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TABARET, JOSEPH-HENRI, Roman Catholic priest, Oblate of Mary Immaculate, and educator; b. 12 April 1828 at Saint-Marcellin, France, son of Antoine Tabaret, a locksmith, and Adélaïde Forêt; d. 28 Feb. 1886 at Ottawa, Ont.
Joseph-Henri Tabaret attended boarding-school in Bourg-de-Péage before entering the Oblate noviciate at Notre-Dame de l’Osier, Isère, on 13 Sept. 1845. He made his profession on 14 Sept. 1846 and then continued his studies for the priesthood at Marseilles, Notre-Dame de l’Osier, and Goult, dept of Vaucluse. In 1850, on medical advice, the seminarist moved to Canada West where he was ordained priest on 21 December at Bytown (Ottawa) by Bishop Joseph-Bruno Guigues*. Tabaret’s ministry in the parish of L’Orignal, which at the time included numerous missions, such as Alfred, Vankleek Hill, and Hawkesbury in Canada West, and Grenville, Bonsecours (Montebello), and Sainte-Angélique (Papineauville) in Canada East, lasted from 1851 to 1853 and had a profound influence on him. A broad-minded man, Tabaret quickly adapted to his new environment, and his work among the Scots, the Irish, and the French led him to respect these people and prepared him for the role of educator which he had long wanted to play. In the course of his college years he had in fact told a fellow-student: “I have but one desire: that is, to find a place where I may give myself to the education of youth.”
His desire was realized in 1853 when he was appointed principal of the College of Bytown (which became the College of Ottawa in 1861 and received its charter as a university in 1866). The institution, which had been founded in 1848 by Guigues to “ensure ecclesiastical vocations, and to give society and religion men able to understand and defend the interests [of both],” was still in a formative stage. Although there were few students and great financial problems, Tabaret refused to be discouraged. Indeed it seems that the principal thought solely of the future, and that the obstacles strengthened his resolve. In a report to the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada in 1861, Tabaret estimated the value of the college buildings and land to be $70,000. The institution offered three programmes: preparatory, classical, and theological; some 100 students were enrolled in the first two and 15 in the third. There were 12 professors assisted by two discipline masters.
The principal had definite ideas about education. Convinced of the importance of bilingualism, Tabaret insisted on the necessity of teaching both French and English; the difficulties this might present were not in his opinion insurmountable. He considered such a measure imperative in that part of the country, for study of the two languages would “lessen those grievous prejudices that separate these two peoples who are so well calculated to have a high regard for one another.” Thus he gained the respect of both Protestant and Catholic French Canadians and Irish. In addition to performing the duties of principal and teacher at the college, Tabaret, as the trusted friend of Guigues, held the office of vicar general of the diocese of Ottawa during the bishop’s absence in 1862. From 1864 to 1867 he resided at Montreal as the provincial of the Oblates in Canada; in this capacity he took an interest in the Indian missions and in the recruiting of priests, particularly English-speaking ones, and strengthened existing endeavours.
Tabaret then returned to Ottawa, where he was rector of the new university from 1867 to 1874 and 1877 to 1886, and director of students from 1874 to 1877. He played an important part in the development of the university’s curriculum, initiating its reorganization in 1874. Under the new programme the sciences and mathematics were given a significant place, commercial studies became part of the curriculum, and sporting activities were encouraged as a means of character formation. Tabaret improved pedagogical methods and gradually managed to increase the number of specialists among the teachers. Although Tabaret remained convinced of the importance of bilingual education, practical difficulties inherent in teaching in two languages led to the adoption of English as the language of instruction in almost all the courses in the new programme. (The university resumed bilingual instruction in 1901.) Among other things, the master plan also called for the creation of a school of civil engineering and an industrial school. The former was established in 1874, to Tabaret’s delight. However, he died before he could set up the industrial school which he had dreamed of providing for Ottawa.
In 1879 Pope Leo XIII conferred a doctorate in theology on the rector. Tabaret, who had enjoyed the esteem of his former pupils and of two bishops, Guigues and Joseph-Thomas Duhamel*, can rightly be considered the man who built – the University of Ottawa.
Arch. départementales, Isère (Grenoble, France), État civil, Saint-Marcellin, 14 avril 1828. Can., Prov. of, Parl., Sessional papers, 1862, 111, no.14. [Joseph Fillâtre], A brief sketch of the life of the Rev. Father Joseph Henry Tabaret . . . (Ottawa, 1886), also published as Notice nécrologique du R. P. Joseph Henri Tabaret . . . (Ottawa, 1886); “Le collège d’Ottawa,” Missions de la Congrégation des Missionnaires Oblats de Marie Immaculée (Paris), 21 (1883): 105–18. Allaire, Dictionnaire, I: 505. Canadian biog. dict., 1. 628–29. Gaston Carrière, Histoire documentaire de la Congrégation des Missionnaires Oblats de Marie-Immaculée dans l’Est du Canada (12v., Ottawa, 1957–75), 11: 21–61; VI: 183–329; L’université d’Ottawa, 1848–1861 (Ottawa, 1960). Georges Simard, Un centenaire; le père Tabaret, O.M.I., et son oeuvre d’éducation (Ottawa, 1928).