CHARTIER, ÉTIENNE, journalist, lawyer, educator, Roman Catholic priest, school administrator, and Patriote; b. 26 Dec. 1798 in Saint-Pierre-de-la-Rivière-du-Sud, Lower Canada, son of Jean-Baptiste Chartier and Marie-Geneviève Picard Destroimaisons; d. 6 July 1853 at Quebec.
Étienne Chartier was the son of a farmer, and the sixth in a family of ten. His childhood was spent in an environment firmly rooted in the values of rural society and the religious traditions that were part of it: work in the fields, close relations between neighbours and exchanges of information about the crops, strict observance of religious practices, and the strong moral authority of the parish priest. At Saint-Pierre-de-la-Rivière-du-Sud, where they had settled shortly before 1760, the Chartiers were considered difficult, quarrelsome, and formidable as neighbours. On occasion they would take issue with the priest. In 1803 for example, when the curé of Saint-Pierre-du-Sud, Joseph-Michel Paquet, decided to abolish the patronal feast-day, which was accompanied by celebrations with all kinds of excesses, Chartier’s father openly showed his disapproval. The hostility of the Chartiers towards the British was also well known. This attitude was scarcely surprising in a family in which paternal and maternal grandfathers had joined with the Bostonnais during the American occupation in 1776 to repulse the British troops that had moved into the parish. Consequently, from childhood Chartier had learned to curse British tyranny, and had begun to develop a spirit of independence which he would increasingly manifest as he grew up.
Chartier could have followed in the footsteps of his father and brothers. But since he was not robust his parents thought he would not make a good farmer, and decided to send him to the Latin primary school in Saint-Pierre-de-la-Rivière-du-Sud, at which the principal teacher was M. Lavignon, the former sacristan of the Jesuits’ chapel at Quebec. Among other things, Lavignon initiated him into an austere piety, thus playing a crucial role in nurturing Chartier’s earliest religious beliefs. After a year of Latin in 1810–11, Chartier went directly into the second form at the Petit Séminaire de Québec in September 1811. Quebec, with its House of Assembly, the scene of parliamentary debates and numerous political struggles, strengthened the country lad’s sense of belonging to the nationalistic milieu in which he had been brought up. Chartier felt drawn to the French Canadian cause. He no doubt was able to discuss these questions with his classmate Elzéar Bédard*, son of Pierre-Stanislas*. When he reached the higher forms, he took even greater interest in public life, which fascinated him. Like his colleagues, he closely followed the career of Louis-Joseph Papineau*, at the time when Papineau was emerging more and more clearly as the new leader of the French Canadians. He was a fervent admirer of Papineau, and was a witness to the signing of his marriage contract in April 1818.
That year Chartier successfully completed his studies at the Petit Séminaire de Québec. An exceptionally gifted student, he stood among the first in his class, and at the end of the year was awarded most of the prizes on the honours list. He was drawn to the priesthood, and formed friendships with classmates who shared the same aspirations. During his years at the seminary he probably spent more time with Ignace Bourget*, later bishop of Montreal, than with anyone else. However, the two young men apparently did not have much influence on each other, for their personalities were already very different.
At the end of his studies, Chartier decided to become a priest, and then, changing his mind, chose a legal career. His choice hardly seems surprising: it corresponded to the vogue for the liberal professions among classical college graduates at the beginning of the 19th century. With the advent of the parliamentary régime and the decline of the seigneurial class, men in the liberal professions commanded respect in French Canadian society by their outstanding qualities and leadership. By the same token, they assumed the direction of their compatriots’ nationalism, articulating French Canadian interests, values, and themes. Some of them were even persuaded to the ideals of republicanism, democracy, and secularism. Once out of the seminary and the certainty of its universe, Chartier felt in harmony with the ideals of the new professional class, the beginning of an important shift in his thinking.
