MONDELET, JEAN-MARIE, notary, jp, office holder, politician, and militia officer; b. c. 1771, or possibly 29 April 1773 and baptized François in Saint-Charles-sur-Richelieu, Que.; son of Dominique Mondelet* and Marie-Françoise Hains; d. 15 June 1843 in Trois-Rivières, Lower Canada.
Jean-Marie Mondelet, the only surviving child of 12 or 13, began his classical studies in the Collège Saint-Raphaël, Montreal, in 1781 and completed them in the Petit Séminaire de Quebec from 1788 to 1790. His mother being unable to bear his continued absence, Mondelet sacrificed his dream of studying law in order to return to the Richelieu valley. He articled with notary Jean-Baptiste Grisé of Chambly and, after receiving his commission on 24 Sept. 1794, opened a practice in Saint-Marc, where his parents lived. He quickly took two students of the profession, Étienne Ranvoyzé* and Paul-Théophile Pinsonaut*, and from 1799 he was for a while in partnership with Ranvoyzé. By the time he married Charlotte Boucher de Grosbois in Boucherville on 29 Jan. 1798 he had acquired a modest but respectable fortune and social position as a rural member of the Canadian professional bourgeoisie. Contracted with provision for a community of property, according to French law, the marriage settlement included a dower of £150 and was witnessed on Mondelet’s behalf by a cousin, Joseph Ainsse, son of fur trader Joseph-Louis*, and by Gabriel Franchère, a merchant and father of Gabriel*, a future fur trader. The couple would have three children. On 1 June 1798 Mondelet was named a justice of the peace for the Montreal district; over the years his commission would be renewed and extended to include the districts of Trois-Rivières (1811), Quebec (1815), and Saint-François (1821) in Lower Canada and even of Johnstown in Upper Canada (1815).
An ambitious man, Mondelet wanted to be in Montreal, and in 1801 he asked an intimate friend, Ignace-Michel-Louis-Antoine d’Irumberry* de Salaberry, to procure for him the post of police inspector or that of clerk of the land roll. He was still in Saint-Marc in May 1802, but soon after, at the request of several public men of Montreal, he moved there (taking his mother), and before long had built up an extensive practice. In 1804, with businessman John Richardson*, he was elected to the House of Assembly for Montreal West; four years later he and Solicitor General James Stuart* were returned without opposition for Montreal East. Mondelet was relatively faithful in attendance and active on committees, manifesting a particular interest in prison reform and reinforcement of the notarial profession, the reputation of which had become tarnished since the conquest. In 1808 he introduced a bill to establish qualifications for those aspiring to become notaries and, incidentally, to encourage secondary studies by reducing the period of articling for college graduates. The bill passed the assembly after heated discussion but died in the Legislative Council.
Mondelet mostly supported the nationalist Canadian party, which dominated the assembly, voting with it on 17 of 26 occasions from 1805 to 1808 and on 4 of 6 occasions in 1808–9. He moved in the social circle surrounding the Papineau–Viger family, which was influential in the party, until late 1808 at least. However, in January 1809, as tensions increased between the assembly and Governor Sir James Henry Craig*, an observer remarked to Jacques Viger* that Mondelet “feared . . . you were pushing matters a little too far” and was becoming critical of Le Canadien, the party’s newspaper, for its attacks on the administration. When, that fall, Mondelet again ran in Montreal East, the Canadian party put up the popular Joseph Papineau, forcing him to desist; switching to Montreal West, he was handily defeated by Denis-Benjamin Viger*. “I succumbed under the accusation of being too devoted to the interests of the government,” Mondelet wrote to a friend. “I have lived and I will die devoted to the government.” In the spring of 1810, after Craig had seized Le Canadien and imprisoned those chiefly responsible for it, Mondelet was narrowly defeated in Montreal West, 287 to 281, by Joseph Papineau, who undercut him tactically at the last minute by loudly proclaiming his own loyalty and his support for Craig.
