RAMBAU, ALFRED-XAVIER (he was baptized Dominique-Flavien-Xavier Rombau), journalist and lawyer; b. 23 Feb. 1810 in Chalain-d’Uzore, France, son of Claude-Joseph Rombau and Marie-Reine Métayer-Descombes; d. 30 Oct. 1856 in Montreal.
Alfred-Xavier Rambau was born in a village dating back to the Middle Ages, into a family with a Legitimist tradition. In his childhood, according to the author of the obituary published in Montreal’s La Patrie the day after his death, he had been taught the motto Dieu et le Roi. The article added that the brilliant student at the Collège de Clermont-Ferrand “took top prizes in his classes. He was spoken of with pride, as a pupil of superior quality.” Having finished his classical studies, Rambau stayed for some time in Italy to complete his education and sailed for the United States in 1832.
Rambau was made welcome in New York by a man named Peugnet who, observing his outstanding natural aptitudes, entrusted him with the management of his Franco-American newspaper. Soon after, Rambau received an invitation from Pierre-Dominique Debartzch*, a friend of Peugnet and the seigneur of Saint-Charles-sur-Richelieu, to come to work in Lower Canada as a correspondent for his new newspaper. In January 1833 Debartzch had founded L’Écho du pays, a weekly to be published in his village to champion the interests of the Canadian party, in which he was a leader. Rambau accepted the invitation and came to settle in Lower Canada. In no time at all he adjusted to his adopted country. His lively pen, prone to a caustic turn of phrase when occasion allowed, quickly drew attention to his ability as a journalist, just as the vivacity and wit of this man of the world and his handsome presence – he was nicknamed “le beau Rambau” – soon ingratiated him with the social élite of Montreal, where he had gone to live after a brief stay at Saint-Charles-sur-Richelieu.
Rambau began to contribute to L’Ami du peuple, de l’ordre et des lois in 1833 and that year was made its editor, a post he retained until 1840. This paper, which was first issued on 21 July 1832, had been started by printer-publisher Pierre-Édouard Leclère*, the chief of the Montreal police, and John Jones, the king’s printer. Its title revealed its interests; the journal claimed to be moderate and, as a firm opponent of political ventures, was against the extreme measures advocated by Louis-Joseph Papineau* and his supporters. Leclère and Jones in truth were merely figureheads; the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice in Montreal controlled the operation of the paper. Since the Sulpicians were negotiating with London to secure recognition of their property rights in Lower Canada, a display of the strictest loyalty towards the British crown was to their advantage [see Joseph-Vincent Quiblier]. Rambau, whose talent and fine mind they had been able to appreciate in L’Écho du pays, suited them admirably as editor for a paper wholly devoted to their interests. For his part, Rambau chose to have his marriage solemnized by Sulpician Claude Fay, the parish priest of Notre-Dame in Montreal and a compatriot from the Loire. In the ceremony on 16 June 1834 he took as his wife Marie-Antoinette Allard, the rich and beautiful young widow of Alexis Demers, a physician who had represented Vaudreuil in the House of Assembly from 1830 to 1833. The couple were to have a son and a daughter. The conspicuous loyalism of L’Ami du peuple, however, brought down on Rambau the wrath of the Patriotes, who found his volte-face unpardonable; as a result he became involved one way or another in a number of duels.
Continuing his work as a journalist, during the rebellion Rambau also studied law, but he must have interrupted his studies for he was not admitted to the bar until 31 March 1848. He was a member of the Institut Canadien in Montreal from March 1852; he considered it an honour to belong to this cultural organization, although he was grieved by the dissension among the members, which he attributed to the Rouges. On 10 July 1855 he wrote, “What has this institute, the hope of young Canadians, now become in their hands? By dint of intrigue, by bringing in all their associates, they have managed to obtain almost exclusive control of it, and they have transformed the rostrum of this national institution . . . into a pulpit for discord, rebellion, and irreligion.”
These lines were published in La Patrie, a paper Rambau began publishing in Montreal in September 1854. As the organ for the liberal-conservative coalition of which George-Étienne Cartier* was a leader, La Patrie followed the conservative line unequivocally: it defended the seigneurs at the time of the abolition of the seigneurial system, and supported the “separate school” system in Upper Canada and the right of religious communities to own property. Together with La Minerve, it launched a steady stream of attacks on Le Pays, the organ of the liberals and of the Institut Canadien. The polemics reached a peak in 1855 when Joseph-Guillaume Barthe* published in Paris his noted work Le Canada reconquis par la France. Barthe’s suggestion that the Institut Canadien affiliate with the Institut de France seemed ludicrous to Rambau, who thought this connection would over-enhance the prestige of the Canadian body. Rambau soundly trounced the author in the columns of his paper, with a score of articles that appeared between 13 July and 26 Oct. 1855. He intended to bring them out as a pamphlet but it was never published.
Rambau was defending his friends with all the verve at his command when his career as a journalist ended abruptly, only half completed. La Patrie noted on 22 Oct. 1856 that he had suddenly fallen ill five days previously, and on 31 October announced that he had died the day before, at the early age of 46. He was buried on 3 November at Saint-Charles-sur-Richelieu, near his benefactor Debartzch.
[Alfred-Xavier Rambau wrote Le bill seigneurial exposé sous son vrai jour par le journal “La Patrie” (réfutation victorieuse du rapport soumis à la convention antiseigneuriale), et quelques avis d’un cultivateur aux censitaires du Bas-Canada (Québec, 1855).
Édouard-Zotique Massicotte* gave a biographical sketch of Rambau in “Le journaliste-avocat Rambau,” BRH, 46 (1940): 156–58, which was largely drawn from the obituary in La Patrie, 31 Oct. 1856. Ægidius Fauteux*, who was certainly not partial to Rambau, obligingly spelled out in his work, Le duel au Canada (Montréal, 1934), 126–53, the details of the duels in which Rambau was involved. His comments are unpleasant and seem to be occasionally unjust and inaccurate as well as to contain a hint of xenophobia. Filteau, Hist. des Patriotes, 2: 72–74, goes further than Fauteux, and makes particular use of the papers of Ludger Duvernay (ANQ-Q, AP-G-68), who at one point was an implacable political foe of Rambau. p.s.]
AD, Loire (Saint-Étienne), État civil, Chalain-d’Uzore, 23 févr. 1810. ANQ-M, CE1-51, 16 juin 1834; CE2-10, 3 nov. 1856. Lettres à Pierre Margry, de 1844 à 1886 (Papineau, Lafontaine, Faillon, Leprohon et autres), L.-P. Cormier, édit. (Québec, 1968), 27–29. Beaulieu et Hamelin, La presse québécoise, 1: 73–74, 76, 190–91. Institut-Canadien en 1852, J.-B.-É. Dorion, édit. (Montréal, 1852). F.-J. Audet, “Pierre-Édouard Leclère (1798–1866),” Cahiers des Dix, 8 (1943): 109–40. J.-J. Lefebvre, “Pierre-Dominique Debartzch, 1782–1846,” Rev. trimestrielle canadienne (Montréal), 27 (1941): 179–200.