In the autumn of 1818 Chartier decided to stay at Quebec and study law. He began his training under Louis Lagueux*, who was to become member for Dorchester in the House of Assembly in 1820. A nationalist of liberal bent, Lagueux received Chartier courteously, and secured lodgings for him with his father, Louis. Chartier was a young newcomer in a law office, without money or support, but he had a liking for ideas and books. Everything interested and excited him. At the beginning of the 1820s, when the question of providing for the civil establishment was the focus of political conflict, Chartier was consumed with desire to intervene in the debate, and it was in all probability to this end that he accepted the position of editor for Le Canadien, which had been revived by François Blanchet*. There he met Augustin-Norbert Morin*, his associate in taking over the direction of the paper. He got on very well with Morin, who was young, nationalistic, and intellectual, and they established a lasting friendship. Both of them wrote leading articles: Chartier was interested in the question of education and Morin gave his attention to the granting of supplies. However, in 1821, a year after their appointment, the two young journalists resigned because of ideological differences with the owners over the orientation to be given the paper.
His hopes dashed, Chartier decided that year to resume legal studies under Denis-Benjamin Viger* at Montreal. Viger’s law office was undoubtedly the best that Chartier could have chosen for his training in this professional milieu. At that time at least six students were articled to Viger, who, next to Papineau, was the most prominent leader of the Canadian party. Chartier continued his apprenticeship in an environment that stimulated him and kindled his enthusiasm. He was in contact with young men who were passionately nationalistic and steeped in liberal ideals. On 31 Dec. 1823 he was given his lawyer’s commission by the governor-in-chief, Lord Dalhousie [Ramsay*], and thus joined the crowded professional ranks. Montreal already had at least 50 lawyers, and in this field the English-speaking lawyers were giving relentless competition. Burdened with debts contracted while articling, for which his creditors threatened to sue, Chartier was at a disadvantage when he took up practice.
In January 1825 Rémi Gaulin, the priest of Saint-Pierre-du-Portage (parish of L’Assomption-de-la-Sainte-Vierge) at L’Assomption, invited him to set up a fabrique school there. When he left Montreal that month, Chartier felt the need for a period of reflection and still had only vague plans about his vocation. As soon as he had settled in the parish, he lost no time in bringing the neighbourhood children together to begin classes. Until then Chartier had been well received by the clergy as a whole and had encountered no difficulty with his superiors. On 25 Dec. 1825 Jean-Jacques Lartigue*, Quebec’s auxiliary bishop at Montreal, conferred the tonsure on him in Saint-Jacques church. Yet Chartier remained preoccupied and anxious about his priestly vocation. In the final period it became harder and harder for him to be clear about his own intentions. Sometimes he did not have the courage to respond to a vocation growing steadfastly for more than a year; at other times he declared that he would become a priest when the clergy paid his debts. He even accused Jacques-Guillaume Roque*, his confessor, of having hastened his tonsuring. His ambivalence about his vocation would surely heighten the inner vacillation that would dog his ministry. It was obvious that priesthood would not bring peace to this unstable, passionate man. For this reason and others that are unknown, various ecclesiastical authorities opposed his entering the Grand Séminaire de Québec. But they soon changed their minds, for the dioceses of Quebec and Montreal were short of priests, the clergy was ageing, and there were few recruits.
In the autumn of 1826 Chartier entered the Grand Séminaire de Québec, a few weeks after his brother Pierre had agreed to make him a loan so he could repay his debts. Chartier thus complied with the rule that all candidates for the subdiaconate be free of debts. During his stay at the seminary he was engaged largely in teaching and supervision and like his colleagues had little time to devote to his theological training. He indeed was quite satisfied with this state of affairs, since his theological studies struck him as inferior and humdrum. In February 1828 a brief illness forced him to take a rest. He seized this opportunity to read works on education. Learning of his research, Charles-François Painchaud*, the priest of Sainte-Anne parish at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière (La Pocatière), contemplated making him principal of the new Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière, and invited him to submit a proposal outlining the educational scheme that he would set up there. Chartier applied himself resolutely to the task.