Mondelet’s wife had died in 1802. On 29 Dec. 1811, as if in defiance of the nationalists, he married Juliana Walker, widow of Anglican priest James Sutherland Rudd, after having signed a marriage contract that renounced any community of property. Two of the witnesses were Louis Chaboillez* and Michel-Eustache-Gaspard-Alain Chartier* de Lotbinière, whose politics were no doubt closer to Mondelet’s own. The couple would have three children. Since his arrival in Montreal, Mondelet had begun accumulating government appointments. Named a commissioner for the Lachine turnpike in 1805, he had been appointed a commissioner to remove the fortifications of Montreal in 1807, when he was also a trustee for the construction of a market-house. After his electoral defeat of 1809 the appointments increased rapidly in number. Three were of particular importance: in February 1810 he was made joint president with Thomas McCord* of the Montreal Court of Quarter Sessions, an influential post in municipal affairs and the administration of justice; in December 1811 he became a police magistrate; and in August 1812 he was appointed coroner for Montreal.
Following the outbreak of the War of 1812 Mondelet was commissioned a major in the militia. In 1813 he sat on a board chaired by James McGill* which suggested means of reinforcing the sedentary militia. That June, Hugues Heney, a nationalist, reported to Jacques Viger that the “quasi General Mondelet” and Louis-Joseph de Fleury Deschambault had tried in vain to raise a 7th battalion of militia “as a proof of their loyalty and their sincere desire . . . to obtain a position.” In fact, Fleury Deschambault incorporated a battalion of sedentary militia, which became known as the 7th Select Embodied Militia Battalion, with himself as the colonel and Mondelet as major. On its disbandment in November 1813 Mondelet transferred to the Pointe-Claire battalion of militia, of which he became lieutenant-colonel in April 1814; he would be named its commander in 1820.
As his militia duties lessened at the end of and after the war, Mondelet accepted new civil appointments, such as those of commissioner for the building of churches and parsonages (1814), commissioner for the improvement of internal communications in the county of Montreal (1817), commissioner for repairing jails and court-houses (1818), and warden of the House of Industry (1818). He had some non-governmental social interests. He was a promoter of the Company of Proprietors of the Montreal Library, founded in 1819 to manage a library established about 1796 by the Montreal Library Association, and in 1821 he subscribed to the Quebec Emigrants’ Society. In general, however, his energies were consumed by his private and public careers, which occasionally mingled. In June 1821 he was commissioned a king’s notary, an appointment that brought a significant increase of business in his already thriving practice since it authorized him to execute notarial business of the government and the army; in particular he drew up all the land concessions in the crown seigneury of Sorel and all the acts relative to its seigneurial land roll, which he was commissioned in 1822 to establish. In September 1821, possibly to accommodate the increase, he formed an association with Paul-Édouard Daveluy of Varennes, near Montreal, and they operated from an office conveniently located next door to that of the sheriff.
By 1822 Mondelet seems to have effected a certain reconciliation with the Canadian party, principally it would seem through Jacques Viger. He shared that party’s fear of a proposed union of the Canadas [see John Richardson], although he considered the rise of the union project “a little our own fault.” At the same time he was among a group that urged construction of a cathedral church for Bishop Jean-Jacques Lartigue of Montreal, a cousin of Louis-Joseph Papineau* and Denis-Benjamin Viger, both of whom supported Lartigue in a struggle with the predominantly French Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice for the spiritual hegemony of Montreal. Later Mondelet was a fund-raiser for the cathedral, which the Sulpicians attempted to oppose by planning a vast new parish church of Notre-Dame. His removal in 1824 as police magistrate and joint president of the Court of Quarter Sessions seems to have been the result of numerous complaints against the organization of the police rather than a political reprimand for his support of nationalist causes, since the politically unimpeachable McCord suffered the same fate. Yet, under the highly suspicious Governor Lord Dalhousie [Ramsay], Mondelet’s increasing identification with the Canadian party, no doubt reinforced by the more radical views of his sons Dominique* and Charles-Elzéar*, rendered vulnerable his position as a favourite of the administration. In March 1824 Mondelet was discharged from his commission to draw up the land roll of the seigneury of Sorel, and in 1827 he lost the position of king’s notary. When, in November 1827, Dalhousie deprived his sons of their militia commissions, Mondelet resigned his own.
