. In the early 1920s he had the support of Ivanhoë Caron*, a missionary and colonizer who was organizing colonization circles in the Abitibi region. One of Gastonguay’s chief accomplishments within the league was the creation in 1921 of an agricultural orphanage at Lac-Sergent, in the Portneuf region, which would be run by the Brothers of Our Lady of Mercy. The idea of setting up such establishments dates from 1883, when one was founded in Montfort. Here poor children and orphans were taught the rudiments of the settler’s life in order to encourage a return to the land. Gastonguay was one of the first citizens of Quebec to spend a holiday on the shores of Lac Sergent, and he saw in vacationing a further way to foster the development of the community, on whose council he served in 1921.
Gastonguay’s dynamic energy led him to take an interest in another project, outside the province of Quebec. In 1919, in cooperation with Monsignor Joseph-Jean-Baptiste Hallé*, the chaplain of the Ligue Nationale de Colonisation and the first apostolic prefect to Northern Ontario, Gastonguay set up the Comité Dieu et Patrie, with a view to helping the new diocese. The following year he wanted to bring the settlement circles, colonization societies, and governmental initiatives into a single organization, but the plan was never carried out. Because of his dedication to the cause of colonization, he was made a knight of the Order of St Gregory the Great by Pope Benedict XV in 1921.
While still working at colonization, Gastonguay made every effort to get his profession recognized. Having served on the board of directors of the Land Surveyors of the Province of Quebec since its inception in 1882, he was elected its president in 1900 and led it for 12 years. It was in this capacity that he campaigned in 1906 for the creation of a polytechnical school at the Université Laval. This large-scale project would require the investment of private funds. Such a prospect did not sit well with some of the priests at the Séminaire de Québec, who saw in it an intrusion by laymen into their realm. Moreover, such a school already existed in Montreal and was connected to the university [see Urgel-Eugène Archambeault*]. Monsignor Olivier-Elzéar Mathieu, the university rector, finally gave his support to a less ambitious undertaking, the École Centrale de Préparation et d’Arpentage. Under the wing of the Land Surveyors of the Province of Quebec, the school opened in September 1907, drawing some 50 students. It was affiliated with the faculty of arts in May 1908. Gastonguay and Alfred Fyen were its first professors. Gastonguay was a member of the faculty of the university for the rest of his life; he taught courses in topography, geodesy, cartography, surveying, and arithmetic, and served as director of studies from 1910 to 1918. At the same time he maintained a private practice and around 1910 he went into partnership with his son-in-law, Louis Giroux, who had an office on Côte de la Montagne. His son Jules-Paul joined them ten years later.
Joseph-Narcisse Gastonguay died on 28 June 1922 at the age of 73, mourned by his wife, two daughters, and two sons. By his knowledge and savoir-faire, he helped advance the profession of surveying and create the colonization movement. A lake in northern Quebec was named after him in 1912. In the words of his university colleague Paul Joncas, following his death, he was a “man of heart, principles, and knowledge,” a professor noted for his enthusiasm, kindness, and lucid expression of ideas.
Joseph-Narcisse Gastonguay produced a number of writings, the most important of which was the beginning of a history of surveying published by the Land Surveyors of Quebec in their Annual report (Quebec) between 1891 and 1896. He is also the author of two articles: “La colonisation et les cercles de colonisation,” Almanach de l’Action sociale catholique (Québec), 3 (1919): 122–23, and “Cercle de colonisation,” La Semaine religieuse de Québec, 12 avril 1917: 512.
AC, Québec, État civil, Catholiques, Saint-Jean-Baptiste (Québec), 8 juin 1901. ANQ-MBF, CE402-S72, 28 avril 1879. ANQ-Q, CE302-S25, 13 janv. 1849; E9, Registraire, dossiers 1098/40, 4196/38, 5581/41; P293. L’Action catholique (Québec), 28 juin 1922. Le Devoir, 28, 30 juin 1922. Assoc. Catholique de la Jeunesse Canadienne-Française, Le problème de la colonisation au Canada français; rapport officiel du Congrès de colonisation tenu par l’A.C.J.C. à Chicoutimi, du 29 juin au 2 juillet 1919 (Montréal, 1920). Le Centenaire d’Arthabaska ([Arthabaska, Qué.], 1951). Directory, Quebec and Levis, 1908–22. Alcide Fleury, Arthabaska, capitale des Bois-Francs (Arthabaska, 1961). Jean Hamelin, Histoire de l’université Laval: les péripéties d’une idée (Sainte-Foy, Qué., 1995), 121–25. Yves Hébert, “La colonisation au service d’une idéologie; l’œuvre colonisatrice de l’abbé Ivanhoë Caron (1875–1941) en Abitibi (1911–1924)” (mémoire de ma, univ. Laval, Québec, 1986). Paul Joncas, “Monsieur J.-N. Gastonguay, professeur à la faculté des arts de l’université Laval,” in Univ. Laval, Annuaire, 1923–24: 252–54. Ligue Nationale de Colonisation, La Ligue nationale de colonisation, constituée civilement en corporation, sous l’empire des statuts refondus de la province de Québec, 1909–au 1er février 1924; constitution et règlements (Québec, 1924). Hormisdas Magnan, “Les drapeaux arborés dans la province de Québec,” BRH, 25 (1919): 141–43. P.-P. Magnan, Lac-Sergent, comté de Portneuf, P.Q. (Québec, 1948). J.-R. Pelletier, Arpenteurs-géomètres, un siècle, 1882–1982 (Québec, 1982). Eugène Robillard, “Une nomenclature géographique: les nouveaux noms géographiques de l’Abitibi et comté de Pontiac,” Soc. de Géographie de Québec, Bull., 6 (1912): 156–64. É.-G. Talbot, Généalogie des familles originaires des comtés de Montmagny, L’Islet, Bellechasse (16v., Château-Richer, Qué., 1971–78), 3. D. W. Thomson, Men and meridians: the history of surveying and mapping in Canada (3v., Ottawa, 1966–69), 2. Cyrille et Pierre Tremblay, 50 ans de vie municipale: des faits, des dates, des hommes, des chiffres, 25 février 1921–18 juillet 1971, Lac-Sergent 1921–1971 (Lac-Sergent, Qué., 1971). Univ. Laval, Annuaire, 1908–22.
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Cite This Article
Yves Hébert, “GASTONGUAY, JOSEPH-NARCISSE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 9, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gastonguay_joseph_narcisse_15E.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:||Yves Hébert|
|Title of Article:||GASTONGUAY, JOSEPH-NARCISSE|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||2005|
|Year of revision:||2005|
|Access Date:||June 9, 2023|