PELLETIER, PANTALÉON (baptized Marie-Joseph-Pantaléon), militia officer, physician, politician, and agent general in London for the province of Quebec; b. 27 July 1860 in Rivière-Ouelle, Lower Canada, son of Joseph Pelletier and Henriette Martin; m. first 24 Jan. 1888 Alice Hudon (d. 1910) at Quebec; m. secondly 1912 Cécile Belleau, widow of Joseph Boivin, in London, England; no children were born of either marriage; d. 19 Oct. 1924 at Quebec.
The eldest son of a prosperous farmer in Rivière-Ouelle, in the Lower St Lawrence region, Pantaléon Pelletier had close relatives from the same locality who had distinguished themselves in politics and the military. They included his uncle Charles-Alphonse-Pantaléon Pelletier* and his first cousin Charles-Antoine-Ernest Gagnon*, both of whom had close ties to Honoré Mercier*, to the Parti National, and then to the Liberal party. They would pass on their political outlook to Pantaléon and open doors for him, thereby helping shape the course of his career.
Pantaléon did the classical program at the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière from 1873 to 1882, and subsequently enrolled in the faculty of medicine of the Université Laval at Quebec, where he would pursue his studies until 1887. During this period he enlisted in the 9th Battalion Volunteer Militia Rifles. It was probably through the influence of his uncle Charles-Alphonse-Pantaléon that he was given a commission, as was the latter’s son, his cousin Oscar-Charles-Casgrain Pelletier. When the North-West rebellion broke out in March 1885 [see Louis Riel*], the two cousins took part in the campaign, Pantaléon as a first lieutenant in the 7th company of his battalion, which was one of two French Canadian regiments to be involved. Fearing the political repercussions of sending French Canadians into battle against French-speaking Métis, the federal government saw to it that the companies of the 9th Battalion Volunteer Militia Rifles, under the command of Guillaume Amyot*, were based in Calgary and Gleichen, far from the theatre of operations.
In 1887 Pantaléon, who had just obtained a degree in medicine, was appointed assistant surgeon at the Marine and Emigrant Hospital at Quebec, and he retained this position for some time before moving to Sherbrooke. His cousin Charles-Antoine-Ernest Gagnon, who was provincial secretary and registrar in the Mercier cabinet, had probably advised him to settle in that city, knowing he would soon appoint a second coroner there. On 16 Sept. 1889 Pelletier, at the age of 29, did indeed become a coroner for the judicial district of Saint-François, an area with a rapidly growing population, where French Canadians had been in the majority for only a short time. He would hold this post until 1900.
On his arrival in the Eastern Townships (where he would become perfectly bilingual), Pelletier opened an office for private practice in his home on Rue Bowen; he would continue to receive patients there, probably until 1909. He was also involved in the life of the community. As Élie-Joseph-Arthur Auclair would point out in the Sherbrooke newspaper La Tribune on 27 Oct. 1924, he was admirably qualified for public life. “Flexible and obliging, yes, but also intelligent and an excellent observer of men and things, that was everyone’s view of the popular doctor from east Sherbrooke.” The first physician to set up in the city’s east end, where working-class and French-speaking people predominated, he was often asked to act as a mediator in labour disputes. In his medical practice Pelletier initially specialized in surgery and gynaecology, fields in which he did further study for six months in 1893 at the New York Polyclinic Medical School and Hospital. He later turned more of his attention to contagious diseases. In 1896 he was appointed medical officer of health for the city of Sherbrooke. The founding of the Sherbrooke Protestant Hospital in 1888 had shown the need to offer the same kind of services to the Catholic population of the Eastern Townships. With this aim in mind, Pelletier, as an original member of the medical board of the Hospice du Sacré-Cœur, in April 1897 helped provide an operating room for the hospice, which established its role as a medical facility. That year he spent six months training in hospitals in Paris, taking courses in microbiology with Émile Roux at the Institut Pasteur [see Arthur Bernier; Oscar-Félix Mercier]. In addition, he assisted in setting up the Hôpital Général St Vincent de Paul de Sherbrooke, which was opened in 1909.