Mondelet remained a moderate nationalist, nevertheless. He admired the zeal of Denis-Benjamin Viger and in February 1831 found Papineau “more commendable than ever.” On the other hand, he praised to Jacques Viger the prudence of Dalhousie’s successor, Sir James Kempt*. By 1830 he had recovered his militia commission, which he retained until 1839 at least, and in May 1832 he was appointed to the newly formed Montreal Board of Health, established when a cholera epidemic of massive proportions struck Lower Canada [see Matthew Whitworth-Aylmer]. After Kempt’s departure, however, in an atmosphere of rising political tension between the colonial administration and the Patriote party (as the Canadian party had come to be known) moderate political ground increasingly became a no man’s land, under attack from both sides. Radical nationalists even viewed the failure of the government and the boards of health to contain the cholera epidemic as an underhand attempt to reduce the Canadian population. Once again drawing back from confrontation, Mondelet became identified by nationalists with the British administration.
The dangers inherent in holding the middle ground in Lower Canadian politics were revealed forcefully to Mondelet following a by-election in Montreal West on 21 May 1832 during which British troops killed three Canadians [see Daniel Tracey*]. Mondelet arrived at the scene immediately after the shooting to begin the coroner’s inquest. At the request of several Patriotes, Papineau quickly descended on him. “[I] saved him from making a number of stupid mistakes; he committed a thousand others knowingly and voluntarily,” Papineau told John Neilson at Quebec. A few days later a coroner’s jury voted nine to three for the arrest of two British officers, but, feeling that the law required unanimity, Mondelet adjourned the inquest to the August criminal assizes. Only under pressure from an aggressive Papineau did he finally order the arrest of the officers, who were later released on bail. The English party protested that Mondelet had accepted a packed jury, “almost all readers of La Minerve,” the newspaper of the Patriote party, and that Papineau had constantly intervened to direct Mondelet’s conduct of the inquest. As well, one of the officers charged that Mondelet had refused to allow consideration of the context of the shootings, and in July the colonial secretary, Lord Goderich, deemed it “most unfortunate that the Coroner’s jury were allowed to separate without giving a [unanimous] verdict.” The officers were acquitted at the criminal assizes, and while their conduct was being formally approved by the king at the end of the year Mondelet was being grilled by a committee of inquiry of the assembly, which was dominated by the Patriote party. Jacques Viger found that Mondelet “offers elegant sentences, many compliments, sweet sayings, risky assertions on points of law, but especially far too much reticence” (due to a “faulty memory”) and added that “his testimony will not do him honour, and . . . could do him much harm.” After one grilling, remarked Viger, “he dined . . . at the Château,” the governor’s residence.
By 1834 Mondelet’s sons were also under strong attack from the Patriote party, for accepting government offices. The following year Mondelet conducted an inquest into the death by starvation or by freezing of an inmate of the Montreal prison and only reluctantly signed the jury’s verdict of negligence on the part of the disreputable warden and other prison officials. Mondelet himself blamed the horrible conditions in the prison, and was said to have remarked that the death resulted from inaction on prison reform by a legislature preoccupied with political problems. Incensed, the assembly, in a procedure long since denounced by former civil secretary Herman Witsius Ryland and others in the English party, inquired into Mondelet’s conduct and, without hearing the accused, published a report in June 1836 charging him with breach of its privileges. Its demand that Mondelet be fired as coroner was rejected by Governor Lord Gosford [Acheson]. Meanwhile, Mondelet, who was especially attached to the position of coroner, had pleaded with the assembly, almost abjectly, to be heard and spared. A new prison was built in 1837 but, as the Patriote rebels of 1837–38 learned, conditions within it were hardly better than those Mondelet had denounced in the old one.
Mondelet’s private life had been tinged with the tragedies typical of his time: not only had his first wife died at a young age, but half of his children did not survive infancy, and his beloved mother expired in his house in 1813. Mondelet himself long suffered from extreme rheumatism and from injuries sustained in a buggy accident. He grew deaf and blind and had an agonizing asthmatic condition. He ceased practising as a notary in June 1842 after drawing up act no.7,041; two years earlier he had been given the honour of recording the installation in the cathedral of Montreal of Lartigue’s successor, Ignace Bourget*. Mondelet died in 1843 at Trois-Rivières, aged about 72 years.
Independent and outspoken, Jean-Marie Mondelet had been an extremely competent, conscientious, and ambitious office holder, whose career and political fortunes had been blown about in the brisk and then violent political cross-winds of early 19th-century Lower Canada. He had tried to hold a moderate nationalist position, but he became conservative whenever nationalist views and actions turned radical. His political commitment was peripheral to his interest in public service, however, and as coroner in particular he had been able to combine his legal talents with his administrative ability and find an outlet for his boundless energy.
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