REAUME, JOSEPH OCTAVE (baptized Joseph-Octave, he signed Joseph O. or J. O.), teacher, physician, politician, and office holder; b. 13 Aug. 1856 in Anderdon Township, Upper Canada, one of the 11 children of Oliver (Olivier) Reaume and Josette (Josephte) Dumont; m. 14 Sept. 1887 Catherine L. Turner of Lockport, N.Y., and they had two daughters and three sons, one of whom died in infancy; d. 12 June 1933 in Sandwich (Windsor), Ont., and was buried there in St Alphonsus Cemetery.
Joseph Octave Reaume was a descendant of one of the original families of Essex County, Upper Canada, whose ancestors from the Montreal region had relocated there and in Michigan. His parents were the first settlers in Anderdon Township, and as a boy he helped them on the farm. After attending the local school, he suffered a back injury and decided not to take up farming but to pursue a profession. His father could not pay for his education, but the generosity of Alexander Bartlet, a local police magistrate, enabled Reaume to earn his teacher’s certificate in 1873, at age 17. He began instructing in the county and then in 1877 he attended the Normal School in Toronto. After finishing his studies at Assumption College in Sandwich two years later, he resumed his pedagogical career and was soon made headmaster of the school at Amherstburg. According to friends and family, Reaume was among the best sprinters in western Ontario, and he frequently travelled on foot between Amherstburg and Sandwich, a distance of about 17 miles.
In 1883 Reaume enrolled in the Michigan College of Medicine in Detroit. To support himself, he worked at a drugstore in Sandwich, and in the winter months he and a friend walked across the frozen Detroit River to their classes. He graduated in 1885 and pursued further training at Trinity Medical School in Toronto the following year. He then returned to Sandwich, where he served as a family physician to French- and English-speaking patients before entering public life.
In May 1902 Reaume was elected to the Legislative Assembly as the Conservative candidate for Essex North. After his party’s victory under James Pliny Whitney* in 1905, Reaume assumed the position of commissioner (later minister) of public works, becoming the first Franco-Ontarian to hold a provincial cabinet post. He would oversee several projects, including additions to railway lines and the erection of new bridges. With the 1912 extension of Ontario’s northern boundary and the increasing number of automobiles, there was pressure on elected officials to provide infrastructure for cars and transport vehicles. In 1907 Reaume had supported an Act for the improvement of public highways, which the government used to centralize management and inspection of roads. By 1912 it had spent more than $1 million, and in February that year Reaume announced that another $1 million would be invested. Reaume was also responsible for the financing and construction of the replacement for Government House, which was ready for Sir John Strathearn Hendrie* by the end of 1915; managing an addition to the legislative buildings designed by Edward James Lennox; opening a new Ontario-government office in London, England; expanding hospitals; and building a prison farm at Guelph.
Reaume served on a number of standing committees, including the one responsible for game and fish. He was also a member of the committee that reviewed proposals for what would eventually become the Workmen’s Compensation Act. Between 1911 and 1914 it received submissions from labour organizations, industry magnates, commercial interests, and retail operators. A draft bill was presented in 1913, but critics complained that the new measure would be unfair to commercial and industrial interests [see Whitney]. Before these concerns could be resolved, Reaume would become involved in one of the most sensitive issues to face the Whitney government and one of his biggest challenges as a French Canadian cabinet minister who represented a considerable francophone population: the question of bilingual schools.
In April 1910 Michael Francis Fallon was consecrated as the Roman Catholic bishop of London, a diocese that included Essex County. Determined to see the next generation of Catholics become leaders in society, he wanted to abolish bilingual schools because he felt they taught neither English nor French adequately and were therefore failing to prepare young people for success in the English-speaking urban industrial economy. Fallon also feared that recent nationalist demands at the January 1910 conference of the Association Canadienne Française d’Éducation d’Ontario [see Ovide-Arthur Rocque*] to extend bilingual-school rights would trigger an anti-Catholic reaction among Ontario’s Protestant majority similar to that which had already aroused debate in the developing west [see Thomas Greenway*; Sir Wilfrid Laurier*]. In May 1910, during a pastoral visit to Sarnia, Fallon arranged for a confidential interview with William John Hanna*, provincial secretary and mpp for Lambton West. The bishop made known his opposition to bilingual schools. In October Hanna’s private account of the discussion found its way into Le Devoir [see Henri Bourassa*] and other Quebec papers, and it was discovered that Reaume’s personal secretary, Henry C. A. Maisonville, was the source of the leak. Maisonville, who was a follower of Lucien-Alexandre Beaudoin, a parish priest and staunch defender of the county’s bilingual schools, was dismissed for his action. The next year, in the December provincial election, former supporters unhappy with Reaume’s ties to the controversy voted for independent Conservative John R. Mason, a coppersmith who supported the abolition of bilingual schools. Reaume was returned to his seat, but with a slim margin of 56 votes compared with 1,280 just three years before; many francophones had voted for Liberal Severin Ducharme.
