OUIMET, ANDRÉ, lawyer, Patriote, and politician; b. 10 Feb. 1808 in Sainte-Rose (Laval), Lower Canada, son of Jean Ouimet and Marie Bautron; m. 29 April 1839, in Montreal, Charlotte Roy, widow of Toussaint Brosseau, and they had two sons and one daughter; d. there 10 Feb. 1853.
André Ouimet was born into a farming family living at Sainte-Rose, on Île Jésus near Montreal, towards the end of the 18th century. He was the fifteenth of Jean Ouimet’s 26 children and the seventh born of his second marriage. In 1823, at the age of 14, he was enrolled by his parents in the Petit Séminaire de Montréal, where he proved a brilliant classical student. On leaving the seminary in 1831, he became a clerk in the store of Joseph Roy, an important merchant in Montreal. While working there Ouimet decided to take up law, and in 1832 began legal training in his spare time, under Dominique* and Charles-Elzéar* Mondelet, prominent lawyers in Montreal. Two years later he was pursuing his legal studies in the office of his former fellow student, the young Montreal lawyer Charles-Ovide Perrault. Called to the bar on 25 April 1836, Ouimet formed a partnership with Perrault and settled down in Montreal.
It was apparently during the period when he was in business and was preparing for the bar examination that he became involved in politics. Doubtless his employers exerted a strong influence on him. Roy was an intimate friend and long-time supporter of Louis-Joseph Papineau*, and he had become one of his inner circle. The Mondelet brothers broke with Papineau in 1832 but none the less remained moderate reformers. Perrault, a Patriote, was elected for Vaudreuil to the House of Assembly in 1834. Not surprisingly, Ouimet was among the group of young people who backed the French Canadian cause and regularly visited Édouard-Raymond Fabre’s bookshop.
Proud, enthusiastic, and fiery, Ouimet quickly attracted attention by the part he took in the ongoing struggle against the government which engaged Papineau and his supporters. In 1835 he helped found the Union Patriotique, the governing body of which included Denis-Benjamin Viger* as president, Roy and Jacob De Witt as vice-presidents, and Fabre as treasurer; Ouimet held the office of secretary. The association was committed to the Patriote party’s goals, in particular to the attainment of responsible government and an elected Legislative Council. The following year Ouimet was among the first to respond to a campaign launched to provide compensation for incarceration to Ludger Duvernay, the publisher of La Minerve, recently imprisoned a third time for libelling the Legislative Council.
A young and highly gifted lawyer, Ouimet had just begun practising when he was caught up in the revolutionary upheaval. In April 1837 the Patriote leaders decided to organize large-scale meetings to protest the adoption of Lord John Russell’s resolutions by the British parliament [see Denis-Benjamin Viger]. A permanent central committee was set up in Montreal, and Ouimet was one of the most regular in attending its meetings, which were held at Fabre’s bookshop. At the end of the summer, when the political situation in the colony had gravely deteriorated, he threw himself without reservation into the resistance to the government. On 5 September, Ouimet met at the Nelson Hotel with a large group of young people, among them Papineau’s son Louis-Joseph-Amédée, Rodolphe Des Rivières*, and Jean-Louis Beaudry*, to form the Fils de la Liberté. This quasi-political, quasi-military organization would have two sections, which in the words of Laurent-Olivier David* were to “work, the one by speeches and writings, the other by force of arms if necessary, for the advancement and triumph of the popular cause.” Ouimet’s patriotic fervour won him appointment as president of its political wing. During the meeting he made a scathing speech in which he displayed his qualities as a popular orator. On 4 October he was the first to sign the “Adresse des Fils de la liberté de Montréal, aux jeunes gens des colonies de l’Amérique du Nord,” which appeared in La Minerve on 5 and 9 Oct. 1837; the manifesto spoke of “separation” and of “independent sovereignty” for the colony and proclaimed the intention “in our time to free our beloved country from all human authority except a fearless democracy established at its very centre.”
As president of the political wing of the Fils de la Liberté, Ouimet drew the wrath of officialdom and the condemnation of the authorities. During the clash between his association and the members of the Doric Club, on 6 November, he was wounded in the knee. Perhaps because his wound was a serious one he did not flee when warrants for arrest were issued ten days later. One of the first Patriotes to be taken in, he was immediately imprisoned on a charge of high treason. He spent nearly eight months in jail, and he was one of the last set free under the general amnesty of Lord Durham [Lambton*], on 8 July 1838 on £1,000 bail. The news of the tragic death of Perrault, his colleague and partner, in November 1837 at the battle of Saint-Denis on the Richelieu affected him profoundly, and his long days in prison significantly cooled his ardour.
