MARSAN, ISIDORE-JOSEPH-AMÉDÉE, teacher, farm manager, agricultural lecturer, and educational administrator; b. 19 July 1844 in Saint-Roch-de-l’Achigan, Lower Canada, son of Isidore Marsan, dit Lapierre, a farmer, and Félonise Poitras; m. 11 July 1871 Marie-Elmire-Ernestine Viger in L’Assomption, Que., and they had twelve children, eight of whom survived him; d. there 25 April 1924.
Isidore-Joseph-Amédée Marsan did his classical studies at the Collège de L’Assomption from 1859 to 1866. He began articling in law, but then decided to enrol in the École d’Agriculture de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière on the advice of notary Louis Archambeault*, the mla for L’Assomption who would serve as commissioner of agriculture and public works in the cabinets of Pierre-Joseph-Olivier Chauveau* (1867–73) and of Gédéon Ouimet* 1873–74). After attending this establishment for a year, he began his teaching career at the new École d’Agriculture de L’Assomption. It was started in the fall of 1867 by the authorities of the Collège de L’Assomption and was subsidized by the provincial government [see Pierre-Urgel Archambault*]. Marsan was already on staff at the school when the Board of Agriculture of Lower Canada, on 11 March 1868, granted him a certificate as a teacher of agriculture. In addition to this subject, he taught geometry and arithmetic. In 1876 he was also put in charge of managing the Ferme Du Portage, 200 arpents of land adjoining the school; he would give up this responsibility in October 1895. Marsan had held both positions simultaneously because the government subsidy was insufficient to cover the cost of hiring a manager. His total salary at the time was $800 from an annual budget of $2,000. The school’s staff included a principal, a vice-principal, teachers of English, agricultural law, and veterinary medicine, an instructor, and a field assistant. The aim of the program was primarily to train farmers’ sons, aged 15 and over, to farm in an informed way and to have them spread their knowledge of farming principles in the rural regions; it was a two-year course for those with sufficient education. However, Félix-Gabriel Marchand*’s Liberal government wanted to centralize the teaching of agriculture in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière (La Pocatière) and Oka and thus the school closed in 1899. During its 32 years, 626 students attended this establishment, where Marsan was the only teacher of agriculture.
In addition to teaching, Marsan accepted various other responsibilities at local, regional, and provincial levels. He was churchwarden, municipal councillor, and deputy mayor of L’Assomption, as well as secretary-treasurer of the county’s agricultural society, an office he held for 46 years; he would also be secretary-treasurer of the town’s school board from 1907. As an agriculture teacher, in 1868 he automatically became a member of the Board of Agriculture of Lower Canada, which had been established by the government in 1852 to assist the commissioner of agriculture and public works, and he sat until 1896 on the Council of Agriculture, which replaced the board. Appointed an agricultural lecturer in 1892, he was named secretary of the judges for the competition of the Order of Agricultural Merit in 1900; he would retain this office for the rest of his life. Obliged by his duties to visit the various regions of Quebec, he acquired a wealth of knowledge about the soils and the state of agriculture in the province, which he was able to share with his students.
At the beginning of the 1903–4 school year, Marsan joined the staff of the École d’Agriculture d’Oka, which had been founded by the Trappists in 1893 [see Pierre Oger*]. Recruited as a lecturer, he became a full professor and then scientific director in 1908, when the school became an institute affiliated with the Université Laval in Montreal. Despite its university status, the Institut Agricole d’Oka could not offer its staff very good working conditions. Since there was no housing on the premises, the lay professors had to live in the village about two miles away. As director, Marsan was paid directly by the Department of Agriculture.
A professor and director until 1921, Marsan, along with his colleagues, was to train Quebec’s first generation of agronomists. According to his former students, he was a highly talented teacher. An interesting and persuasive speaker, he filled his lectures with examples gleaned during his visits to farmers across the province. Concerned to make his teaching concrete, he also took his classes on field-study trips to Oka and the surrounding areas. He was very approachable.
A man of science, Marsan nonetheless retained a traditional view of agriculture. While favouring intensive cultivation of the soil by new and better farming methods, he wanted families to strive for self-sufficiency; he felt that goods consumed in the home should as far as possible be produced on the farm, rather than bought at a store. He also believed that farming should improve family life.
Isidore-Joseph-Amédée Marsan worked tirelessly for more than a half-century without being justly remunerated for his services to the province. He obtained honours – the first doctorate in agricultural sciences in Quebec in 1916, awarded by the Université Laval, the special certificate of exceptional merit of the Order of Agricultural Merit in 1921 – but reportedly he died poor. A monument to him was erected in front of the Collège de L’Assomption in 1926.
ANQ-M, CE605-S12, 19 juill. 1844; S14, 11 juill. 1871. Le Devoir, 25 avril 1924. BCF, 1922. Georges Boulanger, “Gloire à M. I. J. A. Marsan,” Le Journal d’agriculture (Montréal), 30 (1926–27), no.4: 56. J.-C. Chapais, “Notes historiques sur les écoles d’agriculture dans Québec,” Rev. canadienne (Montréal), 70 (janvier–juin 1916): 426–34, 520–27; “Le premier Docteur es-sciences agricoles canadien-français,” Le Journal d’agriculture et d’horticulture illustré (Montréal), 20 (1916), no.1: 1–2. École d’Agriculture de L’Assomption, Rapport . . . au Conseil d’agriculture P.Q. pour l’année 1876–1877 (s.l., [1877?]). “J. A. Marsan, 1844–1924,” Le Journal d’agriculture, 27 (1923–24), no.11: 161, 174. Bruno Jean, Les idéologies éducatives agricoles (1860–1890) et l’origine de l’agronomie québécoise (Québec, 1977). Père Louis-Marie, L’Institut d’Oka: cinquantenaire, 1893–1943; école agricole, institut agronomique, école de médecine vétérinaire ([Oka, Qué., 1944]). J.-C. Magnan, Le monde agricole (Montréal, 1972), 52–53. Réjean Olivier, La petite histoire du collège de L’Assomption: chroniques parues dans le “Joliette-Journal” de janvier à juin 1980 (L’Assomption, Qué., 1980). Qué., Assemblée Législative, Débats, 1924: 333–39.