VERREAU, HOSPICE-ANTHELME-JEAN-BAPTISTE (baptized Hospice-Anthelme), Roman Catholic priest, teacher, school administrator, historian, polemicist, archivist, and author; b. 6 Sept. 1828 in L’Islet, Lower Canada, son of Germain-Alexandre Verreau and Ursule Fournier; d. 15 May 1901 in Montreal.
Hospice-Anthelme-Jean-Baptiste Verreau, the first principal of the École Normale Jacques-Cartier in Montreal, was born into an educated and cultured family and received his first lessons from his father, a notary and in effect his private tutor until 1842. He entered the Petit Séminaire de Québec as a student in the third year (Method) and left it in 1848 after completing the two-year Philosophy program.
It was as an educator that Verreau first became known. After graduating from the Grand Séminaire de Québec, he was recruited by Abbé Stanislas Tassé, director of the Petit Séminaire de Sainte-Thérèse, where in September 1850 he began teaching Rhetoric, the sixth-year class. On 3 Aug. 1851 he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Ignace Bourget*. Appointed director of studies two years later, Abbé Verreau still retained some teaching duties. At the Petit Séminaire de Sainte-Thérèse, and later at the École Normale Jacques-Cartier, he regarded it as a duty and a pleasure to bring new life to the establishment for which he was responsible. For the entertainment and edification of his students, he even wrote the play Stanislas de Kostka, which was performed at the seminary on 16 Nov. 1855 and published by the Revue de Montréal in 1878. Little is known about Verreau’s short stay at Sainte-Thérèse, except that he was so highly regarded as a teacher that an attempt was made to keep him from accepting appointment to the principalship of the École Normale Jacques-Cartier in 1857.
During the first year of his tenure at the normal school, Verreau divided his time between the Séminaire de Sainte-Thérèse and his new duties. Tassé, who had made him director of studies, was displeased at having to share him with another institution. After much negotiation between the superintendent of public instruction, Pierre-Joseph-Olivier Chauveau*, and the head of the government, George-Étienne Cartier*, Verreau stayed on as principal of the normal school.
This incident reveals much about how church and state were then approaching educational matters. Verreau’s appointment by church authorities as the first principal of the École Normale Jacques-Cartier when he was still a young man bears witness to the confidence he inspired. He was perhaps the only person capable of reconciling the divergent and contradictory interests of the ultramontane and liberal pressure groups that were competing to control the future of the school system. It had been through compromise and discussions between Chauveau and church authorities, after fruitless attempts in 1836 to establish the first normal schools, that three had been created in 1857. As head of one of them Verreau found himself in the delicate position of being a clergyman in charge of a public normal school. Despite their denominational character, these new institutions of higher education were termed “public” because of the substantial financial contribution made by the government to their operation. Verreau’s friendly relations with Chauveau and their mutual confidence were probably important factors in his appointment and continued incumbency. That he was able to remain principal to the end of his life despite being the target of many attacks is in itself proof of his ability.
The École Normale Jacques-Cartier opened on 3 March 1857, with ceremonies being held in the splendour of the Château Ramezay in Montreal. In his speech Verreau explained to the 27 students his concept of the role of teachers or, as he called them, “schoolmasters.” By a twist of fate, the buildings that first housed the school had been occupied by the Americans during the invasion of 1775, a subject in which Abbé Verreau would later take a keen interest.
The normal school offered a two-year course, with four hours of practice teaching weekly during the first year and five hours during the second. Léopold Devisme* and Patrick Delaney* were on its original staff. In addition to his role as principal, Verreau for a long time took on teaching assignments. Circumstances led him to give various courses, usually by choice, but sometimes because an instructor had not yet been found. The list of subjects he could teach-religion, philosophy, pedagogy, drawing, physical sciences, natural history, Canadian history, and literature – is a measure of his versatility. This inquiring humanist had an astonishing range of interests, as his notes on Buddhism and China, and his synoptic tables illustrating phenomena of natural history, geography, and geology show. He was said to be very much the pedagogue. He even wrote a Méthode de lecture in 1890 and he left an unfinished pamphlet entitled “Notions sur l’enseignement de l’arithmétique.”
As principal, Abbé Verreau attached great importance to the level of excellence attained by his institution. Almost every year he turned applicants away, not only because of an acute lack of space, but also because they were inadequately prepared. He favoured rigorous admission standards and even proposed the addition of a preparatory class to the first year, so that the student teachers might benefit fully from their pedagogical training. Although he often complained that normal school curricula were too heavy, he refused to eliminate any subjects. He suggested that an advanced normal school be set up to train teachers for institutions of higher education and he himself helped to draw up some pedagogical programs.
