SHEHYN (Sheehy), JOSEPH, businessman and politician; b. 9 Nov. 1829 at Quebec, son of Edmond Sheehy (also identified as Edward Shehyn), a pit sawyer of Irish origins, and Marie (Flavie) Parent, of Quebec; m. first 16 Aug. 1858 Virginie Verret (d. 16 July 1892) in the cathedral of Notre-Dame at Quebec, and they had 13 children, 6 of whom lived to adulthood; m. secondly 22 Sept. 1902 Joséphine Béliveau (d. 23 May 1941) at the cathedral of Saint-Jacques in Montreal, and they had one son; d. 14 July 1918 at Quebec.
The son of an Irish immigrant who worked in the lumber industry, Joseph Shehyn lost his mother when he was very young, and he was taken in by the family of his maternal uncle François Huot, dit Saint-Laurent. At about age 15 he went to work for A. Laurie and Company of Quebec, dry goods wholesalers specializing in textiles and clothing. He served his business apprenticeship there until 1855, when he was taken into the firm along with John McCall Jr. His other partners were Archibald Laurie of Quebec, Laurie’s brother James of Glasgow, and John Stirling of Montreal. The death of James Laurie in 1857 and the retirement of Archibald in 1861 led to the dissolution of the company on 28 Feb. 1861. Stirling continued to manage the Montreal branch of the firm under the name of Stirling, McCall and Company, while Shehyn and McCall, who were both under 35, carried on the business at Quebec from 1 March 1861 as McCall, Shehyn and Company. McCall worked as buyer, sometimes in the United States but mainly in England, where he apparently settled around 1867, leaving Shehyn in charge at Quebec. From being ordinary clerk, Shehyn had risen to become the leading administrator of the firm.
Located since 1861 on Rue Saint-Pierre, in the commercial Lower Town of Quebec, the company seems to have become solidly established during the 1870s. Its turnover jumped from $250,000 to $300,000 in 1871, reached $500,000 in 1874, and then apparently levelled off. It supplied many general merchants, in Portneuf, the Gaspé, the Lac Saint-Jean region, and the Bois-Francs, on terms of credit seldom extended beyond a year and usually secured by a mortgage. When customers were in financial difficulties, the firm either allowed them to pay by instalments or took over the property put up as security. During the 1870s Shehyn also acted occasionally as receiver in business settlements and bankruptcies. When McCall retired in 1891, Shehyn would become the sole owner of the enterprise, but he would keep its business name.
Shehyn’s success gradually enabled him to establish himself. After living in various rented places, in 1873 he was finally able to buy a house with outbuildings on Rue Saint-George (Rue Hébert) from Timothy Hibbard Dunn* for $10,000. Using plans by the architect Joseph-Ferdinand Peachy*, in 1877–78 he built a fine home that bespoke his prosperity. Known as Bandon Lodge, it stood opposite the future provincial legislative building (which was completed in 1883) on land to the south of the Grande Allée. In this impressive dwelling he would be able to entertain prominent politicians and businessmen from Canada and abroad throughout his career.
Shehyn’s rise in the Quebec business world was an excellent preparation for his entry into politics. In 1875, as the Liberal candidate in the provincial riding of Quebec East, he won a decisive victory over the Conservative incumbent, Pierre-Vincent Valin*. His election, which was unsuccessfully disputed by Quebec ship-builders Jean-Élie Gingras and Narcisse Rosa, was confirmed by the Superior Court on 19 Nov. 1875. In the Legislative Assembly Shehyn defended the economic interests of Quebec City, even opposing the position of his own party on occasion. President of the Quebec Board of Trade from 1877 to 1879 and 1883 to 1887, and a member of the Quebec Harbour Commission in the late 1870s, from 1878 he spoke out vigorously in the assembly’s debates concerning the construction, government management, and eventual sale of the Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Occidental Railway. He wanted to make sure that Quebec City, which had invested a million dollars in building the line, would get its full share of the anticipated benefits.