After his release Ouimet kept away from politics for some time, and absorbed himself in his profession. According to Ægidius Fauteux*, he went into practice with Pierre-Georges Boucher* de Boucherville, who had been in the Fils de la Liberté. He soon became a highly competent lawyer. His dedication and integrity quickly brought him a sizeable clientele, chiefly farmers and artisans from rural parishes in the Montreal region. In his success he did not forget the debt he owed his parents, who had made sacrifices for his education; he undertook to protect his large family, which was in modest circumstances, and to provide them with the necessities. Among those he took on as law clerks were his young brother Gédéon*, later premier of Quebec, and Thomas-Jean-Jacques Loranger*. A few years later Ouimet practised in partnership with Louis-Victor Sicotte* and, according to David, René-Auguste-Richard Hubert. In that period he became widely known through the remarkable speeches he delivered before the Circuit Court of the district of Montreal, and he gained renown in the field of criminal law.
Ouimet had not lost all interest in public affairs, and in 1841, after the union of the two Canadas, he joined in supporting Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine* and Robert Baldwin in the struggle for responsible government. Ouimet also took an interest for some time in municipal politics. In 1848 he agreed to run in the Montreal municipal elections, and with Fabre was elected a councillor for the East Ward. He apparently did not take much pleasure in his duties, however, and refused to stand again for city council, of which he ceased to be a member in 1850.
Ouimet died at the peak of his legal career, in Montreal on 10 Feb. 1853, his 45th birthday. He was survived by his wife and children, as well as by brothers and sisters. He had proved a fervent defender of the rights of the French Canadian people on the eve of the 1837 rebellion. David notes that at the end of his life he was looked upon as “one of the most honourable and most brilliant lawyers at the [Montreal] bar.”
André Ouimet left highly original memoirs recounting his impressions of life in prison; excerpts were published by Laurent-Olivier David in Patriotes, 145–46. Several letters written by Ouimet at the time of his incarceration were printed in “Papiers de Ludger Duvernay,” L.-W. Sicotte, édit., Canadian Antiquarian and Numismatic Journal (Montreal), 3rd ser., 7 (1910): 59–96, 106–44.
ANQ-M, CE1-48, 3 mars 1783; CE1-51, 29 avril 1839, 14 févr. 1853; CE1-57, 21 oct. 1799, 11 févr. 1808; CN1-32, 27 avril 1839, 16 mars 1841; CN1-127, 1er déc. 1834; CN1-134, 21 févr. 1832; P1000-10-596. ANQ-Q, E17/6, nos.1–2, 6; P-68. BVM-G, Fonds Ægidius Fauteux, notes compilées par Ægidius Fauteux sur les Patriotes de 1837–1838 dont les noms commencent par la lettre O, carton 8. PAC, MG 30, D1, 23: 508–11; RG 4, B8, 26: 9690–94. “Papiers de Ludger Duvernay,” L.-W. Sicotte, édit., Canadian Antiquarian and Numismatic Journal, 3rd ser., 5 (1908): 167–200. [L.-J.-]A. Papineau, Journal d’un Fils de la liberté, réfugié aux États-Unis, par suite de l’insurrection canadienne, en 1837 (2v. parus, Montréal, 1972– ), 1: 49–50, 52, 55, 56–65, 70. La Minerve, 29 mai 1835; 5, 9 oct., 9 nov. 1837; 11, 15 févr. 1853. Le Pays, 14 févr. 1853. F.-M. Bibaud, Le panthéon canadien (A. et V. Bibaud; 1891), 210. Fauteux, Patriotes, 125, 338–39, 349. J.-J. Lefebvre, “Brevets de cléricature des avocats de Montréal au deuxième quart du xixe siècle,” La Rev. du Barreau, 14 (1954): 313; Le Canada, l’Amérique, 224. Le Jeune, Dictionnaire, 2: 393. Montreal directory, 1842–53. Quebec almanac, 1837–41.
Chapais, Cours d’hist. du Canada, 4: 168. David, Patriotes, 13–20, 145–46. J.-U.[-A.] Demers, Histoire de Sainte-Rose, 1740–1947 ([Montréal], 1947), 116–17. Filteau, Hist. des Patriotes (1975), 117, 207–8. Hist. de Montréal (Lamothe et al.), 251. Laurin, Girouard & les Patriotes, 94. É.-Z. Massicotte, Faits curieux de l’histoire de Montréal (Montréal, 1922), 90–100. Maurault, Le collège de Montréal (Dansereau; 1967). Ouellet, Bas-Canada. J.-L. Roy, Édouard-Raymond Fabre, 122. Rumilly, Papineau et son temps. Mason Wade, Les canadiens français, de 1760 à nos jours, Adrien Venne et Francis Dufau-Labeyrie, trad. (2e éd., 2v., Ottawa, 1966), 1: 189, 194. F.-J. Audet, “Le Barreau et la révolte de 1837,” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., 31 (1937),