Pelletier was involved in the organization of the medical profession. In 1890 he was instrumental in founding the Association Médicale du District de Saint-François, whose members included physicians from both French- and English-speaking communities. In 1897 he became one of the three representatives from his district to the Provincial Medical Board of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Province of Quebec, and he retained this office until 1904. Pelletier would also campaign for the autonomy of the Quebec medical profession within the Association des Médecins de Langue Française de l’Amérique du Nord. He would become its president in 1908 and would organize its fifth annual convention, which was held in Sherbrooke two years later.
Pelletier’s activities in the militia earned him the respect of the English-speaking elite, with whom he associated as a captain and medical officer in the 11th Hussars of Richmond. His prestige increased when his cousin Oscar-Charles-Casgrain Pelletier became the highest-ranking French Canadian officer to serve in the South African War. Pantaléon would also help raise the first French Canadian regiment in the Eastern Townships, the 54th Regiment (Carabiniers de Sherbrooke), which came into being in 1910. The popular physician would be its first commanding officer, with the rank of lieutenant-colonel.
It was probably because he was so well known that Pelletier succeeded, on his first venture into politics, in getting elected for Sherbrooke by a majority of 91 votes in the provincial general election of 7 Dec. 1900. No Liberal had ever before represented this constituency, either provincially or federally. He would be returned by acclamation in the elections of 25 Nov. 1904 and 8 June 1908. Thanks to acquaintances at the highest levels of the Liberal party (and especially to his uncle Charles-Alphonse-Pantaléon), he was able to ensure that his riding enjoyed the patronage of both federal and provincial governments. Sherbrooke’s courthouse [see Elzéar Charest] and armoury, opened respectively in 1906 and 1908, are examples of his influence. His speeches in the house expressed his concerns for the public health movement and for the organization of the medical profession. In 1902 he took a firm stand in favour of strengthening the authority of the Board of Health of the Province of Quebec with respect to vaccination. That year, in a remarkably well-documented speech that anticipated by eight years the recommendations in the report of the royal commission on tuberculosis, he condemned the widespread ignorance about this scourge and called for a program of grants to sanatoriums. In 1903 he would help found the District of St Francis League for the Prevention of Tuberculosis. Pelletier also played an important role in the debate on the Roddick Bill [see Sir Thomas George Roddick], passed by parliament in 1902 as the Canada Medical Act. Although this measure enjoyed broad support within the medical profession, Pelletier considered it a dangerous encroachment on provincial jurisdiction by the federal government. He made every effort to limit its scope, first within the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Province of Quebec, and then in the Legislative Assembly, where the question was debated in 1903. His vigorous opposition delayed ratification of the federal law by the provincial parliament. On 2 March 1909 Pelletier became speaker of the Legislative Assembly, where he performed his duties with unusual charisma and sound judgement. He replaced Philippe-Honoré Roy, who was being prosecuted [see Louis Molleur*].
