ACHINTRE, AUGUSTE (baptized Joseph-Frédéric-Auguste), journalist and essayist; b. 19 March 1834 at Besançon, France, son of Guillaume-Auguste Achintre, a pharmacist, and Anne-Marie Duprey; d. 25 June 1886 in Montreal, Que.
Before coming to Canada, Auguste Achintre led an eventful life. After his father’s death, he was brought up at Aix-en-Provence by his uncle Joseph Achintre, a professor of humanities at the university, who had a decisive influence on him. After trying a military career Achintre returned to literature and studied in Paris with the great masters of the time. He also took courses at the Conservatoire Royal de Musique et de Déclamation in Paris in order “to lose his southern accent.” Going to the West Indies for a few weeks, he remained on the island of Haiti for five years; there he launched newspapers, published a few books, and dabbled in politics before being imprisoned and condemned to death. When a republic was restored in Haiti by Fabre-Nicolas Geffrard in 1859, Achintre was pardoned and appointed Haitian ambassador to Washington. But by the time he reached New York, after a shipwreck had taken him to Bermuda, the new régime had been temporarily overthrown and he was no longer an ambassador. He then joined a French theatrical company which was touring America. It brought him to Montreal around 1861. He then decided to make a career in journalism in Canada, where he finally settled in 1866.
For nearly 20 years Achintre contributed to such papers as L’Événement of Quebec City and to La Minerve, La Presse, and especially Le Pays of Montreal; according to his contemporary Gustave-Adolphe Drolet, he even “edited” Le Pays for a while. He was also editor of L’Opinion publique of Montreal in 1875, moving thus from polemical journals to a publication which, in his own words, aimed at being “artistic and literary” and catered to all readers irrespective of their political allegiance. But Achintre eventually wearied his readers, and George-Édouard Desbarats*, one of the founders of the journal, had to resume direction of the paper in 1876 to give it “a character more in keeping with the taste, intelligence and customs of Canadian families.” Achintre then decided to return to France. In a letter to his protector, Hector-Louis Langevin*, he expressed both his disillusionment and his hopes: “An abrupt departure; decided upon all at once. . . . I am going to attempt in France, on a stage better prepared for me, what I was unable to accomplish here. I hope and believe I shall find there, in literary work, a livelihood that it is impossible to earn in Canada in this kind of occupation.” But Achintre was apparently no more successful in his native country, since he was back in Montreal as a journalist in the 1880s.
If Achintre has a place in Canadian letters, it is not as a journalist but as an author. In 1871 he published, at Montreal, Manuel électoral: portraits et dossiers parlementaires du premier parlement de Québec. With its colourful portraits and careful documentation, the Manuel was a great success when it appeared, and it is still widely consulted by historians. In 1876, Achintre and Joseph-Alexandre Crevier published a study entitled L’Île Ste. Hélène: passé, présent et avenir; géologie, paléontologie, flore et faune. He also wrote the libretti of two operas, and he published in Paris La dame verte; bluette, and in Canada several studies commissioned by the Canadian government on natural resources, canals, and the future of the country.
In addition to these works, which made their mark on contemporary Canadian literature, then still in its infancy, the following minor texts, signed by Achintre, should also be mentioned: Cantate; la Confédération (1868), celebrating a federated Canada, put to music by Jean-Baptiste Labelle* and performed at the Montreal City Hall on 7 Jan. 1868; the series of “Croquis à la plume” published in La Presse (21 March–23 May 1885); and short stories and essays in the Nouvelles soirées canadiennes, including “La salutation des morts” (1883), “Une promenade aux environs de San-Francisco” (1882), and “L’hiver en Canada” (1883).
[In addition to Manuel électoral, Auguste Achintre was the author, with Joseph-Alexandre Crevier, of L’Île Ste. Hélène: passé, présent et avenir; géologie, paléontologie, flore et faune (Montréal, 1876). Useful in the preparation of the biography were the newspapers to which Achintre contributed: L’Événement (Québec), as well as La Minerve, L’Opinion publique, Le Pays (Montréal), and La Presse. a.d.]
Le Canadien, 28 juin 1886. La Patrie, 26 juin 1886. Beaulieu et J. Hamelin, Journaux du Québec. DOLQ, I. Dominion annual register, 1886. Le Jeune, Dictionnaire. Wallace, Macmillan dict. G.-A. Drolet, Zouaviana: étape de trente ans, 1868–1898 . . . (2e éd., Montréal, 1898). “Biographies canadiennes,” BRH, 20 (1914): 189–90. “Les disparus,” BRH, 34 (1928): 76.