LABADIE, LOUIS (from 1798 he signed Louis-Généreux), teacher; b. 18 May 1765 at Quebec, son of Pierre Labadie, a cooper, and Marie-Louise Paquet; d. 19 June 1824 in Verchères, Lower Canada.
According to an unsigned but presumably autobiographical account in L’Aurore des Canadas on 22 Aug. 1818, Louis Labadie learned the rudiments of teaching and practised this profession when he was barely past childhood. In 1776 he was teaching some ten youngsters; his father had given him permission to have the pupils in his home, and some Quebec merchants contributed the school supplies.
In 1778–79 Labadie studied at the Petit Séminaire de Québec. He divided his time between his classical studies and the teaching of reading and writing. But illness forced him to leave the institution, and on the recommendation of the bishop of Quebec, Jean-Olivier Briand*, he was put under the care of the parish priest of Beauport, Pierre-Simon Renaud, in the early 1780s. It was thought that he would regain his health in the country. Labadie undertook to teach there and in 1783 about 30 pupils were attending the school.
Labadie’s health was still delicate. Consequently in 1785 Dr Philippe-Louis-François Badelard* prescribed salt-water baths for him. On a recommendation from the parish priest of Notre-Dame in Quebec, Auguste-David Hubert, Labadie went to live at Rivière-Ouelle. The local parish priest, Bernard-Claude Panet, found a house for him near the St Lawrence and gave him his meals at the presbytery. As payment Labadie conducted a parish school.
In 1787 Labadie was asked by the parish priest of Kamouraska, Joseph-Amable Trutault, to establish a school there. As his health had improved, he gave up his plan of returning to Quebec and accepted the offer. After a year or two he left for Quebèc. A period of reflection settled what his diary termed his profession or vocation: teaching.
In 1789 Labadie met the parish priest of Berthier-en-Haut (Berthierville), Jean-Baptiste-Noël Pouget*, who suggested he take charge of a primary school there, a proposal to which he agreed. He taught in a house belonging to the fabrique and boarded in a parishioner’s home. After teaching for five years at Berthier-en-Haut, and in the mean time refusing offers from the priests of Saint-Cuthbert and Trois-Rivières, he accepted an invitation from the priest of Verchères in 1794. He went to teach at Saint-Eustache in 1801, and then at Varennes four years later. He returned to Verchères in 1813 and remained there until his death.
This lay pioneer in primary teaching appears to have had exceptional pedagogical gifts. He certainly had little formal knowledge, much less than those who had studied at classical colleges. But he could read and write, even if his writing was full of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. His extreme naïvety may have been an asset in enabling him to communicate with children, to whom he was close in spirit. He showed his pupils great affection, and they were attached to him. Not infrequently during the short summer holidays or around Easter, Labadie would take some pupils to Montreal or to visit acquaintances in a neighbouring parish. Several youths who left his school to attend the Séminaire de Nicolet or the Collège Saint-Raphaël in Montreal maintained more or less regular contact with him. Some of them – Ludger Duvernay*, for one – whose only stock of knowledge was what he had taught them, had a remarkable rise in society.
Labadie’s curriculum was reduced to the bare bones: reading, writing, and arithmetic, to which was added a smattering of history, geography, and the catechism. His pedagogical methods were very much rule-of-thumb. “Friends of education” would supply books and paper. A curate would give pictures which the teacher distributed. Thanks to gifts of newspapers, the schoolchildren read the scarce periodicals of the time and when they went home passed the news on to their amazed parents. To vary his teaching format or simply to polish his pupils Labadie used to write addresses to prominent individuals on the occasion of their birthday or patron saint’s day; the member of parliament, seigneur, parish priest, or curate would listen to the address, which was generally followed by a poem, a song, or some sort of play in verse.
Labadie exercised his profession in the shadow of the church. In the parishes where he agreed to teach he received a warm, if not a formal, welcome from the priest and the parishioners. In 1805 the priest of Varennes introduced him in his Sunday sermon noting, “I am expecting a great deal of the present schoolmaster, [in particular] that in his school he will maintain good order, which has never existed here. The first thing is to instruct the youth in religion and to make good Christians of them.” On the first day of classes the priest celebrated high mass, with the Veni Creator and hymns sung by the pupils. For the occasion Labadie offered a prayer at the foot of the altar, asking God for the help needed to exercise his profession in a Christian manner.
On occasion Labadie prepared or officiated at religious ceremonies such as first communion, taking part through singing and readings. During his first stay at Verchères he collaborated in pastoral work to an even greater degree. He sought the office of sacristan and received from it the extra income he needed at the time. At that period, he was still a bachelor and lived somewhat like an assistant to the parish priest, who provided him with his meals at the presbytery.
