PERRAULT, MAURICE (baptized Jean-Marie-Julien-Maurice), architect, civil engineer, and politician; b. 12 June 1857 in Montreal, second of the 14 children of Henri-Maurice Perrault and Marie-Louise-Octavie Masson; m. there 24 Sept. 1879 Sara Hébert, daughter of Charles-Polycarpe Hébert, and they had a number of children, of whom only three daughters lived to adulthood; d. 11 Feb. 1909 in Longueuil, Que., and was buried two days later in Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery in Montreal.
Maurice Perrault was born into an eminently respectable Montreal family which was active in various fields, including politics, religion, commerce, and construction. His grandfather was the half-brother of Charles-Ovide Perrault, a Patriote and member of the House of Assembly who died in the battle of Saint-Denis, on the Richelieu, in 1837. His father, Henri-Maurice, a surveyor and architect, was the son and grandson of prominent lumber merchants; he was also a nephew of architect John Ostell* and a first cousin of Édouard-Charles Fabre*, the first archbishop of Montreal.
As a student at the Petit Séminaire de Montréal from 1867 to 1875, Perrault showed some aptitude for music, which may have been fostered by his godfather, Sulpician musicologist Joseph-Julien Perrault*. He became friends with Paul Bruchési*, a future archbishop of Montreal, who would later help him make contact with clergy. He also learned the standard practices of surveying with the firm of Perrault et Rielle, and the rudiments of architecture from his father between 1875 and 1879.
At the age of 22 Perrault had completed his education. His father had full confidence in him and put him in charge of his office in January 1880, making sure he would work with the chief draftsman, Albert Mesnard, who was 12 years his senior. The new company, Perrault et Mesnard, soon made a name for itself on the Montreal scene and specialized in religious and institutional architecture. Through the elder Perrault’s clients, advice, and network of contacts, the two partners were soon commissioned to draw up the plans for large churches: Sainte-Cécile in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield (1882–84); Sainte-Anne in Varennes (1883–87); Saint-Antoine in Longueuil (1884–87); and Saint-Charles in Lachenaie (1888–90). Although their work was concentrated in the greater Montreal area, they also had to their credit a number of buildings in other Canadian provinces and the northeastern United States.
In general, Perrault was responsible for managing the office and directing the work on site, while Mesnard gave his attention to drawing up plans for the projects, but sometimes they switched roles. Perrault was thus able to develop his own style of architecture, showing a preference for straight lines in everything, as he recalled more than once. His was a clear and rather spare style, verging on stiffness. His compositions incorporated the classical arrangement passed on by his father: a broad rectangle containing a second, narrower, rectangle. Recesses and projections in the surface of walls, rather than the manifold picturesque effects so dear to Mesnard, enlivened his elevations. The difference between the two architects’ styles can be easily gauged by comparing the opulent décor of Notre-Dame du Sacré-Cœur chapel in Notre-Dame church at Montreal (1889–91), designed by Mesnard, with Perrault’s bare façades, in which a few Gothic features reiterate the church’s décor to create a desired unity. Additions made to the Collège Saint-Marie in 1892 can also be attributed to Perrault. The office undertook civil engineering contracts as well. In 1885 Perrault supervised the installation of the system of water mains in the town of Longueuil.
In the early 1890s Perrault and Mesnard were among the most highly regarded French-speaking architects in the province of Quebec. They won the prestigious commissions for the Monument National (1891–94), an educational centre, and the Montreal branch of the Université Laval (1893–95). In 1892 they appointed their chief draftsman, Joseph Venne*, as junior partner. He was succeeded as foreman by Georges-Alphonse Monette. However, the company was dissolved in 1895. The dissolution was connected with the fact that Perrault decided to make a career for himself in politics.
During this period Perrault was involved with several professional societies. On 10 Oct. 1890 he took part in the founding meeting of the Province of Quebec Association of Architects and was elected to its council. Re-elected the following year, he would be a councillor again in 1899. In a desire to strengthen the rights of architects throughout Canada, he began promoting the idea of a nationwide association in 1896. His efforts, along with those of many colleagues in other provinces, led to the creation of the Architectural Institute of Canada, incorporated in 1908. At the opening session Perrault was elected a vice-president. He also had been accepted into the American Public Health Association in 1894 and the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers in 1898.
Practising on his own, Perrault undertook the construction of all kinds of buildings. These showed American influence and often involved new techniques using steel. From 1900 his major commissions came from the federal and provincial governments. That year he built an addition to the women’s prison in Montreal. In 1905 he designed a new central post office, which was never built, as well as a branch post office, which was constructed the following year on Rue Sainte-Catherine. He also directed on-site work for an addition to the old central post office in Montreal from 1908 to 1910. In July 1908 he and John Smith Archibald* were jointly appointed architects for the Montreal Technical School. They travelled to the United States together to study similar establishments. On their return, each drew up a preliminary plan. Judging by the lack of similarity to Perrault’s previous buildings, it was Archibald who eventually was chosen to do the final plans.
