MALO, JOSEPH-HORMISDAS, newspaperman and chansonnier; b. 15 Dec. 1857 in Montreal, son of Moïse Malo, a shoemaker, and Célina Malo; m. there 24 May 1882 Marie-Louise Goulet, and was survived by one son and two daughters; d. 25 Feb. 1918 in Montreal.
Nothing is known about Joseph-Hormisdas Malo’s childhood and youth. In December 1881 at the age of 24, he became editor of Le Bouquet (Montréal), a sixteen-page literary weekly, of which only three issues appeared up to January 1882. Three months later, as publisher and printer he launched L’Impartial, a four-page weekly, which seems to have been ephemeral. From 8 January to 18 March 1897 he was the owner and publisher of Le Lutin, a humorous paper whose aim was to make readers laugh and sing. From February to September 1897 as proprietor and editor he published Le Mirliton, which he described as his artistic, literary, and entertaining newspaper. Sixteen issues are known to have been put out. Apart from these attempts to start his own papers, Malo worked on every French newspaper in Montreal, according to La Patrie, where he had been a proofreader for many years at the time of his death.
Although he showed a keen interest in the publication of literary newspapers, Malo’s real priority was writing and publishing songs. Printed and distributed as sheet music, they were mostly satirical in tone. His patriotic songs “C’est Laurier qu’il nous faut” (1900) and “O Canada, ma patrie” (c. 1893) and his laments such as “Tom Nulty,” “Cécile Michaud,” and “Le naufrage du Titanic” (1912) enjoyed great popularity; many copies, published in various places, were issued.
Of the more than 45 catalogued songs for which Malo wrote the words, not quite half were set to existing tunes. “Gai lon la, joli rosier” and “La fille de Madame Angot” were melodies that provided musical support for his lyrics. Calixa Lavallée*, Alexis Contant, and Gustave Goublier were among the musicians who composed music for his topical and occasional songs. His sheet music contains bursts of poetry and is especially helpful in reconstructing the life of the time, sometimes even serving as a kind of comic strip. The songs were true social poems, touching people’s hearts with their contemporary allusions. Malo reached out to ordinary folk. His friends were police officers, sailors, firefighters, journalists, and restaurant owners. “Le facteur,” published in Le Passe-Temps on 29 April 1911, became the official song of the Montreal mail carriers. His “Hymne au travail,” written about 1905 to music by Henri Miro, was widely circulated.
Nicknamed “the Montreal bard,” Malo was one of the most original and popular figures in the city’s east end. With his black frock-coat and fedora, cane for his game leg, and bright red rosette with long streaming ribbons on his chest, he was a familiar sight on Rue Saint-Jacques, strolling between the court-house and the Place d’Armes. A philosopher in his own way and a humorist when in the mood, Malo was deeply attached to France and the French language. Sometimes at the busiest street corners in the city, his powerful voice welling up from his frail and misshapen body, he would suddenly cry out “Vive la France!” His hatred of the English, on the other hand, was probably an affectation. For several years, while on the staff of French newspapers in Montreal, he worked as a translator.
Malo’s legacy did not consist of volumes or collected writings, but of a great many scattered songs, satires, and ballads which sometimes soared above set rhymes to reach momentary flights of true lyricism. At a time when an authentic urban culture was only beginning to develop, he seemed a modern, rather than traditional man. He was well acquainted with the popular spirit, and although he may be criticized for occasionally flattering the too-earthy tastes and inclinations of ordinary people, it must also be acknowledged that he was often able to draw a genuine lesson from a commonplace event.
More than one public figure owed his moment of fame to a well-placed word by Joseph-Hormisdas Malo. One of the eccentrics who form part of Montreal’s history, this poet who gave the same treatment – in the manner and humour of his time – to politicians and murderers, gas lighting and municipal councillors, prostitutes and homeland, found his way into the hearts of his listeners. Like all of his kind, the bard was humble and of modest means, and he died poor. But that is not a flaw, and his memory will live on.
In addition to the songs published in Le Mirliton, Le Passe-Temps, and La Presse of Montreal, there are some of Joseph-Hormisdas Malo’s compositions in the collections of the Bibliothèque de la Ville de Montréal and the Bibliothèque Nationale du Québec, Montreal.
ANQ-M, CE1-7, 24 mai 1882; CE1-51, 15 déc. 1857. Le Bouquet (Montréal), 24 déc. 1881–7 janv. 1882. Le Canada (Montréal), 26 févr. 1918. Rodolphe Girard, “Un regard sur le passé,” Le Petit Journal (Montréal), 26 juin 1949. L’Impartial (Montréal), 15 avril 1882. Le Lutin (Montréal), 8 janv.–18 mars 1897. Le Mirliton, 27 févr.–25 sept. 1897. Le Passe-Temps, 23 mars 1918. DOLQ, vol.1. Encyclopedia of music in Canada (Kallmann et al.). J. Hamelin et al., La presse québécoise. Victor Morin, L’utile et le futile (Montréal, 1943), 161. J.-G. Yon, Chants des patriotes: recueil noté de chansons patriotiques canadiennes et françaises (Montréal, 1903), 50–51.