HARPER, CHARLES, teacher, Roman Catholic priest, and seminary administrator; b. 7 Jan. 1800 in Sainte-Foy, Lower Canada, son of Lewis Harper and Charlotte Bleau (Blaut); d. 7 April 1855 in Nicolet, Lower Canada.
Charles Harper was the fifth in a family of nine children. His childhood and youth were influenced by the good example of his father, the most upright of men, and the edifying conduct of his deeply religious mother. At an early age Charles gave signs of superior intelligence, and his parents spared no effort to get him an education that would enable him to earn his own living despite the handicap of a club foot. As a pupil he lived up to their expectations, being remarkably successful at the school run by the Reverend Daniel Wilkie at Quebec. In 1815 the Quebec Gazette announced that Harper had taken first prize in Latin, English grammar, French, bookkeeping, algebra, and geography.
On 30 April 1818 Harper obtained from the government the post of “Schoolmaster at the free school of the Royal Institution [for the Advancement of Learning] established at Cap Santé,” which had recently been set up at the request of the villagers. He taught reading, writing, and arithmetic to about 36 pupils in both English and French, for an annual salary of £45. He seems to have carried out his duties satisfactorily, since his appointment was renewed regularly until 30 April 1822, when he gave up his post.
Harper then entered the Séminaire de Nicolet, where from 1822 to 1824 he completed his classical and philosophical studies. From 1824 to 1828 he took his theology, and at the same time taught the students of the seminary. He was ordained priest on 7 Sept. 1828, becoming the second in his family to choose the priesthood: his brother Jean had been ordained in 1824, and another, Jacques, would be ordained in 1835.
Harper’s career as a priest was spent at the Séminaire de Nicolet. Things might have turned out quite differently, however, for in 1831 Bishop Joseph-Norbert Provencher was eager to have him come to the Red River settlement (Man.) as a teacher. Despite the bishop’s repeated efforts Harper remained at Nicolet.
As bursar and procurator of the seminary from 1828 to 1853 (except for the years 1836–40 when he taught theology), Harper won and retained the confidence of Bishop Joseph Signay*, who relied upon him in all matters related to the seminary’s administration. Among other tasks, Harper had to supervise the construction of a larger building, begun in 1828. In performing his duties as bursar and procurator Harper was often, rightly or wrongly, subjected to complaints and criticism, especially about food and heating. However, thanks to his tenacity, administrative abilities, and faith in the future, he managed on various occasions to save the seminary, whether from ruin, a transfer to Trois-Rivières, or sale to the government.
The history of the Séminaire de Nicolet bears testimony to the services rendered by Charles Harper, and identifies him as a benefactor. To recognize his merit and to reward him, the seminary’s board of trustees in 1853 bestowed upon him the office of superior. But Harper did not hold this position long, for he died in 1855.
ANQ-MBF, CE1-30, 10 avril 1855. ANQ-Q, CE1-20, 8 janv. 1800. ASN, AO, Polygraphie, IV, nos.69–148; Séminaire, IV, nos.36–53. Quebec Gazette, 24 Aug., 22 Dec. 1815; 18 May 1818. Allaire, Dictionnaire, 1: 265. L.-P. Audet, Le système scolaire, vols.3–4. Douville, Hist. du collège-séminaire de Nicolet, 1: 405–9; 2. Claude Lessard, Le séminaire de Nicolet, 1803–1969 (Trois-Rivières, Qué., 1980). Lucien Brault, “Charles Harper, maître d’école au Cap Santé,” BRH, 43 (1937): 31–32. Raymond Douville, “Les trois abbés Harper,” Cahiers des Dix, 13 (1948): 143–57. Yvon Thériault, “Histoire de trois célèbres Écossais de la région,” Le Nouvelliste (Trois-Rivières), 26 août 1950: 11.