LÉTOURNEAU, JEAN-CHARLES, notary, office holder, and politician; b. 28 Nov. 1775 in Saint-Pierre-de-la-Rivière-du-Sud, Que., son of Joseph-Marie Létourneau and Marie-Françoise Cloutier; d. 21 April 1838 in the parish of Saint-Thomas (at Montmagny), Lower Canada.
Although he came from a humble family with little education, Jean-Charles Létourneau did classical studies at the Petit Séminaire de Québec, where he was a day-pupil from 1789 to 1792. His teachers said at the time that he was an intelligent, gifted, but unruly student. Subsequently he articled with notaries Roger Lelièvre and then Nicolas-Gaspard Boisseau. He was licensed to practise as a notary public on 18 July 1803 and settled in Saint-Thomas.
On 24 Nov. 1806, in the parish church of Saint-Thomas, Létourneau married Catherine Boisseau, daughter of his former employer and of Catherine Gaspé, whose father was Ignace-Philippe Aubert* de Gaspé. Even though no children were born to them and there was a great difference in their ages, they apparently led a happy life until Catherine died on 13 Feb. 1833.
A man with a sharp eye, slim and carefully dressed, Létourneau proved to be witty, learned, and patriotic. After a stormy youth, in which he claimed to take his inspiration from Voltaire, and in spite of his ardent nationalism, he reputedly sobered down with age, ardour giving way to “more reasonable and more moderate” sentiments.
In 1826 Létourneau began to take on civic responsibilities. On 8 May he became a commissioner for repairing the schoolhouse in Saint-Thomas, a duty shared with his brother-in-law Ignace-Gaspard Boisseau, among others. Then on 29 May 1829 he was appointed commissioner to open roads in the parish of Saint-Thomas, and on 12 May 1831 he became commissioner for conducting the census in L’Islet County.
A great admirer of Louis-Joseph Papineau*, Létourneau took an interest in politics and sought election in the riding of Devon on 25 Aug. 1827. He was successful and replaced Joseph-François Couillard-Després in the House of Assembly, where he sat along with Jean-Baptiste Fortin. Enjoying the broad confidence of his constituents, he was returned in the new riding of L’Islet in 1830 and 1834, and retained his seat until the constitution was suspended in February 1838. Since he was a disciple of Papineau, it was not surprising that in 1834 he voted for the 92 Resolutions and opposed the amendments put forward by John Neilson. Létourneau was then at the height of his popularity. Later, Flavien-Édouard Casault, in a history of Saint-Thomas published in 1906, called him “a remarkable man.” Just after his death Edmund Bailey O’Callaghan* would say that he was “a good democrat, and an honest Canadian, felt for his Country like a man, and defended her as a Representative, honestly and steadily.”
“After a long and painful illness,” Létourneau died on 21 April 1838, leaving the people of Montmagny and L’Islet to mourn a “good relative, sincere friend, [and] devoted citizen.” His impressive funeral cost £25, a huge sum at the time for this sort of ceremony in the country. He was buried in the crypt of the parish church of Saint-Thomas.
Through unremitting work, attention to detail, and exceptional knowledge of the law, Jean-Charles Létourneau had been able to amass a tidy fortune. In particular he owned a remarkable library of rare books. It was housed in an attractive and well-furnished home that gave proof of his good taste. Létourneau bequeathed the books to his neighbour and great friend Étienne-Paschal Taché*.
ANQ-Q, CE2-6, 29 nov. 1775; CE2-7, 24 nov. 1806, 13 févr. 1833, 21 avril 1838; CN2-7, 1787–89. ASQ, Séminaire, 103, nos.29c, 31–32. PAC, MG 24, B2: 1989–91, 2294–97, 2911–12; RG 4, A1, 241, 358; B8: 485–89; B72, 25–26. Quebec Gazette, 21 July 1803, 11 Jan. 1810, 19 Feb. 1833. F.-J. Audet, “Les législateurs du Bas-Canada.” Desjardins, Guide parl. F.-É. Casault, Notes historiques sur la paroisse de Saint-Thomas de Montmagny (Québec, 1906). Jacques Castonguay, La seigneurie de Philippe Aubert de Gaspé, Saint-Jean-Port-Joli (Montréal, 1977). Chapais, Cours d’hist. du Canada, vol.4. Gérard Ouellet, Ma paroisse: Saint-Jean Port-Joly (Québec, 1946). P.-G. Roy, La famille Aubert de Gaspé (Lévis, Qué., 1907). “Cinq belles figures de Montmagny,” Québec-Hist. (Montmagny, Qué.), 2 (1972), no.1: 65.