Imbued with liberal ideas, Chartier centred his report on the concept of liberty, and made himself the voice of reason. At the college corporal punishment would be abolished, close friendships would be tolerated, certificates of confession would be forbidden, and confession and communion would not be obligatory, even at Easter. For all practical purposes discipline would be replaced by the student’s sense of responsibility and feelings of honour and loyalty. Political education would take the same direction. As in the community at large, the students would be invited to choose their representatives; they would also have their own newspaper, and the authorities would not be involved in it. A tribunal consisting of a jury of duly elected students and chaired by the principal would be responsible for reprimanding those who committed offences. Such a political apprenticeship would also serve as a powerful means of imparting a patriotic education. The college would become, as it were, a large city in which each person would discharge his duties but also exercise his rights. As for specific teaching methods, the teachers would emphasize reasoning and systematically reject memorization as a learning process. Chartier was by no means alone in proposing reforms in education. From the beginning of the century various members of the liberal bourgeoisie had been denouncing the discipline prevailing in the colleges and advocating a fresh pedagogical approach. Whether he was aware of it or not, Chartier wrote his proposal in a period of unrest and discontent. A tireless worker, he also started on a short analytical French grammar for use in the college.
Chartier took the final steps to the priesthood at the end of 1828. On 8 December he received the diaconate, and three weeks later was ordained priest in the cathedral of Quebec. However, he had to wait another eight months before the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière accepted him. In the mean time the bishop of Quebec, Bernard-Claude Panet*, appointed him curate of Saint-Gervais parish, near Quebec. At that period of his life Chartier was still a priest known only in the restricted milieu to which he devoted himself. His own ideas were slowly maturing but he avoided expressing them openly. It was at the college that he would have the chance to communicate them. Chartier was officially appointed principal at the beginning of September 1829 and on his arrival he was invited to deliver the inaugural address for the college. In the presence of local dignitaries and Joseph Signay*, the coadjutor to the bishop of Quebec, he used the occasion to attack the British oligarchy, which he held responsible for the woes of the colony. In his speech he also condemned some of his compatriots as propagandists of doctrinaire liberalism. These last assertions might suggest that he had finally rejected liberalism and moved closer to his ecclesiastical colleagues on this issue. However, other statements would later show that he had not rejected any of his earlier liberal ideas.
Chartier’s comments caused an outcry. The English-language papers in Lower Canada seized on the affair and demanded his dismissal. The French Canadian press riposted and applauded his attacks on British officialdom. The incident assumed the proportions of a state crisis. The matter was brought up in the British House of Commons. At the beginning of November the administrator of Lower Canada, Sir James Kempt, and the bishop of Quebec summoned him and insisted on an explanation for his conduct. Chartier was not relieved of his office, but he remained none the less hurt and shaken. Furthermore, after this incident his educational plan met with a poor reception. He was increasingly regarded as an intruder and, at that, one who liked to make trouble. The curé Painchaud and the young teachers did everything they could to drive him out of the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière. It was insinuated, among other things, that he had corrupted some of the students, and this rumour spread like wildfire through ecclesiastical circles. During the summer of 1830 Chartier became increasingly vulnerable because of the tension caused by the reactions to his speech and the many rumours of sodomy being spread about him. Brought up to date on the affair, Bishop Panet placed him in a closed retreat at the Grand Séminaire de Québec. By now Chartier was a priest with a stigma, condemned for ever by the ecclesiastical authorities. His early beginnings would be mirrored in his enduring experiences through countless ups and downs.
In March 1831, after six months of seclusion, Chartier was appointed priest of Sainte-Martine parish near Châteauguay. In this heavily populated community where, however, settlement was widely scattered, he was charged with a difficult ministry, made more burdensome by constant travelling. He carried out his duties honourably but did not manage to rid himself of debts contracted after his ordination. Despite his difficult experience at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière, his political convictions had not changed. He continued to read La Minerve, and corresponded with Ludger Duvernay, who had been imprisoned at the beginning of 1832. His frequent trips to Montreal also led him to maintain a steady connection with the Patriote circle. Consequently he quickly awakened Bishop Lartigue’s distrust and the two soon came into conflict.
