JANSON (Jeanson), dit Lapalme, DOMINIQUE, architect, land surveyor; b. 2 April 1701 at Quebec, son of Pierre Janson, dit Lapalme, and Madeleine-Ursule Rancin; d. 27 May 1762 at Quebec.
The Janson, dit Lapalme, family had a strong craft tradition. The progenitor of this clan was Pierre Janson, dit Lapalme, a Parisian stonemason who was brought to Canada in 1688 by Bishop Saint-Vallier [La Croix*]. Pierre Janson was indentured to the Quebec seminary and during his term of service worked on the parish church of Quebec. He later became a partner of Jean Le Rouge*, a masonry contractor, and one of their works was the Saint-Louis gate of Quebec. In 1708 Janson received a land surveyor’s commission, and he went to Montreal soon after, his family following in 1710.
Pierre Janson, dit Lapalme, evidently had a reputation for fine stonework. In 1710 he was engaged to complete the lower façade of Notre-Dame de Montréal and in 1712 and 1719 he undertook work on the façade of the Recollet chapel and the body of the Jesuit church in Montreal. He was also the builder and architect of the second church at Varennes in 1718. None of his major works has survived to the present day.
Pierre was thrice married and he fathered 22 children. Of the seven sons who reached adulthood, Christophe, Louis, Dominique, Charles, and Philippe became stonemasons. Such trade solidarity was common in France but it was rare in the freer society of New France. Dominique was the most successful son. He was probably trained as a mason and stone-cutter by his father, and was, to judge from subsequent crown contracts and appointments, a competent draughtsman. The Quebec seminary possesses two books by Augustin-Charles Daviler, L’architecture de Vignole avec les commentaires du Sr Daviler (Paris, 1720) and Explication des termes d’architecture (Paris, 1720) that Dominique used.
At the age of 25, Dominique was already an independent stonemason and contractor in Montreal. In July 1726 he promised to build a two-storey stone house for Pierre de Lestage “following the plan and drawings that will be given to him.” On 12 February of that year, Janson, who styled himself “architect and masonry contractor,” had married Marie-Joseph, the 17-year-old daughter of the Montreal builder Pierre Couturier*, dit Le Bourguignon. His brother Louis had married in 1722 another daughter of Couturier, Jeanne-Charlotte.
Janson’s fortune was favoured by a program of military construction in the 1730s. He was a capable builder but private contracts usually offered only limited profits. In 1731 he won the crown contracts for three of the four major gates into Montreal and parts of the town wall. Intendant Gilles Hocquart* wrote on 18 Oct. 1731 that he “granted the undertaking [for the gates] to Sieur LaPalme who will complete it in accordance with the estimate of Sieur [Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry]. . . . Sieur LaPalme is a very good worker.”
Work on the fortifications continued into 1734 when Lapalme received a primary contract for Fort Saint-Frédéric (Crown Point, N.Y.). In late 1734 and early 1735 Janson hired masons and stone-cutters in Quebec and Montreal. He also contracted with quarrymen, lime-burners, draymen, and a man to mix mortar for the great project. Although he still lived in Montreal, he was a frequent visitor at Fort Saint-Frédéric in the period 1735–42. In 1742 he was entrusted with work on the side chapels of Notre-Dame de Montréal church.
His major undertaking as a masonry contractor was for the gates and watch towers (guérites) of Quebec. The capture of Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), in 1745 led to the decision to complete Quebec’s defences, and the work there lasted until 1749. Dominique took on Michel Denis and his own brothers, Philippe and Charles, as partners. The partners disagreed over the sharing of the profits and Charles went his own way after 1746.
Dominique received official recognition from the crown in 1751. On 10 September he was given the title of “king’s architect” with a commission “to serve under our [the intendant’s] orders or for the convenience of private citizens who are building houses.” This post did not, it seems, involve any novel duties. Dominique had already served the crown and public as a builder and architect and he continued to act, but with greater frequency, as a surveyor and legal estimator. Quebec was now to be Janson’s permanent home. His wife, who had borne him no children, died a few weeks after they had moved into their new home on Rue de la Fabrique.
Janson’s appointment as king’s architect prepared him for the higher post of acting chief road commissioner (grand voyer). In 1757 he was performing the duties of a deputy road commissioner in Quebec, that is, establishing property alignments and severances. He first appears as acting chief road commissioner in November 1758 and he continued to exercise this office until his death in 1762. He left no descendants. His second marriage, to Madeleine Trefflé, dit Rottot, young widow of the merchant Luc Schmid, was also childless.
Janson’s career was produced by a mixture of talent and good luck. Like Jean-Baptiste Maillou, dit Desmoulins, an earlier king’s architect in New France, Dominique Janson had a chance to show his ability in the execution of military building contracts. Thus he came to the attention of the government and became a candidate for an official appointment.
Both Pierre and Dominique Janson, dit Lapalme, planned many of the private structures that they built, but their major undertakings usually followed the plans of others. Their careers show that an architect in New France was not necessarily the designer of a building. The term “architect” was given to a builder who understood the terminology of architecture and who was capable of superintending construction according to another’s design.
AJQ, Registre d’état civil, Notre-Dame de Québec, 9 nov. 1751, 15 avril 1761, 29 mai 1762; Registre d’état civil, fort Beauharnois de la Pointe-à-la-Chevelure, 24 juill. 1735, 7 oct. 1742. AN, Col., C11A, 55, pp.183–84; Section Outre-Mer G3 [many original, notarized contracts for the crown were taken to France after the conquest and may now be found in this series which also contains Chaussegros de Léry’s specifications for the fortifications at Montreal and Saint-Frédéric. p n m.] (copies at PAC). ANQ, Greffe de R.-C. Barolet, 27 oct. 1734, 10 oct. 1747, 24 sept. 1751, 15 mai 1755; Greffe de Louis Chambalon, 18 déc. 1701, 28 févr. 1703, 10 juin 1704; Greffe de François Genaple de Bellefonds, 3 juin 1693; Greffe de J.-C. Panet, 24 août 1752, 12 avril 1761; Greffe de Simon Sanguinet, 26 oct. 1751, 20 juin 1755; AP, Dominique Janson-Lapalme; NF, Coll. de pièces jud. et not., 1325, 1836, 1895, 1924. ANQ-M, Greffe de J.-B. Adhémar, 12, 14, 22 nov. 1734, 3 mai 1735; Greffe de N.-A. Guillet de Chaumont, 8, 9, sept. 1732; Greffe de Michel Lepailleur, 11 févr. 1726, passim; Greffe de J.-C. Raimbault, 27 févr. 1729, 9 mai 1731, 18 sept. 1732, 26 mars 1735; Greffe de Pierre Raimbault, 7 juill. 1726. ASQ, Seigneuries, VIII, 20, 20A; Séminaire, XXXVII, 88, 89; CCII, 122. PAC, MG 24, L3, pp.22253–58, 22409–16, 22460–64, 25714–17, 25910–13 (sales of property made to and by Pierre and Dominique Janson Lapalme before Montreal notaries in the period 1715–18).
L’île de Montréal en 1731 (A. Roy), 43. Inv. des papiers de Léry (P.-G. Roy), II, 89. É.-Z. Massicotte, “Maçons, entrepreneurs, architectes,” BRH, XXXV (1929), 139–40. P.-G. Roy, Inv. jug. et délib., 1717–1760, IV, 302; V, 189; Inv. ord. int., II, 232; III, 87, 159. Pierre Mayrand, Sources de l’art en Nouvelle-France (Québec, 1963). Gowans, Church architecture in New France. Gérard Morisset, L’architecture en Nouvelle-France (Québec, 1949), 133.