Perrault neglected his professional work because of the political activities he carried on at the same time. A number of his architectural projects suffered from his inattention and caused set-backs for him. No doubt he utilized the talents of his chief draftsman, Alphonse Venne*, but Venne as yet had little experience. His plan for the new Notre-Dame Hospital (1902) was rejected by the board of governors, who considered it outmoded in concept. Perrault retaliated by giving up the life membership on the board which had gained him his contract. In 1907 he stood 13th out of 29 competitors in a well-publicized competition for an administrative building to be erected on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. His plan for the Montreal Technical School was evidently no more successful. The reconstruction of the cathedral in Saint-Hyacinthe (1908–10) remains Perrault’s outstanding achievement. In an attempt to create a church that would be French in appearance and would accord with contemporary tastes, he took his inspiration from the Romanesque architecture of northern France, giving it a vigorous, unusual treatment borrowed from the American Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue. His client insisted, however, that he retain such Victorian features as tall spires.
Well known for his experience and integrity, Perrault, who made no secret of his Liberal sympathies, had attempted in the late 1880s to get a position in the province’s public administration. In 1888 Honoré Mercier*’s government had appointed him chief architect for the district of Montreal, a post he held until the Conservatives came to power in the 1892 election. This position led to his being commissioned to design an addition to the Montreal courthouse, which he patterned after the capitol in Boston, and draw a plan for a prison, which was quickly rejected by the new government. Invited to chair the commission responsible for expropriations in the city of Montreal, he served from 1889 to 1895. After the election of Wilfrid Laurier* as prime minister in 1896, Perrault had ambitions to fill the prestigious position of chief architect in the Department of Public Works in Ottawa [see Joseph-Israël Tarte]. But Laurier, reluctant to clash head on with the English-speaking and Conservative federal senior civil servants, decided against making any sweeping changes.
Perrault may have felt at this point that he had a better chance of becoming minister of the department than of being employed by it. To improve his position within the Liberal party for the next federal election, he ran for the mayoralty in Longueuil, where he had lived since about 1880. He was quite well known there, since he had built the church, installed the water mains, and organized a band during the 1880s. On 2 Feb. 1898 he was elected by acclamation.
That Perrault intended to sit in parliament some day became apparent from the moment he took office. He read what was, in effect, a speech from the throne, describing the program he hoped to carry out, and he repeated the performance every year thereafter. Besides wanting to stabilize the town’s finances, he sought to improve servicing of municipal equipment and establish easier communications with Montreal, on which Longueuil’s development depended. This second goal caused him problems and frustrations. Determined to act quickly and either contemptuous or unaware of the unwieldiness of the senior bureaucracy, the new mayor went to Ottawa to see the prime minister in April or early May of 1898. He urged him to send a dredger to clear the bay at Longueuil and so facilitate ferry traffic. Unfortunately for him, his action was interpreted as a lack of confidence in the government and the Liberal party. He did return with a firm commitment from Laurier, but also with a reputation for being a nuisance. This excursion to Ottawa would long hinder the progress of his political career.
Perrault kept a tight rein on the Longueuil municipal council. He unhesitatingly brandished the threat of his resignation in order to make recalcitrant councillors fall in line with his opinions, and he took part in debates, though his position required impartiality. Attending to the smooth running of the administration, he also upgraded the municipal waterworks, built a fire station, and attracted a number of industries by subsidies. He won re-election with difficulty in 1900, and resigned as mayor in August 1902 at the end of his second term of office.
In the 1900 federal election Perrault would have liked to run as a Liberal for the united ridings of Chambly and Verchères. Instead, the party asked him to support the candidacy of Victor Geoffrion, who was influential in its ranks. His consolation prize was the nomination for the provincial election in Chambly, which he won in December. He would be re-elected in 1904 and 1908.