The difficulty began when Chartier opposed the churchwardens’ use of parish funds for the restoration and decoration of the church vaulting. Chartier thought that the fabrique of Sainte-Martine had insufficient resources to assume such expenses. The churchwardens, with the support of prominent parishioners, then declared open war on him. In the circumstances, Bishop Lartigue sought to avoid the worst by offering Chartier another parish. The incident was minor, given that in this period a number of priests met a similar fate in the course of their careers. But Chartier refused to submit to the decision, and asked to meet the bishop of Quebec in the hope of obtaining a parish in that diocese. Lartigue was annoyed and reprimanded him vehemently. A rift was created between them which with time would widen into a chasm. The conflict was temporarily resolved when the two bishops agreed to appoint Chartier priest of Saint-Pierre-les-Becquets (at Les Becquets), a parish no priest wanted, in which the diocesan authority placed priests offering “few guarantees.”
Indeed, for some ten years this parish had been caught up in violent quarrels provoked by the problem of getting its church built. Two factions had split the community along classic lines: the first, which included the seigneur, small merchants, and professional men, insisted that the church be erected in the village; the second, composed of farmers, wanted to have it built a little farther out, in the countryside. Chartier arrived at Saint-Pierre-les-Becquets at the end of 1833 when the crisis reached its peak. The affair burst into the newspapers, and one of the factions launched a lawsuit. The new parish priest hesitated to take a stand at the outset; then he changed his mind and lent his support to the farmers’ group. He met with resentment everywhere for having backed it. The village notables approached the new bishop of Quebec, Joseph Signay, and demanded that Chartier be dismissed from the parish. Once again his bishop sacrificed him and assigned him to another charge.
Chartier could never reconcile himself to having been abandoned by the bishop of Quebec, and seems to have been more affected by the attitude of Signay in 1834 than by that of Lartigue the year before. These transfers, which he considered ill timed, led him perforce to criticize a system which gave parish priests no certainty of tenure. According to Chartier, this system had made the clergy in Lower Canada effectively dependent upon their bishops. Consequently he demanded the application of the Tridentine right, which guaranteed permanent tenure to the incumbents of parishes. In this respect Chartier happened to be reviving on his own account the rumblings of discontent which especially in the past ten years or so had been disturbing the lower ranks of the French Canadian clergy. Nevertheless, it was not the only claim he articulated against episcopal authority. His difficult experience as a rural priest made him also much more critical of the institutional and disciplinary arrangements of the church, so that his curiosity was directed to problems often overlooked: the locus of decision-making within the church, the priesthood as a career, and the use of sanctions against the most refractory clergy. Quite clearly it was the whole edifice of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, with its decision-making processes and its modes of participation, that Chartier was inclined to call in question. Of course his individual action failed to carry the day at a time when the diocesan authorities had succeeded in re-establishing ecclesiastical discipline and put an end to a disputatious trend in the church. Left to himself, Chartier was carried along more and more swiftly towards disaster.
During the autumn of 1834 Chartier also ventured to challenge the political authorities, and rallied the Patriote party on the question of the Jesuit estates [see Antoine-Nicolas Braun*] and the issue of meetings of the fabriques [see Louis Bourdages*]. From then on Chartier began to associate regularly with the principal leaders of this party. He took an active part in the election campaign in Nicolet riding, and passionately defended the objectives of the 92 Resolutions. In the same year he insisted that the clergy should not stay out of political struggles. Despite the division that developed between the clergy and the members of the assembly during debate on the bill concerning fabrique meetings, he urged his colleagues to give their support to the Patriote party. Chartier’s latest stand meant open conflict with his superiors. At the end of 1834 the bishop of Quebec officially dismissed him as priest of the parish of Saint-Pierre-les-Becquets and assigned him to the wretched parish of Saint-Patrice (at Rivière-du-Loup). In the months that followed Chartier did not alter his convictions in the slightest, and defended them with the same determination. But the weight of his debts continued to plague him and made it necessary for him to seek a better parish. During the summer of 1835 Bishop Lartigue refused point-blank to grant Chartier a parish in his diocese. Then he changed his mind and agreed to appoint him curé of Saint-Benoît parish (at Mirabel), on condition that he cease to fight against the Executive Council and abandon his views on the permanent tenure of parish priests and on the fabrique meetings. After the 1837–38 rebellion, when his relations with Lartigue were extremely strained, Chartier would even accuse his bishop of having driven him into a trap in giving him Saint-Benoit.