In March 1878 the so-called coup d’état of Lieutenant Governor Luc Letellier* de Saint-Just brought the Liberals under Henri-Gustave Joly* to power. Shehyn ran as an independent Liberal in the ensuing election and won by a huge margin over Conservative Charles-Ignace Samson. Although he usually supported the Liberal government, he occasionally took issue with it on important questions. On 12 Aug. 1879, for instance, he opposed construction of the belt line of the Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Occidental Railway at Trois-Rivières because it went against the economic interests of Quebec City. That same year, in the crucial vote of 29 October on the question of abolishing the Legislative Council (a vote that triggered the fall of the Joly administration through the defection of five Liberal mlas), Shehyn supported the government, although it had been feared that as an independent he would vote against it.
Back in opposition, Shehyn resumed speaking in the assembly and at public meetings. On 3 April 1882, for instance, he took a stand against the sale of the Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Occidental in two sections under the terms accepted by the government of Joseph-Adolphe Chapleau*. He considered the arrangement harmful to the commercial interests of Quebec City, which was trying to maintain its historic role as a deep-sea port. His position reflected that of the Board of Trade, of which he was then president, and was based on close analysis of the offers already received for the railway. Once the sale had gone through, along with mayor François Langelier of Quebec he began in 1884 to promote the purchase of the Montreal to Quebec section by the Canadian Pacific Railway in the hope that Quebec City might become the CPR terminus. He also worked for the construction of a bridge across the St Lawrence at Quebec and for an agreement with the Intercolonial on the south shore. His efforts to influence the federal government of Sir John A. Macdonald*, first through a letter and then by a meeting early in 1885, were to no avail. On several later occasions he would return to these questions. In 1880, to defend the interests of the Liberal party, he had helped found the newspaper L’Électeur [see Ernest Pacaud*].
Speaking in the assembly on railways, Shehyn dealt more and more with the financial problems they posed: government indebtedness and the need to find revenue and control expenses. From 1884 he delivered some important speeches on the state of public finances, in which he was highly critical of the Conservative administration’s fiscal management. With each budget debate he had an increasingly important place on the Liberal team, and in 1886 he was the first to reply to the budget speech of the treasurer, Joseph Gibb Robertson*. It is not surprising, then, that Honoré Mercier* offered him the post of provincial treasurer in the Liberal-Nationalist cabinet formed on 29 Jan. 1887. Because of his integrity, independence, and business experience, as well as his position in Quebec business associations, Shehyn was well prepared for this portfolio, which usually went to anglophones connected with the British and Canadian financial markets.
In his first budget speech, on 12 April 1887, Shehyn presented a thorough analysis of the financial situation of the provincial government and concluded that it faced a substantial short-term indebtedness because of accumulated deficits. To consolidate this debt over a long period, Mercier and Shehyn managed to get an act passed on 12 May authorizing the government to borrow $3,500,000 on flexible terms. Over the following months the premier and treasurer negotiated with many financial syndicates. Finally, on 3 Jan. 1888 a large French bank, the Crédit Lyonnais, agreed to float a loan of $3,500,000 at 4 per cent. Mercier had thus succeeded in bypassing the Bank of Montreal and other Canadian financial institutions, which he knew were hostile to his views and his politics, and he restored a French connection used before by Chapleau in 1880 which gave him access to the British and French financial markets.
After the success of this operation, Mercier and Shehyn considered redeeming the 5 per cent and 4.5 per cent bonds the government had issued since 1874 and replacing them with new ones at a lower rate of interest, thereby decreasing the annual cost of the debt. Despite the vigorous opposition of the Bank of Montreal and the provincial and federal Conservatives, they succeeded on 12 July 1888 in passing a bill with a clause implicitly giving the government the power to recall bonds before maturity. This clause raised loud screams and seriously hampered the subsequent negotiations, with the result that the plan was temporarily abandoned. Following a sizeable increase in the Mercier government’s expenditures, however, it reappeared late in 1890, along with a bill which authorized the borrowing of $10,000,000. Shehyn and Mercier went back to France and conducted complicated negotiations in a depressed market. A syndicate made up of the Crédit Lyonnais and the Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas finally undertook on 15 July 1891 to float a loan of $3,860,000 for two years at 4 per cent.