Perrault proved an intrepid member of the Legislative Assembly, critical of the government and keenly aware of social and national issues. His political thinking had been influenced by his experience in 1899 on a commission which the City of Montreal had established to determine whether companies were following the rules on taxation. Its recommendations had been attacked by powerful firms more concerned about protecting their profits than about paying their municipal taxes. The new mla, who had grown to distrust big business, remembered Mercier’s program, which favoured both financial and political autonomy for the provincial government. Moreover, Henri Bourassa* had just made a name for himself by leaving the Liberal party, where he had championed opinions conflicting with those of Laurier. He had become the hero of the nationalist mlas, including Perrault. Like Bourassa, Perrault pleaded the cause of an agricultural and Catholic Quebec that would be open to small industries. It seems probable, then, that the Ligue Nationaliste Canadienne, founded in 1903 by Olivar Asselin* to promote a program reflecting Bourassa’s views, was born in Perrault’s office, as historian Robert Rumilly* states. Asselin and Perrault worked closely together for a while, but soon parted company because they had diametrically different attitudes. Asselin was as passionate in championing his convictions as Perrault was evasive. Indeed, Perrault often adopted positions that concomitantly included support for his own personal interests.
In March 1901 the member for Chambly had the fee schedule for the Province of Quebec Association of Architects ratified by an order in council, to the satisfaction of his colleagues. Encouraged by this success, he put before the house a bill to reduce the responsibility of architects from ten years to five. Although he did not say so openly, he was seeking protection from a potential lawsuit by the fabrique of Saint-Charles in Lachenaie, whose church was showing premature signs of deterioration. The bill was defeated by the assembly and publicly condemned by a member of the association.
In order to curb the province’s chronic deficit, Perrault considered presenting to the house once again the proposals adopted by the interprovincial conference of 1887, which called for an increase in federal grants and an amendment to the British North America Act to strengthen the financial autonomy of the provinces [see Honoré Mercier]. His plan was immediately denounced by Laurier. But Premier Simon-Napoléon Parent*, who hoped to benefit from this purely personal initiative, supported him. Perrault put forward his motion in March 1902. It was well received by the members, but only the first section, dealing with federal grants, won the backing of the government. Perrault hoped by this move to gain Parent’s confidence and perhaps a seat in the cabinet, where the struggle that would prompt the premier’s resignation in 1905 was already beginning.
In 1903, at the risk of being categorized as one of the “fairly hard to control supporters,” as he described himself, Perrault denounced what he called the “trusteeship” of the Bank of Montreal over the finances of the province, and urged the treasurer to consolidate the public debt into a single loan. As a further step to eliminate the annual deficit, he suggested to the government in 1904 that it turn over responsibility for colonization and public education to the counties. In 1905 he took up the workers’ cause, recommending a reduction in the length of the working day. The proposal he made was, however, beside the point since the matter was one of federal jurisdiction.
In February 1906 Perrault delivered his most important speech. Hoping to deter monopolies that were exploiting workers, he called for the nationalization of streetcar lines, electricity, and gas, citing the example of towns in England and the United States where public utilities had been placed under municipal control. His plan soon seemed unfeasible, however, since it was predicated on obtaining credit from the federal government to borrow the money necessary for buying out the monopolies. In fact, Perrault had adopted an important plank from the platform of the Labour Party of Montreal, published in the course of the by-election campaign that was being waged in the federal riding of Maisonneuve, where workers, nationalists, and Conservatives were joining forces. This stand in support of the opposition must be interpreted as vindictiveness toward the government of Lomer Gouin*. Perrault had not been appointed provincial treasurer, a position he coveted, in the cabinet shuffle occasioned by Parent’s resignation. There is no doubt that he held a grudge against Charles Joseph Sarsfield McCorkill, who was kept on as treasurer. In any case, Alphonse Verville*, the candidate of the Labour Party, was elected to the House of Commons where the following year he introduced a bill on the length of the working day strangely reminiscent of the proposal Perrault had made in 1905.
In May 1907 Perrault recommended that an addition to the provincial legislative library be built; he may have been hoping to get the contract, but in the end it was awarded to architect Jean-Omer Marchand*. By forcing the government to keep a close eye on provincial finances and its links with financial circles, he took on the role of the opposition to some extent and he well deserved his reputation as an excellent debater.
Despite his critical attitude, Perrault openly supported Gouin at a public meeting in Châteauguay in August 1907, when he took a stand against Bourassa and the creation of a nationalist party. The leaders of the Ligue Nationaliste Canadienne attributed this stance to his having been given some promise of a cabinet post after the election and they were quick to call him a “cad.” As if to prove that their suspicions had some foundation, Perrault was a model of discretion thereafter. He was narrowly re-elected on 8 June 1908, but was unable to resume his seat. Ill since the beginning of the electoral campaign, he died in Longueuil of throat cancer on 11 Feb. 1909, at the age of 51.
Always on the lookout for technical innovations and concerned about keeping his work up to date, Maurice Perrault was a good architect. His professional success enabled him to embark on a political career that made him one of the first to defend progressive positions of a social and nationalist character in the house. For this attitude – whether sincere or opportunistic – he deserves a place in history.
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