In 1836 Saint-Benoit was already one of the principal centres of political agitation. Numerous public meetings were held there; several leaders of the Lac des Deux-Montagnes region, notably Jean-Olivier Chénier* and Jean-Baptiste Dumouchel*, came to preach revolution. In this partisan setting, Chartier lost no time in becoming extremely active in local Patriote circles. He sat on the committees, attended the meetings, and took part in nearly all the popular demonstrations in the county. He likewise made himself conspicuous by the violence of his comments, particularly in his sermons, in which he raged against the British government and the colonial régime. He continued also to attack his superiors, always with the same vigour and persistence as in earlier years. Any excuse sufficed to fight against Bishop Lartigue, who distrusted his temperamental excesses and considered him “wrong-headed.”
For their part, the Patriote leaders had a high regard for Chartier and increasingly sought his support to establish broad public trust. In May 1837 he was invited to take part in Ludger Duvernay’s election campaign in Lachenaie riding. At a meeting in Saint-Scholastique (Mirabel) in June, Chartier harangued his fellow-citizens and introduced Papineau as “the country’s saviour.” In the autumn he preached several sermons inciting his parishioners to armed revolt. Always active and impassioned, he even visited the neighbouring parishes in an endeavour to rally the farmers to the Patriote cause. At the end of October Lartigue’s pastoral letter gave him another opportunity to support the revolutionary aims of the Patriote movement and to attack the church’s official stand on the rebellion. Chartier reproached Lartigue primarily for having adopted in this letter the theory of theocratic absolutism, which identifies as the only authority in human society the power of sovereigns appointed by God and destined to rule in an absolute manner over mankind. There are, he said, “cases where a sovereign may lose his authority, namely when he oppresses the religion of his people or when he violates the fundamental laws of his state.”
No other parish priest had dared to criticize the pastoral letter from this angle. Furthermore, most priests blindly followed their superiors’ directives and condemned the revolutionary movement in violent language. Like their bishop, these priests idealized the ancien régime and divine right monarchy, ardently defended obedience to the civil authority, and affirmed their fierce hostility to any revolution. In fact Chartier was the only priest who engaged himself in the revolutionary movement. On the eve of the battle of Saint-Eustache on 13 Dec. 1837, he went to this parish to harangue the armed forces in the village. On the same day he attended an important meeting at the headquarters of the Deux-Montagnes battalion of militia. He was still in the parish when fighting broke out, but he soon realized the cause was hopeless and fled to the United States. His participation in the battle of Saint-Eustache gave rise to the gravest conflict so far. On 27 Jan. 1838 Bishop Lartigue committed himself to institute proceedings against him under canon law and suspended him from his parish charge. The British government offered a reward of £500 for his capture.