In 1912 Reaume further alienated Conservative anglophones when, on 26 June, Windsor’s Evening Record reported what he had declared at the first meeting of the Congrès de la Langue Française held in Quebec City [see Stanislas-Alfred Lortie*]: “Before we leave this congress we should make a vow to raise and educate our children in the French language, no matter what part of Canada we live in.” That summer Ontario’s minister of education, Robert Allan Pyne, introduced Regulation 17 in response to a report on the inadequate quality of English education in bilingual schools, which Francis Walter Merchant had submitted in his capacity as chief inspector of public and separate schools. Regulation 17 stipulated that henceforth English was to be the language of instruction and communication throughout Ontario. The study of French as a subject was allowed for one hour a day after the first form (the first two elementary grades) in institutions where it had been taught prior to 1912, as outlined in the so-called hitherto clause. The edict unleashed a backlash from the separate-school board in Ottawa [see Napoléon-Antoine Belcourt; Samuel McCallum Genest], where the Association Canadienne-Française d’Éducation d’Ontario organized a widespread protest: teachers and their students marched out of the classroom if a provincial inspector, a Protestant, set foot inside. When Reaume supported Regulation 17, Ottawa’s Le Temps demanded his resignation.
By the time the June 1914 election was called, many of Reaume’s francophone constituents were angry. As the Evening Record (24 April) reported, “There is a feeling among the French people that the doctor has not been as aggressive as he might be on the bilingual question. He stood by Sir James Whitney and Hon. Dr. Pyne, defending the course of the government all through.” Having also alienated Essex North’s English-speaking voters with his statement at the Quebec City conference two years earlier, Reaume thought it safer to run in the new riding of Windsor, where he was then living, but he lost his party’s nomination to Orangeman Oscar Ernest Fleming*. This setback caused considerable embarrassment for the premier, whose only francophone minister, a proponent of Regulation 17, had been defeated. Reaume decided to run as an independent Conservative, or “Whitney candidate,” as the Evening Record (20 June) dubbed him. He was quoted in the same issue when he contested an accusation from a local Liberal: “Mr. [Charles Joseph] Montreuil … called me a traitor to the French people, but I think that Mr. Montreuil is not a loyal Frenchman himself, for if you speak to him in French he will answer you in English. Why should I be called a traitor? … I am a Frenchman, and know the way the question stands …, and I know I can remedy the trouble.” In Reaume’s opinion, the regulation’s provision for a daily hour of French instruction was an enhancement of rights because section 93 of the British North America Act offered no such protection for French in Ontario. Like many Essex County francophones, he regarded mastery of English as essential for succeeding in industry. He attempted to clarify his position: “No man has been more favourable to the French people than Sir James Whitney.… What we want is not French schools where English is taught, but English schools in which French is taught.” Not all francophone voters, however, shared his view. Reaume also had to deal with complaints that he had not given enough patronage positions to local Conservatives. His opponents, on the other hand, claimed he had approved the construction of a new road that would boost the value of his and his associates’ property.
The result was that Reaume lost his seat and resigned as minister of public works on 30 September. He was named county registrar for Essex, in which capacity he would serve until his death. As well, he accepted a few patients and assumed a number of executive positions, including the vice-presidency of Guaranty Trust Company in Windsor and the United Forge and Machine Company of Detroit. He was made an honorary member of the officers’ mess of the Essex and Kent Scottish Regiment and was active in the Knights of Columbus.