Verreau’s views led him to attach great importance to model schools, where beginners could have their first experience in the art of teaching. In a presentation he gave in 1857 on the model school adjoining the normal school, he put great emphasis on the necessity for discipline. His notes contain a maxim, “There must be an atmosphere of solemn contemplation in the school,” and he put this rule into practice at the École Normale Jacques-Cartier. He was said to be strict, but kind.
Verreau helped his institution expand rapidly and promote its public image, mainly through school exhibitions both in Quebec and abroad. The École Normale Jacques-Cartier did not confine itself to training teachers. In further collaboration with his friend Chauveau, Verreau drew a wide circle of leading figures to it and made it a place for the lively pursuit and dissemination of scientific knowledge. He organized lectures open to its students and to the general public. Before the school moved to the Logan farm (Pare Lafontaine) in 1879, the students could use both its library and that of the Department of Public Instruction. As a researcher, historian, and archivist, he sought to provide a high standard of instruction, opening a wide range of perspectives to future teachers.
True educator that he was, Verreau observed his students at the model school and took an interest in their future, sometimes even going to see them where they were teaching after graduation. He would always be concerned about the financial remuneration and working conditions of teachers. He also gave various lectures to the Association des Instituteurs de la Circonscription de l’École Normale Jacques-Cartier.
In general, Verreau was highly respected by his associates, but he drew harsh condemnation, especially from the ultramontanes, for taking stands considered liberal or even radical. His professional and personal relations with Chauveau, his defence of public normal schools, and his support of fair salaries for teachers placed him amongst the advocates of liberal ideas that were not in line with church doctrine. His decoration in 1879 by none other than Jules Ferry, who as minister of public instruction in France had issued a decree ordering compulsory education in that country, aroused the animosity of his critics. Verreau was also involved in some famous polemics in which his caustic tone, his persistence, and his occasional fierceness were equalled only by his skill in sometimes extricating himself from difficult situations. He enjoyed strong political support, including that of Chauveau, and had the backing of Archbishop Elzéar-Alexandre Taschereau* in numerous discussions about the orientation to be given the province’s educational system.
In 1880–81 Verreau had to put up a spirited defence of public normal schools and, by the same token, of lay teachers, who were under attack. This noted controversy began in February 1881, when Bishop Louis-François Laflèche* of Trois-Rivières sent a memorandum to the Council of Public Instruction requesting permission to open a normal school for women under the direction of teaching nuns. He backed his request by questioning the value of the existing normal schools, which happened to be public. The bishop, whose ultramontanist convictions were well known, criticized them for being too costly for the province, not training enough teachers, and offering a program that was too advanced. Abbé Verreau’s responses showed his independence of mind with regard to the clergy (of which he was a member) and to certain ideological trends then evident in the church. He was in favour of centralizing educational institutions to some extent as a means of guaranteeing the quality of instruction, and he opposed the idea of spreading the normal schools around the province, a plan finally implemented after his death.
Verreau’s views on the role of the government and the need for it to collaborate with local authorities and with the church inevitably clashed with the ultramontanist aims of his adversary. Behind these discussions can be seen the contention, widely debated at that time, of the supremacy of the clergy over the laity, which Verreau vehemently refuted. Although he had always considered teaching a divine calling, Verreau was opposed to exclusive control by the clergy and wanted teachers to have an acceptable standard of living. He would never agree that they should live in what he called a state of pedagogical enslavement. He also refused to restrict student teachers to the modest realm of their profession and was delighted if they eventually decided to become merchants, doctors, or lawyers.
When this dispute was over, Verreau was still principal of the normal school. Laflèche’s designs would be put into effect beginning in 1906. Verreau was not in fact opposed to the idea of normal schools for women. His differences with Laflèche had to do with their location and organization. As the principal of the École Normale Jacques-Cartier, he had been in charge of an essentially male institution up to 1899, and he was delighted when a female section of his school was opened that year under the direction of the Congregation of Notre-Dame. However, he maintained his prerogatives as principal. In his report for the year 1899–1900 he praised the congregation and also asserted that the advent of the normal school for women would leave its mark on the history of education. The proliferation from 1906 of small normal schools run by nuns bore out his predictions.
Abbé Verreau was an unusual, colourful, and highly versatile man, as his personal and professional career demonstrates. An educator by the age of 23, he continued to be one at heart and in practice to the end of his life. Some allege that he died pen in hand, working on a pedagogical textbook. This interest in teaching did not keep him from scholarly work as a historian and archivist. He was said to be a tireless researcher. At the normal school, one of his first projects was to build up its library, as well as that of the Department of Public Instruction. His reports as principal show him also as a collector announcing new acquisitions and donations. He reputedly dreamed of setting up a “pedagogical museum,” and devoted his efforts to this project at the school. His personal library was considered one of the richest and most complete of its time.