Once he was settled in the United States, Chartier established contact with the principal Patriote leaders who had taken refuge near the border. On 9 Jan. 1838 he attended a meeting at Swanton, Vt. Robert Nelson* and Cyrille-Hector-Octave Côté* won those assembled to their views and proposed to draw up a plan to invade Lower Canada. Chartier certainly subscribed to these objectives, but at the time he wanted above all to find himself a new parish. Hence his role among those who had fled Lower Canada remains difficult to determine. He certainly did not take part in the attempted invasion in February. After the meeting at Swanton he went directly to Pennsylvania, settling first in Clearfield and then a few months later at Philadelphia. There he met the bishop of the diocese, Henry Conwell, who entrusted him with St Augustine parish. He got on very well with Conwell, who drew his warm admiration, for in Chartier’s eyes he personified the democratic, liberal prelate. Chartier then urged Conwell to use his influence with Lartigue to get him to restore his right to serve as a priest. In August 1838, through the good offices of the bishop of Philadelphia, Lartigue agreed to a compromise: Chartier could exercise his ministry in the United States but could not resume his duties in the Montreal region. Chartier made an even more direct approach to John England, the bishop of Charleston, S.C., who was the papal legate to the United States, with the intent, basically, to prepare for a fresh struggle against Lartigue’s pastoral letter of October 1837.
Chartier did not remain idle in Philadelphia. He gave his attention to St Augustine parish, where he was amazed to find men and women won over to liberalism, who admired democratic institutions and were sworn enemies of the British monarchy. In his writings he expressed on many occasions the firm hope of seeing the two Canadas become independent. In July 1838 Papineau stayed in Philadelphia for a few weeks. Chartier was able to meet the Patriote leader and introduce him to the bishop of Philadelphia. Although he did not at that time exercise a direct influence on the revolutionary endeavour, Chartier none the less remained in touch with some of the refugees. At the beginning of October he learned that plans were being readied near the Canadian-American border for a new insurrection. Without the slightest hesitation he left Philadelphia, and he managed to obtain a new parish at Salina near Syracuse, N.Y. From there he journeyed regularly to Plattsburgh, Swanton, and St Albans to maintain communication with the refugees. He even joined personally in the preparations for a rising in November, making clear in this way his unconditional support for the radical group under Côté and Nelson. Gradually, through his role within the revolutionary structure, he assumed as important a place in it as he had occupied in 1837.
After their failure in November 1838, the insurgents turned more and more against Papineau. Meetings at Swanton on 24 Jan. 1839 and at Corbeau, N.Y., on 18 March reflected this state of mind. During the deliberations, Chartier unhesitatingly gave his support to Nelson and Côté. He had idolized Papineau too much to refrain from calling him to account for his role and his participation in the rebellions of 1837–38. He was one of those who, although not accepting the radicals’ ideology, were ready to reject Papineau and embark on a new revolutionary adventure, telling themselves that ideological differences would moderate after victory. With Nelson, Côté, Édouard-Élisée Malhiot*, and several other associates, he urged Papineau to go to France, for his passive, even disapproving attitude was causing considerable harm to the movement. It was he who approached Julie Bruneau, Papineau’s wife, asking her to try to influence her husband’s decision. Subsequently, with Nelson and Côté, he attempted unsuccessfully to devise several plans for the invasion of Lower Canada. In 1839 he went there incognito, with the hope of rallying farmers anew to the revolutionary cause.
But conflicts quickly arose between Chartier and Nelson’s group. While remaining very much a partisan of independence, the revolutionary priest continued to profess a moderate form of liberalism. He could not bring himself to accept the social program of the radicals, who demanded in particular separation of church and state and abolition of both the tithe and seigneurial rights. Disillusioned, he turned against them and decided to support Papineau once more. In November 1839 he wrote Papineau a long letter reproaching him for his cowardice and inviting him to place himself at the head of a new revolutionary movement. He also denounced his conduct before and during the rebellion. In February 1840 the revolutionary committee, probably to get rid of Chartier, sent him to France where he was to evaluate Papineau’s success in finding political allies. He was instructed to replace Papineau if that proved necessary. The task, which required him to deal directly with the former Patriote leader, suited Chartier, for he wanted to know Papineau’s real intentions with regard to the revolutionary movement. It also gave him an opportunity to plead his case in Rome against Bishop Lartigue. In Paris Chartier met Papineau, who was ill disposed to cooperate and not anxious to seek support for organizing another revolt. Chartier declared him “purely and simply a demagogue, and in no way a statesman.” He was bitterly disappointed. In his distress and discouragement he began to have doubts about his mission. With the death of Lartigue in April 1840 a trip to Rome was pointless, and he embarked for the United States in August. In these few months all he had gained from his actions was the hostility of Papineau and of Nelson’s radical group. On his arrival he settled in Indiana, where Célestin de La Hailandière, the bishop of Vincennes, made him priest of the parish of Madisonville (Madison).