In all these financial dealings Shehyn proved an ideal partner for Mercier, efficient, responsible, and irreproachable. Such qualities were not universal in Mercier’s more political entourage, as witness the affair of the Baie des Chaleurs Railway [see Mercier; Pacaud], which awaited them on their return from Europe in mid July 1891. Although several ministers besides Mercier were implicated in the scandal, Shehyn came out unscathed. The government was dismissed by Lieutenant Governor Auguste-Réal Angers on 16 Dec. 1891 and the Liberals, including Shehyn, found themselves once more in opposition. At the election of 8 March 1892, in the midst of a Liberal rout, Shehyn succeeded in keeping his seat with a respectable majority. It was a bitter experience for him, however, and he did not speak during the 1892 session; the role of Liberal financial critic was taken over by Félix-Gabriel Marchand*. After that, he spoke only during budget debates. When Marchand became premier in 1897, Shehyn was appointed minister without portfolio. He would end his political career as the senator for the division of Laurentides, a position to which he was appointed in 1900.
With a political career which was less demanding from 1892 on, Shehyn was able to devote more time to his business and family. The death of his wife in July 1892 left him to care for their remaining six children, some of whom were not yet living on their own. Their daughters Hectorine and Joséphine had married advantageously, the former in 1886 to Benjamin Alexander Scott*, a Roberval lumber merchant, and the latter in 1889 to Napoléon-Antoine Belcourt*, an Ottawa lawyer who became an mp and senator. During the 1890s Shehyn took his sons Joseph-Aurélien and Auguste-Réal into his business, at first as clerks. Especially after Ernest Giguère, his head clerk and half-brother, left in 1906, Joseph-Aurélien gradually became his right-hand man. He took over the actual management of the business, and Shehyn soon recognized his ability. Unlike his elder brother, Auguste-Réal kept getting himself into financial difficulties, as did their brother Raoul. Shehyn had to rescue them by giving them advances on their inheritance. From 1893 Auguste-Réal received a living allowance from the firm of McCall, Shehyn and Company. In 1910 his father would finally get him a job with the federal Department of Public Works in the office of the chief architect. Raoul served an apprenticeship with a master bookbinder from 1893 to 1896 and then went into all kinds of businesses at Notre-Dame-de-Lorette (Loretteville), with varying degrees of success. Eventually his father assumed his debts. At least as early as 1908 Shehyn considered transforming his business into a joint-stock company to ensure that it would continue after his death and to allow members of his family to become shareholders. McCall, Shehyn and Son Limited was incorporated on 14 Jan. 1913. Shehyn was its president and Joseph-Aurélien (followed by Raoul in 1915) were shareholders. At the time of its incorporation the business employed more than 30 clerks.
In 1902, at the age of 72, Shehyn had entered into a second marriage, with Joséphine Béliveau of Montreal, the 37-year-old widow of Napoléon Leduc, and they had a son, Henri, the following year. Because of ill health, Shehyn handed over the direction of his business to Joseph-Aurélien in 1914. He died on 14 July 1918 at age 88, leaving more than $100,000 in shares and deposits in his business, as well as his house, which was valued at some $40,000. An impressive funeral ceremony in the basilica of Notre-Dame was attended by the political and business élite of Quebec City.
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© 1998–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
Marc Vallières, “SHEHYN, JOSEPH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 1, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/shehyn_joseph_14E.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:||Marc Vallières|
|Title of Article:||SHEHYN, JOSEPH|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1998|
|Year of revision:||1998|
|Access Date:||June 1, 2023|