As historian, archivist, and collector, Verreau played a prominent role, especially in the field of Canadian history. His main interest was the early period. His skill as researcher and archivist was publicly recognized in 1873, when the Canadian government sent him to investigate the historical material relating to the country in the archives of Europe, especially in London, Paris, and Rome. The results of his research appeared under the title “Report of proceedings connected with Canadian archives in Europe” and were dated 31 Dec. 1874. Verreau had received a warm welcome in the various libraries he visited during the several months of his study tour, and had been pleasantly surprised at the large number of documents he was able to find, an indication, in his opinion, of the interest European nations took in Canadian history. The 63-page report written on his return consists of an annotated list of the major sources he had consulted. He would have liked Canada to have a library similar to the one at the British Museum in London. To remedy certain deficiencies in the libraries he had visited, he suggested that Canada send them historical works such as the proceedings of historical societies. He also proposed that Canadian libraries be opened in London, Paris, and Brussels. Abbé Armand Yon, among others, considers him the father of the National Archives of Canada, on an equal footing with Douglas Brymner, with whom Verreau worked closely.
As a historian, Verreau took a special pleasure in discovering, collating, copying, and then editing documents. Invasion du Canada, published in 1873, is a well-known example. In this archival endeavour he carried on the work of his friend Jacques Viger*, to whom he paid tribute in several of his writings. His own works, while interesting, were often simply short lectures shedding light on particular aspects of Canadian history. He also took a sly pleasure in solving historical mysteries, including that of why the Relations des jésuites . . . was suppressed after 1673, and in corroborating or refuting interpretations put forward by other authors or commentators.
Verreau was extremely active and influential in historical circles of his day and his influence cannot be measured solely by the number of his publications. He was a charter-member and the second president of the Société Historique de Montréal. He had a hand in founding the Royal Society of Canada in 1882 and gave lectures at its meetings on many occasions. He also belonged to the Société des Anti-quaires de Normandie and to the Académie des Arcades de Rome in 1884.
Loyalty was one of Verreau’s virtues throughout his life. He was attached to his native village, L’Islet, where he usually spent his holidays, as well as to the educational institutions he had attended. He bequeathed to the Séminaire de Québec the bulk of his historical documents, the Viger-Verreau collection, which would become the subject of a dispute between the Société Historique de Montréal and the Archives du Séminaire de Québec. His extensive library of Canadiana was donated to the Université Laval, where he had been a professor since 1887. He had been a benefactor also to the Séminaire de Sainte-Thérèse in 1869, and in 1873 the ardent historian and collector had organized a fund-raising campaign for the library of the Petit Séminaire de Sainte-Thérèse, to which he gave books bought in Paris during his study tour. Often criticized for what were referred to as his financial extravagances (which he acknowledged), he sought to excuse himself by giving the normal school a large collection of pictures in his possession. After his death, members of the Société Historique de Montréal would make a vain attempt to retrieve the manuscript of Invasion du Canada (left by him to the Séminaire de Québec), on the grounds that the work belonged to the society, which had contributed financially to its publication.
Over the years Verreau had received tokens of esteem and respect. As principal of the École Normale Jacques-Cartier, on 3 July 1868 he received the blessing of Pope Pius IX. In 1879 he was made an officier d’académie by Jules Ferry and was given a doctorate of letters by the Université Laval in recognition of all his writings and his extensive historical research. At the convocation ceremony, the dean of the law faculty praised his patience as a historian dedicated to what he called “small-scale history revealing the underpinnings of history on the grand scale.” In 1887 the university appointed him to the chair of Canadian history. He was also an officier d’Instruction publique of France. In 1882 he is believed to have received a diploma from the Royal Society of Canada.
In the history of French Canadian society, Abbé Hospice-Anthelme-Jean-Baptiste Verreau is an engaging and interesting figure, both because of his contribution to the arts and sciences and because of the independence of mind and tenacity he displayed. He braved more than one storm and rose to more than one challenge in the course of a full life.
[The ASQ holds a great deal of archival material on Abbé H.-A.-J.-B. Verreau. The Fonds Viger-Verreau contains much of his correspondence and numerous notebooks in which he copied documents, commented occasionally on facts, and collected genealogical information on families. Série O is particularly interesting since it brings together a large number of manuscripts, including notes, drafts of writings, and wills. A “Journal de voyage,” dated 1871, is in 0229.
The Arch. de l’Univ. du Québec à Montréal has the records of the École Normale Jacques-Cartier (2P), a part of which (2P 18/1–12) relates specifically to Verreau and consists of 166 items, mainly correspondence with his family and in particular letters from his sister Éléonore. The author has also examined materials in 2P 12/14 and 2P 24/6.