As a result of the numerous disappointments he had experienced in the Patriote milieu, and the void left by the failure of the rebellion in 1837–38, Chartier decided to abandon the revolutionary movement. In 1841 he returned to Lower Canada, to ask pardon publicly of Bishop Bourget, Lartigue’s successor. On 10 December he published a long letter in Le Canadien disavowing his previous activities. Bourget persuaded him to remain for a period of time in the United States, so that people in Lower Canada would forget their image of him as a revolutionary. In March 1842 Chartier settled once more in Madisonville; he subsequently proposed to enter the community of the Brothers of St Joseph. He seems to have abandoned this plan, since in 1843 he was appointed principal of the Catholic seminary at Vincennes. Then in 1844–45 he was in Louisiana, where he served the parish of Avoyelles at Marksville. His passionate fondness for travel was certainly a factor in these journeys, although the real motives remain somewhat obscure. In any case, Chartier could not miss such a fine opportunity to learn more about American society. However, the plight of the blacks and of the French minority soon aroused his indignation. In these circumstances, the annexation of Lower Canada to the United States no longer seemed a valid means of preserving the institutions and language of his compatriots. Following his difficult experience in Louisiana, Chartier wanted to return home. At the end of 1845, after several fruitless approaches to the bishops of Quebec and Montreal, he finally got Bourget to grant him Saint-Grégoire parish (at Mont-Saint-Grégoire).
On his return from exile, Chartier openly adopted the moderate ideas of the group around Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine* and categorically rejected those of his former Patriote friends. The rancours, past frustrations, and innumerable denunciations led him increasingly to keep his distance from his new superiors. In his parish he again displayed unbounded energy: he gave consolation and comfort, and saw to it that his parishioners regularly received the sacraments. Eager to gain Bourget’s confidence, he openly led a struggle against the Protestant proselytizing that was spreading in the Dorchester (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu) region [see Henriette Odin*]. In 1849 La Fontaine’s moderate group, fearing the strength of the Rouges and the consequences of Papineau’s return from exile, approached Chartier and urged him to publish in the papers his famous 1839 letter addressed to Papineau. Unaware of what lay behind this move, Chartier agreed, believing that in this way he was working for the emancipation of his compatriots. His action brought down upon him the fury of various papers and of former Patriote friends. In fact this was his last foray into politics; bitterly disappointed by those around him, he never again experienced any desire to involve himself in public affairs.
In 1850, as a result of conflicts with some parishioners, Chartier asked to be transferred to the parish of Sainte-Philomène (at Mercier). There he again found himself at the centre of a quarrel provoked by the problem of repairs to the church. Fearing the worst, he urged the bishop of Montreal to send him as a missionary to Arichat, N.S. A year later he asked to be brought back into the diocese of Quebec and was made priest of the parish of Saint-Gilles near Quebec. He was a broken man who had almost no contact with the politicians and priests around him. He was still in debt and in 1852 claimed £455 from the Rebellion Losses Commission for possessions pillaged by the volunteers at Saint-Benoît. He died at the Hôpital Général at Quebec on 6 July 1853 from the after-effects of a liver complaint, and was buried at Saint-Gilles. Only one member of his family and two priests from the Séminaire de Québec were present at his funeral.
Throughout his adult life, Étienne Chartier as a parish priest was totally different from his colleagues. He was a man of his time, who took close interest in the problems of his contemporaries and adopted stances that condemned him to isolation. In his day Chartier was a catalyst of strong passions, which unfortunately made sport of him and finally reduced him to the state of victim, spurned, detested, and scorned by all.