On 7 Aug. 1911 the government of Sir Lomer Gouin appointed Pelletier the province’s agent general in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, an office created shortly before the 1908 election but not yet filled. Hector Fabre* had held a similar position in Paris from 1882 to 1910 (Philippe Roy would take his place until 1912) and in 1914 Godfroy Langlois would be appointed agent general for the province of Quebec in Brussels. In Britain the career of the Sherbrooke physician entered a new phase. Important events in his personal life made the break even more distinct. His wife, Alice Hudon, died in 1910 after a long illness, and in 1912 he married Cécile Belleau (the widow of Joseph Boivin, who had been Mercier’s secretary from 1887 to 1890 and under-secretary of the province of Quebec from 1890 to 1909). Pelletier would retain the office in London for the rest of his life. On average he received $25,000 annually, which included a salary of $6,000 and various allowances (for rent, for example). Since some provinces already had an agency in the British capital, his first task was to make Quebec better known, in order to ensure that it would have its fair share of foreign trade and investments. Before World War I, immigration and the promotion of the province’s tourist attractions were important aspects of the agency’s work. It also was charged with a trade mission. Pelletier’s basic objective then became to stimulate the export of goods manufactured in Quebec. He took a particular interest in the sale of agricultural machinery in West Africa, India, and southeastern Asia, where access was facilitated by the policy of imperial preference. He also encouraged Canadian banks to establish branches in these distant parts of the world. The London agency, which opened a year before the one in Paris closed, marked a change in Quebec’s external policy, which now began to concentrate on the economy. This initiative would bear fruit as long as the British metropolis maintained its hegemony as a world financial centre. Towards the end of his career, however, Pelletier saw his agency decline in importance, as the United States became the principal market for Quebec exports and the primary source of investment capital.
On 19 Oct. 1924, when he was back in Canada for a visit, Pantaléon Pelletier suffered a stroke as he was going into his daughter-in-law’s house on Avenue des Érables at Quebec, and died instantly. In all the fields to which he had been drawn – medical, political, military – he had worked to strengthen the foundations of French Canada. “A patriot in his soul and proud of his race, he defended the rights of his people every inch of the way,” Auclair noted a few days after his death. Pelletier had unquestionably played a leading role for francophones in the Eastern Townships. Following in the traditions of his province’s Liberal party, he was both a nationalist and a progressive, being firm in his demands, but open to the world, as well as aware of the economic imperatives of industry and dedicated to the advancement of learning. Therein lay the secret of his success, first in Sherbrooke and then as a representative of the province on the international scene.
ANQ-BSLGIM, CE104-S1, 27 juill. 1860. ANQ-Q, CE301-S1, 24 janv. 1888. Arch. de l’Institut Pasteur (Paris), Cours de microbie technique, MP 29048 (liste des personnes ayant suivi les cours, 1889–1970). LAC, RG 31, C1, 1881, Rivière-Ouelle, Qué. Le Devoir, 20 oct. 1924. L’Étoile de l’Est (Coaticook, Qué.), 22 mai 1890. La Patrie, 15 oct. 1886. Sherbrooke Daily Record (Sherbrooke, Que.), 21 June 1900; 14 May, 1 Aug. 1903. La Tribune (Sherbrooke), 11 oct. 1911; 16 juin, 11 oct. 1913; 15 déc. 1916; 3 août 1923; 20, 27 oct. 1924. [C. A.] Boulton, Reminiscences of the North-West rebellions, with a record of the raising of her majesty’s 100th Regiment in Canada . . . (Toronto, 1886). [P]. L. H. Camirand, “History of the 54e regiment – Les Carabiniers de Sherbrooke – from the foundation to the First World War” (ma thesis, Bishop’s Univ., Lennoxville, Que., 1985). College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Prov. of Quebec, Medical reg. (Montreal), 1911. Denis Goulet, Histoire du Collège des médecins du Québec, 1847–1997 (Montréal, 1997). Jean Hamelin, “Quebec and the outside world, 1867–1967,” Que., Bureau of Statistics, Québec yearbook (Quebec), 1968–69: 48–52. P.-H. Hudon, Rivière-Ouelle de la Bouteillerie; 3 siècles de vie (Ottawa, 1972), 392. Adolphe Michaud, Généalogie des familles de la Rivière Ouelle, depuis l’origine de la paroisse jusqu’à nos jours (Québec, 1908). Desmond Morton, The last war drum: the North-West campaign of 1885 (Toronto, 1972). C. P. [Mulvany], The history of the North-West rebellion of 1885 . . . (Toronto, 1885; repr. 1971). Que., Legislative Assembly, Debates, 1902–4; Royal commission on tuberculosis, Report (Quebec, 1909–10); Statutes, 1908, c.11. Quebec Official Gazette, 1911: 1528.