The Verreau papers at NA, MG 29, D6, relate to the inquiry which he conducted into Canadian archival materials in Europe; the results of Verreau’s investigation were published in both English and French as “Report of proceedings connected with Canadian archives in Europe” and “Rapport sur les résultats de la recherche des documents relatifs au Canada en Europe” in Can., Parl., Sessional papers, 1875, no.40: 154–217. The French version was also issued as a separate offprint ([Ottawa, 1875]).
Verreau’s publications include Invasion du Canada; collection de mémoires recueillis et annotés (Montréal, 1873), which he edited; Stanislas de Kostka (Montréal, 1878); Quelques remarques sur le “Mémoire appuyant la demande d’une école normale dans la ville des Trois-Rivières” ([Montréal?, 1879?]); Réplique au second mémoire de Mgr. l’évêque de Trois-Rivières ([Montréal?, 1881?]); Témoignage devant la commission royale ([Montréal, 1883]); États de service de l’école normale Jacques-Cartier, 1857–1884 ([Montréal], 1884); and Les deux abbés de Fénelon (Lévis, Qué., 1898).
Among the various papers Verreau read before the Royal Society of Canada are “Notice sur les fondateurs de Montréal,” RSC Trans., 1st ser., 1 (1882–83), sect.i: 95–106; “Des commencements de l’Église du Canada,” 2 (1884), sect.i: 63–72; “Des commencements de Montréal,” 5 (1887), sect.i: 149–53; “Jacques Cartier: questions de calendrier civil et ecclésiastique,” 8 (1890), sect.i: 113–52; “Jacques Cartier: questions de droit public, de législation et d’usages maritimes,” 9 (1891), sect.i: 77–83; “Jacques Cartier: questions de lois et coutumes maritimes,” 2e sér., 3 (1897), sect.i: 119–33; and “Samuel de Champlain,” 5 (1899), sect.i: 79.
He also published numerous articles in newspapers and journals, including “Discours à l’inauguration de l’école normale Jacques-Cartier” and “Archéologie canadienne: le vieux château ou ancien Hôtel des gouverneurs à Montréal avec vue du vieux château,” in Journal de l’Instruction publique (Québec et Montréal), 1 (1857): 62 and 149–51; and “Suppression des Relations de la Nouvelle-France,” “Un poète anglo-canadien: John Reade,” and “Quelques notes sur un système singulier de numérotation,” in Rev. de Montréal, 1 (1877): 107–16, 162–71; 3 (l879): 188–93, 289–95; and 3: 399–408 respectively.
Verreau contributed in various ways to a number of other publications. One of his speeches appears in 200e anniversaire de la découverte du Mississipi par Jolliet et le P. Marquette: soirée littéraire et musicale à l’université Laval le 17 juin 1873 (Québec, 1873), pp.13–37. He edited the “Lettres de la révérende mère Marie-Andrée Regnard Duplessis de Ste. Hélène,” in Rev. canadienne (Montréal), 12 (1875): 41–56, 105–20, 183–93, 289–94, 384–88, 458–61, 529–33, and 603–8. He also prepared a new edition of Jean-François Lafitau’s Mémoire présenté à son altesse royale Mgr. le due d’Orléans, régent de France, concernant la précieuse plante du gin-seng de Tartarie, découverte en Amérique . . . (Montréal, 1858), and wrote its 12-page biographical account of Lafitau.
Armand Yon’s L’abbé H.-A. Verreau: éducateur, polémiste, historien (Montréal, 1946) is an essential work on Verreau. Of particular interest is the bibliography prepared by Gabrielle Guérin, “L’abbé H.-A. Verreau: essai de bibliographie,” 175–95, which includes most of the works bearing on the subject. t.h.]
ANQ-Q, CE2–3, 10 sept. 1828. La Minerve, 26 oct. 1870. Adélard Desrosiers, Le monument Verreau: fête du 8 décembre 1927 (Montréal, 1929). André Labarrère-Paulé, Les instituteurs laïques au Canada français, 1836–1900 (Québec, 1965). L.-F. Laflèche, Réponse aux remarques de M. l’abbé Verreau sur le “Mémoire appuvant la demande d’une école normale dans la ville des Trois-Rivières” (Trois-Rivières, Qué., 1881). Frère Réticius [Louis Gonnet], Réponse aux cinq lettres du R. M. Verreau (s.l., [1881?]). Armand Yon, “Historien canadien,” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., 34 (1940), sect.i: 119–37.
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Cite This Article
Thérèse Hamel, “VERREAU, HOSPICE-ANTHELME-JEAN-BAPTISTE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 27, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/verreau_hospice_anthelme_jean_baptiste_13E.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:||Thérèse Hamel|
|Title of Article:||VERREAU, HOSPICE-ANTHELME-JEAN-BAPTISTE|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1994|
|Year of revision:||1994|
|Access Date:||March 27, 2023|