GAUTRON, dit Larochelle, SIMÉON, carder, businessman, and inventor; b. 24 April 1808 in Saint-Vallier, Lower Canada, son of Michel Gautron and Marie-Louise Bolduc; m. 13 Oct. 1829 Sophie Vachon, dit Pomerleau, in Sainte-Marie-de-la-Nouvelle-Beauce (Sainte-Marie), Lower Canada; m. there secondly 19 Feb. 1849 Henriette Proulx; seven children were born of these marriages; d. 23 June 1859 in Saint-Anselme, Lower Canada.
The forebears of Siméon Gautron, dit Larochelle, came to New France from La Rochelle, France, in 1673 and founded a family at Saint-Vallier, where Siméon was born. Little is known about Siméon’s life before he was about 20, when he decided to move to Saint-Anselme. He is said to have offered his horse – all he had to his name – for the services of an itinerant teacher. Having been taught to read and write, he went to Sainte-Marie-de-la-Nouvelle-Beauce and learned the rudiments of carding. He married there in 1829, and then returned to Saint-Anselme. Once he had settled down he acquired a property on the east side of the Rivière Etchemin, beside the falls, and built a carding-mill, which was in operation by 1830. He proved a skilled machinist, and in 1832 the seigneur of Sainte-Marie, Pierre-Elzéar Taschereau*, invited him to build a carding-mill in partnership with him on the Rivière du Domaine, and to share his privileges in respect of mill rights.
That year Larochelle installed near the first carding-mill a sawmill with vertically reciprocating blades, to which he added a carpentry workshop in 1844. Around 1837 Sir John Caldwell*, the seigneur of Lauzon, who had always refused to allow competition on his estates, nevertheless encouraged Larochelle to grind the grain grown by the farmers on his seigneury, after millstones had been installed in Larochelle’s sawmill. He added a forge for making iron tools in 1838, and he was so successful that in 1844 the forge was replaced by a foundry, which remained in operation for a long time. Over about 15 years Larochelle had assembled various facilities which, although part of Saint-Anselme, really constituted a new village, Larochelle.
To promote the settlement of land at the back of the seigneuries and no doubt also to make his own business profitable, Larochelle organized a cooperative for erecting a bridge over the Rivière Etchemin. The bridge was opened in 1849 and linked Saint-Anselme to the fertile region of the Beauce. In 1853 Larochelle added to his facilities a factory for making cloth, putting under one roof the machinery needed for successive operations: carding, spinning, weaving, and shearing. That year he also made a printing-press for Le Canadien at Quebec.
In addition, from 1835 Larochelle had taken numerous steps to get a railway built linking the Beauce region to Lévis via Saint-Anselme. This particular objective was part of an ambitious project to construct a railway line running from Lévis to the Maine border which would link with another from the Atlantic coast. However, the project foundered on innumerable obstacles. The charter of the Belfast and Quebec Railroad was obtained in 1836 and renewed in 1845, yet no construction was undertaken despite Larochelle’s pleas. In 1853 the St Lawrence and Atlantic Rail-road was built, but from Montreal to Portland, Maine, via Sherbrooke. When the Grand Trunk system joined this line the following year, the city of Quebec had its first railway connection, although an indirect one, with the United States. Far from resting content with this achievement, the people of the Beauce region joined Quebec citizens in presenting a petition in 1854 to the Legislative Council and the assembly. As the result of a second one, given legislative sanction in 1855, the Quebec, Chaudière, Maine and Portland Railway Company was incorporated, with Larochelle as one of the 16 directors. No further trace of this company has been found. Finally, ten years after Larochelle’s death, another plan was carried through: the Levis and Kennebec Railway Company was formed in 1869 and the railway reached Scott, in the Beauce region, in 1875. Among its directors was his son, Louis-Napoléon*, who made himself the principal promoter of the undertaking.
Siméon was endowed with remarkable energy, initiative, and inventiveness, talents which contemporary accounts hailed as the mark of genius. The principal newspapers of Lower Canada spoke highly of the extraordinary cannon he had invented. Their descriptions and commentaries indicate that he had designed a weapon which “fires from 10 to 12 rounds a minute.” In 1836 he asked the assembly to grant him the means to give it extensive trials. This request was rejected by the casting vote of the speaker, Louis-Joseph Papineau*, who considered the invention “a machine for killing.” Ten years later Larochelle obtained the support of the governor-in-chief, Charles Murray Cathcart, but the artillery commander Colonel J. Campbell thought his cannon was “too complicated and expensive for the service.” In the face of this set-back, Larochelle had to content himself with putting his cannon on show at Montreal and Quebec.
Stricken with paralysis, Siméon Gautron, dit Larochelle, died on 23 June 1859 at Saint-Anselme. One of his sons, Anselme-Hyppolite, had inherited his mechanical skills. Louis-Napoléon took over his business. A daughter, Marie-Louise, married Dr Cyrille Vaillancourt, and their son Cyrille-Émile gained distinction on the board of the Fédération des Caisses Populaires Desjardins.
L.C., House of Assembly, Journals, 1835–36. Le Canadien, 14 août, 2, 16 sept. 1846. Le Journal de Québec, 8 août, 5, 12, 17 sept. 1846. La Minerve, 7, 14 sept. 1846. Ernest Arsenault, La paroisse “St-Anselme” ([Saint-Anselme, Qué.], 1975), 17, 167–68, 249–50, 262–63. Honorius Provost, Chaudière Kennebec; grand chemin séculaire (Québec, 1974); Sainte-Marie de la Nouvelle-Beauce; histoire civile (Québec, 1970). J.-E. Roy, Hist. de Lauzon, vol.5. P.-G. Roy, Toutes petites choses du Régime anglais. Léon Trépanier, On veut savoir (4v., Montréal, 1960–62), 3. “Les Disparus,” BRH, 39 (1933): 761. Léa Pétrin, “M. J.-Adélard Bégin a ressuscité l’entreprise de Siméon Larochelle à St-Anselme, Dorchester,” Le Soled (Québec), 22 août 1948: 7.