LESIEUR-DÉSAULNIERS, LOUIS-LÉON, physician, politician, office holder, jp, and militia officer; b. 20 Feb. 1823 in Yamachiche, Lower Canada, the eighth child of François Lesieur-Désaulniers and Charlotte Rivard-Dufresne; m. 16 Nov. 1850 Marie Flora Josephine Merrill in Montreal, and they had ten children; d. there 31 Oct. 1896 and was buried at Yamachiche on 3 November.
Louis-Léon Lesieur-Désaulniers’s maternal grandfather, Augustin Rivard (Rivard-Dufresne), had been one of the two original members for Saint-Maurice in the House of Assembly in 1792, and his father represented the constituency before and after the union of Upper and Lower Canada in 1841. Two of Louis-Léon’s brothers, Isaac-Stanislas* and François, were priests and teachers of philosophy and science, the former at the Séminaire de Saint-Hyacinthe and the latter at the Séminaire de Nicolet. Désaulniers received his secondary education at the Séminaire de Nicolet from 1834 to 1841. He then studied medicine for a year at Trois-Rivières and afterwards at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., from which he graduated in 1846. He decided to return to his home town, Yamachiche, to practise.
In 1851 Désaulniers entered politics, running in Saint-Maurice as a Conservative, but he was not elected. He made a second and successful attempt in that riding in 1854. He sat in the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada from 20 July 1854 until 16 May 1863. In the latter year he was defeated by his first cousin, Charles Gérin-Lajoie. The ensuing years seem to have been difficult at times. Since Yamachiche already had two other doctors, it was not easy for Désaulniers to rebuild his practice. Hence in the period 1863–67 he wrote numerous letters to Hector-Louis Langevin* and to Jean-Charles Chapais*, asking them to find him a salaried position that would be “fitting.”
In 1867 Désaulniers was elected to the House of Commons by acclamation, but he resigned on 29 Sept. 1868 to become an inspector for the Board of Inspectors of Prisons and Asylums of Quebec. He was chairman of that body at the time of his death. In 1875 the provincial government sent him to France, England, and Belgium to investigate the operation of penitentiaries. Following this visit, he became a staunch supporter of the system of confinement in cells. In 1878 his report noted: “The common life of prisons is, without question, a school for vice and immorality.” To improve the situation, he proposed that prisoners be isolated from each other as much as possible. However, he did not live to see the construction of the kind of prison he had so often recommended.
At the request of the Conservative leaders, Désaulniers ran again in Saint-Maurice in the federal elections of 1878 and 1882, defeating Liberal Simon J. Remington. He was not a candidate in 1887, but ran again in the same riding in 1891 as an independent Conservative against his brother François-Sévère, the Conservative incumbent, who won by 75 votes.
This defeat ended the political career of Louis-Léon Lesieur-Désaulniers, who had remained faithful all his life to the cause of the Conservative party. He was a grass roots politician upon whom the party could depend, and he was highly regarded by the voters of Saint-Maurice. His most important role in the house seems to have been the drafting in 1854 of a new law dealing with municipalities and roads in Lower Canada. Désaulniers also served as a justice of the peace, as lieutenant-colonel of the 6th Battalion of Saint-Maurice militia, and as a member of the Council of Public Instruction from 1862 to 1876.
[The baptismal record of Louis-Léon Lesieur-Désaulniers has not been found. j.s.]
AC, Trois-Rivières, Qué., État civil, Catholiques, Sainte-Anne (Yamachiche), 3 nov. 1896. ANQ-M, CE1-51, 16 nov. 1850. Arch. du séminaire de Nicolet (Nicolet, Qué.), Fichiers des étudiants. NA, RG 31, C1, 1861, comté de Saint-Maurice. Can., Parl., Sessional papers, 1877–78, no.23: 10–11; 1897, no.31. Le Monde illustré, 14 nov. 1896. Le Trifluvien (Trois-Rivières), 3 nov. 1896. Canadian biog. dict. Canadian directory of parl. (Johnson). F.-J. Audet, Les députés de la région des Trois-Rivières, 1841–1867 (Trois-Rivières, 1934). L.-P. Audet, Histoire du conseil de l’Instruction publique de la province de Quebec, 1856–1964 (Montréal, 1964), 63, 69, 97, 169–75. F. Lesieur-Désaulniers, Les vieilles families d’Yamachiche . . . (4v., Montréal, 1898–1908), 2: 12–13.