[Étienne Chartier is the author of essays dealing primarily with educational issues. His writings include a descriptive curriculum for the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière (La Pocatière, Qué.) prepared in 1828 as well as a short analytical French grammar for the students and an educational plan for the college produced in 1829. The curriculum and the educational plan are held in the Arch. du collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière, in Collège, 112-II and 51-VI respectively.
There is a great deal of material relating to Chartier in various archival collections. For documents concerning his childhood, youth, and education, see: ACAM, 355.114, 826-3; ANQ-M, CN1-28, 18 sept. 1821; Arch. de l’évêché de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière, Saint-Pierre-du-Sud, corr. J.-M. Paquet; corr. M. Vallée; and PAC, RG 4, B8, 21: 7659–62.
For his career in the priesthood, the following sources should be consulted: AAQ, 210 A; 26 CP, VI: 45; ACAM, 420.048; RLL; RLB; Arch. de l’évêché de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière, Sainte-Anne (La Pocatière), Chartier à C.-F. Cazeau, 12 juill. 1830, and Saint-Patrice (Rivière-du-Loup), corr. Étienne Chartier; Arch. du collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière, Collège; Fonds Painchaud; ASN, AP-G, L.-É. Bois, G, 6: 348; 8: 40–42; 10: 235; 12: 291–96; ASQ, Séminaire, 9, no.84; ASSH, F, Fg-2. See also the following collections of Chartier correspondence: Arch. de la chancellerie de l’évêché de Saint-Hyacinthe (Saint-Hyacinthe, Qué.), XVII.C.33; Arch. de la chancellerie de l’évêché de Valleyfield (Valleyfield, Qué.), Sainte-Martine, and Sainte-Philomène (Mercier); Arch. de l’évêché de Nicolet, Saint-Pierre-les-Becquets (Les Becquets); Arch. de l’évêché de Saint-Jérôme (Saint-Jérôme, Qué.), Saint-Benoît (Mirabel), V1A20K.
For Chartier’s activities as a Patriote and revolutionary, it is necessary to turn to different collections. The ANQ-Q undoubtedly offers the richest source material for this aspect of his life. Relevant collections here include the Papineau family papers (P-417), the Ludger Duvernay papers (P-68), and the papers concerning the events of 1837–38 (E17/6–52). The Viger–Verreau collection at the ASQ, which contains numerous documents on his political activities, is also useful, as are the extensive Ægidius Fauteux papers deposited at the BVM-G. The PAC also holds several documents on Chartier and his participation in the rebellion of 1837–38, notably in the Papineau papers (MG 24, B2), the Perrault papers (MG 24, B37), and the L.-É. Bois papers (MG 24, K36). The Univ. of B.C. Library (Vancouver), Special Coll. Division, has a letter from Chartier to Robert Nelson, written in July 1839. Chartier’s birth and burial records are in ANQ-Q, CE2-6, 26 déc. 1798, and CE1-1, 8 juill. 1853, respectively.
The most important of the published studies of Chartier are: F.-J. Audet, “L’abbé Étienne Chartier,” Cahiers des Dix, 6 (1941): 211–23; Ægidius Fauteux, “Les carnets d’un curieux: Étienne Chartier ou les avatars d’un curé révolutionnaire,” La Patrie, 9 déc. 1933: 36–37, 39–40; Pascal Potvin, “L’aumônier des patriotes de 1837,” Le Canada français (Québec), 2e sér., 25 (1937–38): 417–32. See also “Un document important du curé Étienne Chartier sur les rébellions de 1837–38: lettre du curé Chartier adressée à Louis-Joseph Papineau en novembre 1839, à St Albans, Vermont,” Richard Chabot, édit., Écrits du Canada français (Montréal), 39 (1974): 223–55; Chabot, Le curé de campagne; “Le rôle du bas clergé face au mouvement insurrectionnel de 1837,” Cahiers de Sainte-Marie (Montréal), 5 (1967): 89–98. r.c.]
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