In general Labadie’s relations with the parish priests seem to have been marked by deference, submission, and a cooperative spirit. Nevertheless a major difference of opinion brought him into conflict with Pouget. In January 1792 Labadie had offered to give free instruction to the poor children of Berthier-en-Haut. This apparently displeased the churchwardens and the parish priest, who in May expelled him from the school, the premises of which belonged to the fabrique. Labadie promptly sued Pouget in the Court of Common Pleas at Montreal. Lawyer Robert Russell served as counsel for the dismissed schoolmaster. With the backing of Hugh Finlay*, who paid the rent for new premises, Labadie resumed teaching in Berthier-en-Haut. In June he announced in the press that he had 26 pupils, 5 of whom were being instructed free of charge.
The conflict between Labadie and Pouget was probably not based solely upon the principle of free schooling. It aroused controversy in Berthier-en-Haut. On the one hand, a certificate of good conduct given to the schoolmaster had 32 signatures. On the other, at the beginning of August the Quebec Gazette carried the reply from some 50 parishioners who sided with Pouget, the churchwardens being at the top of the list. In it they deplored Labadie’s independent attitude towards the parish priest, an attitude which in the context of the period could easily be considered irreligious and scandalous. Labadie was supported by some prominent English-speaking Protestants. In addition to Finlay, his educational mission received the approval, if not the encouragement, of Samuel Neilson*, Chief Justice William Smith*, and Lieutenant Governor Alured Clarke. Prince Edward* Augustus even declared himself patron of the school when he passed through Berthier-en-Haut in 1793. Nothing more was needed to show the teacher’s loyalty to Great Britain and the holders of office in the colony during those years of open conflict between the original mother country and the new one. Labadie had in fact published in the press some literary pieces in praise of the British. In 1798, banking on his exaggerated declarations of loyalty, he asked the civil secretary, Herman Witsius Ryland*, for “a position in the governmental secretariat or something equivalent, in order to retire from the wretched occupation of schoolmaster, which is a little too dependent on the whim [of the] clergy.” Ryland made no reply, a silence that had the effect of dampening Labadie’s enthusiasms, or rather of removing him from the sphere of politics. He penned the occasional couplet against Napoleon, but the passion had gone from them.
Labadie had such a good reputation that parish priests fought for his services. While teaching at Verchères he refused a considerable sum to go to L’Assomption. In 1801 he accepted an offer from the priest of Saint-Eustache which carried a tempting salary. From then on he had no more financial difficulties. Earlier, in 1795, he had thought it fitting to attach to his good wishes to the parishioners of Verchères a renewed plea: “I repeat today and beg you to be charitable enough to put a little stovewood in your carriages and throw [it] off at my door when you pass on your way to divine service.” At that time, to make ends meet he had to act as sacristan and beg for his salary every year, going from door to door. By the turn of the century such embarrassing situations were part of the past. At Saint-Eustache he considered that he was “magnificently lodged” in a house with a parlour, a room for the school, and two bedrooms, as well as a room in which he installed his library. Nevertheless, although he received some extra income from two boarders, he took a less expensive house, and then in 1805 went to Varennes, where he received a better salary. The local parish priest set up a foundation which guaranteed the schoolmaster’s salary and the upkeep of the school. Labadie was assured of a modest degree of comfort.
On 17 Feb. 1801 Louis Labadie had married Marie-Archange Charron. As the years passed Labadie and his kin were often afflicted with illness. When he was in his mid forties, he suffered from a canker on his nose which disfigured him. Then in 1811 his wife contracted a lung disease that forced them to sleep apart. When she was at the point of death, Labadie made a vow that if she recovered, they would forgo sexual relations. Vain promises? His wife died on 21 Jan. 1815 and six months later Labadie married Marie-Josephte Privée, a 47-year-old widow whom he described. as a “small woman, but very sweet.” To put an end to the whispering, and perhaps to forestall the possibility of a charivari, he had a high mass celebrated for his deceased wife three days before the wedding. On 24 July he was remarried, presumably with no open display of disapproval. The couple’s happiness was short-lived, for Marie-Josephte fell seriously ill a few days after the wedding and died in January 1816. Shortly afterwards Labadie took as his third wife Louise-Zéphyrine Quintal, who gave birth prematurely on 8 March 1817 to a stillborn child. This succession of bereavements may have led Labadie to stop writing the diary that he had kept since 1794 and that has been used to reconstruct his life. It may be conjectured just as plausibly that the rest of the diary is no longer extant.
Louis Labadie’s diary is kept at the ASQ (mss, 74).
ANQ-M, CE1-26, 21 juin 1824; P1000-45-889. ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 19 mai 1765. ASQ, Fichier des anciens. L’Aurore des Canadas (Montréal), 22 août 1818. P.-G. Roy, Fils de Québec, 2: 134–37. Wallace, Macmillan dict. S.-A. Moreau, Précis de l’histoire de la seigneurie, de la paroisse et du comté de Berthier, P.Q. (Canada) (Berthierville, Qué., 1889). A. [-E.] Gosselin, “Louis Labadie ou le maître d’école patriotique, 1765–1824,” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., 7 (1913), sect.i: 97–123. Yves Tessier, “Ludger Duvernay et les débuts de la presse périodique aux Trois-Rivières,” RHAF, 18 (1964–65): 387–404, 566–81.