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VIAU, Dalbé (baptized Joseph-Dalbé), architect, administrator, and politician; b. 29 Sept. 1881, probably in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Que., and baptized the same day in the parish of Sainte-Geneviève (Montreal), son of Amable Viau, a farmer, and Philomène Desforges; m. 31 Oct. 1910 Mathilde Lacas in the parish of Saint-Jacques, Montreal, and they had three sons and a daughter; d. 24 Aug. 1938 in Quebec City and was buried three days later in Lachine (Montreal).
At the age of two Dalbé Viau suffered a form of paralysis that left him permanently lame in one leg. He received his primary education at the model school in Lachine, and then he studied commerce at the École Saint-Henri in Montreal, both institutions run by the Brothers of the Christian Schools.
Viau began his career as a merchant, but did not pursue this occupation. From 1898 to 1900 he was a draftsman with the Montreal architect Casimir Saint-Jean, who at the time was in charge of building several large religious edifices such as the Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste in Nicolet, completed in 1899, and the Église Saint-Jérôme, inaugurated in 1900 in the town of the same name. Saint-Jean’s architectural style was very ornamental, which probably led Viau to enhance his architectural vocabulary. On 2 May 1899, thanks to what he had learned in the firm, he passed the matriculation examination of the Province of Quebec Association of Architects. Two years later he was hired by Joseph-Arthur Godin, a Montreal architect renowned for his knowledge and his use of concrete in both religious and residential architecture. Viau pursued his training with Godin for four years. In the winter of 1904–5 he took an intensive course in architectural drawing at McGill University; he was the only French Canadian in his cohort. The course confirmed his vocation and made it possible for him to pass the professional entrance examination of the Province of Quebec Association of Architects in 1905.
Montreal and its suburbs were then experiencing significant population growth. Large numbers of people moved from the countryside to urban areas to take advantage of the salaries paid by manufacturing concerns. Most of the Montreal area was subdivided and built between 1875 and 1915, and at the end of this period Viau devoted himself primarily to residential architecture. From 1906 to 1912, working from his offices in Lachine and Montreal, he constructed – for himself as investments, but also for small shopkeepers and entrepreneurs – multiple-occupancy dwellings in Lachine, and in the downtown and Saint-Jacques quarter of Montreal, as well as in Saint-Louis (Montreal) and Outremont (Montreal). He worked independently but occasionally collaborated on housing projects with the architect Alfred-Hector Lapierre, who was established in Montreal. At that time, two- or three-storey buildings were erected, which often had shops on the ground floor and were characterized by exterior staircases and ornate brick or stonework facades, stained-glass windows, and wrought-iron detail. Viau had more than 80 different residential clients and about 20 for construction and alteration of workshops and small factories. He would continue to work in these areas for much of his career.
From 1906 Viau was also involved in school architecture, for which he gained some renown in the Montreal area. That year the Saint-Louis school board asked him for plans to build the Académie du Boulevard, and then, in 1911–12, for the École de l’Enfant-Jésus. Viau’s buildings were easily recognizable with architecture that conformed to the standards of the school boards. He used inexpensive materials such as brick, and adopted the beaux-arts style, which included, in particular, economical, low-relief ornamentation with elements moulded rather than sculpted, especially for use on the exterior. In 1910 Viau drew up the plans for the École Frontenac and the Baril School for the Hochelaga school board, and between then and 1914, he would land five of the six contracts let by that board. In 1912 the boards of two towns, Saint-Laurent and Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens, hired him for, respectively, the École Saint-Alfred and the Académie Desrosiers.
In 1908 a fire that started in the western part of Trois-Rivières completely destroyed all but a few blocks of houses. The following year Viau, like some of his Montreal colleagues, offered his services to help rebuild the town; he even opened an office there. Only five apartment buildings, a warehouse, and a studio were commissioned from him. But he had several jobs in hand: he continued to draw up plans and oversee residential building sites in Montreal and Lachine. The name of Louis-Zéphirin Gauthier* sometimes appears next to his, leading one to believe that they worked together.
Viau’s association with Louis-Alphonse Venne, which was made official in 1912, thrust him, however, to another level of architectural activity. Venne, who in Montreal had taken over from Maurice Perrault*, needed an associate and he knew Viau. The latter brought to the firm of Viau et Venne his contracts and expertise, especially in the scholastic sphere, but for the most part he handled administration. He took care of the daily business of the office, which included supervising building sites, meeting deadlines, and managing employees and accounts. His more unobtrusive role did not prevent him from soliciting contracts or from assuming responsibility for a few of them in his area of specialization.
Viau lived in Lachine, where he was a town councillor in 1923 and then mayor from 1925 to 1933. He was a Conservative Party candidate in the provincial election of 1931 in the riding of Jacques-Cartier and had to concede victory to Victor Marchand, who garnered 216 more votes than he did. Since Venne was a declared Liberal, the two architects had ties to both sides of the Legislative Assembly.
After Venne’s death in 1934 Viau obtained few contracts, a dearth attributable mainly to the Great Depression. He did some work for the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary such as putting up a normal school in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield (1933–34) as well as extensions to their residence at the Académie des Saints-Anges in Montreal (1938–39) and to the Pensionnat du Saint-Nom-de-Marie in Outremont (1938). His last big contract was for the Église Saint-Denis in Montreal, undertaken in 1931 before Venne’s death. In 1935–36 Viau was the supervising architect for the annex of the custom-house in Montreal.
Dalbé Viau died on 24 Aug. 1938 in a hotel room of the Château Frontenac in Quebec City. He is known above all for his collaboration in the work of Viau et Venne, which he managed until the death of his partner. The firm had been the largest of its time in the Montreal region. As a result of its special relationship with institutional powers, it obtained and fulfilled sizeable contracts, including St Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal and the mother house of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary in Outremont [see Louis-Alphonse Venne]. By constructing churches, schools, and institutional buildings at a time when the Montreal area was expanding rapidly, Viau helped give the architecture of the province of Quebec some of its character.
BANQ-CAM, CE601-S28, 29 sept. 1881. FD, Saint-Jacques-le-Majeur, cathédrale [Saint Jacques] (Montréal), 31 oct. 1910. Le Canada (Montréal), 25 août 1938. La Presse, 5 nov. 1913, 23 juill. 1914. Le Prix courant (Montréal), 1906–18. Le Soleil, 25 août 1938. BCF, 1926: 237. Directory, Montreal, 1892–1938. Raymonde Gauthier, Construire une église au Québec: l’architecture religieuse avant 1939 (Montréal, 1994); La tradition en architecture québécoise: le XXe siècle (Québec, 1989). André Laberge, “Transcender le style et la fonction: l’architecture religieuse de Viau et Venne (1898–1938)” (thèse de phd, univ. Laval, Québec, 1990). Montreal metropolis, 1880–1930, ed. Isabelle Gournay and France Vanlaethem (Toronto, 1998). Montreal Urban Community, Planning Dept. of the Territory, Architecture civile (2v., Montréal, 1980–81), 1 (Les édifices publics); 2 (Les édifices scolaires); Architecture religieuse (2v., Montréal, 1981–84), 1 (Les églises); 2 (Les couvents). Luc Noppen, Les églises du Québec (1600–1850) (Québec, 1977). Who’s who and why, 1917–21. Who’s who in Canada, 1922–29.