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GOSSELIN, AUGUSTE-HONORÉ (baptized Auguste-Honorin), Roman Catholic priest and historian; b. 29 Dec. 1843 in Saint-Charles, Lower Canada, son of Joseph Gosselin, a farmer, and Angèle Labrie; d. there 14 Aug. 1918.

Auguste-Honoré Gosselin was a student at the Petit Séminaire de Québec and was awarded the Prince of Wales prize in 1863. He was ordained to the priesthood on 30 Sept. 1866 at the age of 22. After serving as assistant secretary (1866–67) and secretary (1867–68) to the archdiocese and assistant priest at Notre-Dame cathedral in Quebec (1868–69), he was appointed in 1869 as the first curé of Sainte-Jeanne (in Pont-Rouge). He served in the latter place until 1886, when he was assigned to Saint-Ferréol parish (in Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges). In 1891 he tried without success to get an appointment from Elzéar-Alexandre Cardinal Taschereau* as curé of Sainte-Foy, near Quebec. Two years later Gosselin left Saint-Ferréol and returned to his native parish. At the age of 50, he was now retired and free to devote the rest of his life to writing history.

For nearly 20 years in Pont-Rouge, Gosselin had served a community affected by modern industrial development. In the 1870s a paper mill, a “business specializing in carpentry, furniture, public works, bridges,” and other construction, and a threshing-machine industry had been set up. These establishments stood side by side with more traditional ones such as a flour mill and a lime factory. During this decade also, the parish was served by the North Shore Railway. The village grew as industries were introduced. In 1874 the parish had 1,117 Roman Catholics and 42 Irish, Scottish, Norwegian, and German Protestants. Nearly a third of the 176 families lived in the village. By the beginning of the 1880s half of the population of 1,400 made part of their living from the land and about 100 families, or almost half the community, lived in the village itself.

The income of the parish church varied according to the fluctuations of the industrial economy and of agricultural production. In the mid 1870s a slowdown due to the depression caused wages to fall. Gosselin noted that there was “a willingness to pay the capitation; but there is so much poverty and privation that I was not able to collect half of what was owing.” The tithe brought in about $500 and the capitation $80, or $20 less than the supplementary income from fees for masses and other rites which the curé shared with the fabrique. The capitation was a new type of levy which obliged the village people also to pay for religious services previously paid for by the farming community alone. Wage-earners took some time to become accustomed to it. The year before Gosselin left, only half the emplacitaires paid their capitation to the curé. The annual income of $700 or $800 declared during the 1880s came basically from the tithe. In addition, there were various fringe benefits such as the “little wood lot for the curé’s use.”

Gosselin attained financial independence at a relatively early age. His savings would secure him a place among the turn-of-the-century cultural aristocrats who produced book after book in the silent seclusion of an extensive library. He would probably also get a small income from his literary works. In 1914, when he published the third of his five volumes on the history of the Roman Catholic Church in Canada, he acknowledged that 2,000 copies of his books had been printed and that only about 50 were left. The automatic sale of some 100 copies to the Séminaire de Québec was simply the icing on the cake.

Gosselin’s fondness for history went back at least to the earliest days of his priesthood. In 1867 he had been appointed notary apostolic in the case for the beatification of Marie de l’Incarnation [Guyart*]. At the end of the century, Gosselin concluded a piece about the Canadian Catholic Church with this wish: “There remains only one glory for the church in Canada to covet . . . to see a few of her children raised up in honour on the altars.” Quebec hagiography of the 19th century, as the historiographic record has shown, was part of a process whose aim was the legal recognition of sainthood. Gosselin organized his monumental biography of François de Laval*, which was published at Quebec in 1890, according to Rome’s criteria, in order to have the country’s first bishop beatified and to promote his canonization. The history entitled L’Église du Canada . . . (Québec, 1911–17), whose five volumes followed the biography of Bishop Laval, is, however, still his major work. A fact-laden account of the church that pays scant attention to the community of believers and that is dominated by chronology and narrative explanation, this magnum opus was written according to international notions of historical science. Local colour gave way to ultramontane triumphalism.

As one volume after another came out, the critics commented on Gosselin’s unpolished style. After his death Camille Roy*, a pioneer of literary history, would publish in the September 1918 issue of Le Canada français (Québec) a tribute to Gosselin as a “persevering” and “very useful initiator.” He would draw attention also, however, to Gosselin’s concern with “pointless details,” to his lack of intellectual ability to synthesize, and especially to his “very flowing style,” which “did not have enough variety of expression.” Gosselin may have been mocking his detractors when he sketched the character of Bishop Louis-Philippe Mariauchau* d’Esgly in the fourth volume of his history of the church. Humble and modest, d’Esgly did “not let himself be taken in; he possess[ed] the science of all sciences, which consists in ‘knowing oneself well’ and which is missing in so many brilliant and pretentious minds.” Some ten days after Gosselin’s death, his friend Ernest Myrand wrote to a close friend: “I send you . . . a newspaper clipping. You will find in it a word of praise that L’Événement published about our dear friend. . . . He had character, that man, and that is why in a certain quarter people were jealous of him and detested him. Which explains why L’Action catholique makes no mention of him. I did not even read an account of his funeral in it, let alone a eulogy. Where were the Roys? . . . Abbé Gosselin was no doubt an eccentric, a bit abrupt, a bit too absent-minded, but after all, with a heart of gold, a straightforward heart, saying what he thought out loud, in the presence of the great ecclesiastical scholars, as you are aware.” In the opinion of Paul-Eugène Roy* and his brother Camille, Gosselin may have been an intellectual in homespun. All three were farmers’ sons and former seminary students. But the Roys had studied in Paris and come back with university degrees. Gosselin had received his doctorate from the Université Laval and travelled to Europe twice to study in the archives, but he had not brought back a diploma. This distinction was beginning to be of decisive weight in literary circles at the beginning of the 20th century.

Serge Gagnon

Details concerning Auguste-Honoré Gosselin’s literary and historical works appear in the author’s study Le Québec et ses historiens de 1840 à 1920: la Nouvelle-France de Garneau à Groulx (Québec, 1978), as well as in DOLQ, 1: 523–24, 763–65; 2: 401–4, and Hamel et al., DALFAN, 619–21. The last includes a bibliography of Gosselin’s publications, although a less comprehensive one than the listing in Arthur Maheux*, “Les trois Gosselin (bibliographie),” CCHA, Rapport, 12 (1944–45): 33–35.

AAQ, 12 A, Q: 63v., 86v.; 61 CD, Pont-Rouge. ANQ-Q, CE2-4, 29 déc. 1843. ASQ, Fichier index. NA, MG 30, C49, 8; E28, 8. La Semaine religieuse de Québec, 22 août 1918. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898 and 1912). The Oxford companion to Canadian history and literature, ed. Norah Story (Toronto, 1967). L.-A. Paquet, “L’abbé Auguste Gosselin,” RSC, Trans., 3rd ser., 13 (1919), proc.: xii–xiii, and photo facing p.xii.

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Cite This Article

Serge Gagnon, “GOSSELIN, AUGUSTE-HONORÉ,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 29, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gosselin_auguste_honore_14E.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:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gosselin_auguste_honore_14E.html
Author of Article:   Serge Gagnon
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1998
Year of revision:   1998
Access Date:   September 29, 2023