While Reaume’s days in the limelight were fading, his involvement in the language controversy continued. Father Beaudoin brought a lawsuit against Bishop Fallon, charging him with forbidding the teaching of French to French Canadian children and the preaching in French to French-speaking congregations. An investigator was sent by the Vatican and in February 1916 Reaume was called upon to testify. He stated that he had understood the bishop to be against bilingual instruction as a system, but not against instruction of French per se. Fallon would ultimately be exonerated. During the interview Reaume admitted that he and Windsor Separate School Board president Gaspard Pacaud had worked behind the scenes in 1915 and early 1916 to persuade the government to reintroduce French instruction in the city’s Catholic schools. But these schools did not qualify under the hitherto clause because French had been dropped in 1910 when the bishop put a group of English-speaking Ursuline nuns in charge. Department of Education officials eventually notified Reaume that, because of Windsor’s past tradition, Pyne would allow one hour of French a day in the separate schools if the trustees agreed. The minister soon reneged, explaining that he had misinterpreted the clause and that Fallon’s approval was needed.
Despite this setback and the loss of his son John Stanley near the end of the war, a stoic Reaume never gave up on his fight to reinstate French in Windsor’s separate schools. He began lobbying again when George Howard Ferguson*’s Conservatives took power in 1923. Working with others, Reaume persuaded federal Conservative leader Arthur Meighen* to speak to the premier about the legislation. In 1927 Ferguson announced major changes, effectively restoring French instruction in Windsor’s Catholic schools for the first time in 17 years. After a lengthy illness, Reaume would die of heart failure on 12 June 1933. In tributes published in the Border Cities Star (Windsor) the next day, he was remembered as “genial,” “unassuming,” “conscientious,” and one who “represented the highest type of public servant.”
Ancestry.com, “Canada, war graves registers (circumstances of casualty), 1914–1948”; “Ontario, Canada, Catholic Church records (Drouin coll.), 1802–1967”; “Ontario, Canada, deaths and deaths overseas, 1869–1946”: www.ancestry.ca (consulted 23 Feb. 2017). Arch. of the Diocese of London, Ont., Bishop Fallon papers, box 2, file 16, Diffamationis et poenarum: summarium, 341–47 (testimony of Joseph Reaume, 9 Feb. 1916). Centre for Research on French Canadian Culture (Ottawa), C2 (Fonds Association canadienne-française de l’Ontario), 82/1–104/1, Le Règlement XVII. LAC, Census returns for the 1911 Canadian census, Ont., dist. Essex North (67), subdist. Windsor (36): 3; R233-37-6, Ont., dist. Essex North (59), subdist. Windsor (L): 4. Border Cities Star (Windsor), 13 June 1933. Evening Record (Windsor), 2, 4 Dec. 1911; 26 June 1912; 24 April, 17, 20, 26 June 1914; 10 July 1918. Gazette (Montreal), 13 June 1933. Globe, 13, 15, 17 Oct. 1910. Le Temps (Ottawa), 11 Oct. 1912. Marilyn Barber, “The Ontario bilingual schools issue: sources of conflict,” CHR, 47 (1966): 227–48. Canadian annual rev., 1903–14. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1912). J. D. Cecillon, Prayers, petitions, and protests: the Catholic Church and the Ontario schools crisis in the Windsor border region, 1910–1928 (Montreal and Kingston, Ont., 2013). F. X. Chauvin, Men of achievement, Essex county (2v., [Tecumseh, Ont.], 1927–29), 2. Robert Choquette, Language and religion: a history of English–French conflict in Ontario (Ottawa, 1975), 75, 87, 95, 96, 123, 127, 181. Commemorative biographical record of the county of Essex, Ontario … (Toronto, 1905). CPG, 1905–14. Ont., Dept. of Education, Roman Catholic separate schools and English-French public and separate schools: circular of instructions for the school year September to June, 1912–1913 ([Toronto]), 1912; Legislative Assembly, “Joseph Octave Réaume”: www.ola.org/en/members/all/joseph-octave-reaume (consulted 20 Sept. 2018). Michael Power, “The mitred warrior: a critical reassessment of Bishop Michael Francis Fallon, 1867–1931,” Catholic Insight (Toronto), 8 (2000), no.3: 18–26. Premier congrès de la langue française au Canada, Québec, 24–30 juin 1912: compte rendu (Québec, 1913). C. B. Sissons, Church & state in Canadian education: an historical study (Toronto, 1959).
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Cite This Article
Jack Cecillon, “REAUME, JOSEPH OCTAVE (baptized Joseph-Octave) (Joseph O., J. O.),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 30, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/reaume_joseph_octave_16E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Jack Cecillon|
|Title of Article:||REAUME, JOSEPH OCTAVE (baptized Joseph-Octave) (Joseph O., J. O.)|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||2020|
|Year of revision:||2020|
|Access Date:||March 30, 2023|