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BERTHELET, PIERRE, merchant and landowner; b. 15 April 1746 in Saint-Laurent, near Montreal, son of François Berthelet and Anne Boullard; m. 24 July 1775 Françoise Meloche in Detroit, and they had one son; m. secondly 2 Feb. 1779 Marguerite Viger in Boucherville, Que., and they had 13 children; d. 2 Jan. 1830 in Montreal.

Some members of the Berthelet family carried the added name of Savoyard, probably because of the part of the diocese of Geneva in which the first Berthelet to come to the colony had been born. Although Pierre Berthelet is often referred to as a doctor, nothing has been found to confirm that he practised medicine or had any medical training. Another supposition is that he worked in the fur trade. What is certain is his presence at Detroit, where he bought some pieces of land. He left there around 1776 or 1777 to settle in the province of Quebec at Lachine. His son Henry stayed behind and spent his entire life in the United States.

In 1780 Berthelet termed himself a merchant-voyageur and was probably engaged in the fur trade. In 1784 he bought a property on Rue Saint-Paul in Montreal, and at this time stated that he was a merchant in business in the town. There is no detailed information about his activities, but in 1788, 1793, 1794, and 1803 he made some sizeable wheat sales. From 1801 he invested in real estate and lent money. More than a hundred instruments signed before a notary in connection with loans, leases, and transactions concerning buildings have been located.

Real estate seems to have quickly become Berthelet’s main field of activity. According to journalist Hector Berthelot*, around 1820 he was supposed to have owned more than 100 buildings, which would make him the largest property owner in Montreal. Jacques Viger*’s work on Montreal real estate in 1825 makes it possible to establish that Berthelet was indeed the major landlord in the town. His 23 properties, some of which were very large, were located principally inside the limits of the old town and at Pointe-à-Callière. He had 61 tenants, who rented commercial as well as residential buildings. He owned one, for example, that was occupied by 43 people. At the time real estate was attractive for two reasons. Montreal’s rapid growth in the first quarter of the 19th century probably contributed to a rise in rents and, as historian Louise Dechêne has shown, in this pre-industrial milieu the return on capital put into real estate made it a relatively attractive investment.

Berthelet had also specialized in renting out cast-iron stoves. According to Berthelot, he owned about 300 and leased them out for the winter. In 1824 Berthelet came to the aid of his son Henry, who was tangled up in speculations in Detroit, and he took over responsibility for a project to build a wharf and a market there. But in 1827 he retired, leaving management of his affairs to his wife and his son Antoine-Olivier*.

Little is known about Berthelet’s family life. He seemed, however, to be concerned with assuring his descendants’ well-being. His second will, dated 1806 and modified in the years up to 1826 by a series of codicils, specified that his assets should pass to his grandchildren, and even to his great-grandchildren some day.

Pierre Berthelet’s career illustrates the transition from the 18th-century economy, which was dominated by the fur trade, to that of the early 19th century, which was more diversified. He became a lender and invested in town properties, where the possibilities were multiplying as growth in general accelerated. In his career can also be seen a diversification linked to his age: when approaching 60, Berthelet chose a field of activity easier to manage, and thus profited doubly from the situation.

Jean-Claude Robert

ANQ-M, CE1-22, 2 févr. 1779; CE1-51, 5 janv. 1830; CN1-16, 28 sept. 1801; 3 mai 1803; 12 mai 1804; 10 avril, 17, 19 sept., 19 nov. 1805; 27, 30 janv., 8 févr., 13 avril, 14 juill., 6 août, 9 oct. 1806; 14 janv., 2 févr. 1807; 12 avril 1809; 5 févr. 1820; 10 janv., 6 sept. 1826; 12 mars 1827; CN1-74, 16 mai 1788; 10 avril, 4 mai 1789; 19 nov. 1790; 10 mai 1791; 28 févr. 1793; 7 juin, 26 sept., 13 déc. 1794; 30 juin, 27 nov. 1795; 23 févr., 17 mai, 8 sept. 1802; 26 janv., 22 mars, 28 mai 1803; 16 janv., 27 févr., 14–15 nov., 13, 27 déc. 1804; 4 janv., 13–14 mars, 1er, 4 juill. 1805; 19 oct. 1807; 19 sept. 1808; 15 mars, 15 avril 1809; 3 mars, 31 oct. 1810; CN1-134, 13 nov. 1815; 27 janv., 20, 23 févr., 29 mai, 15, 17 juin, 4 juill., 16 août, 13 sept., 7 oct., 15 nov., 4, 18 déc. 1816; 8, 11 janv., 3, 5, 7 févr., 16 mai, 1er juin, 7 juill., 16, 18 août 1817; 28 oct. 1819; CN1-158, 27 juin 1780; CN1-194, 10 janv. 1805; 23 juin, 22 oct. 1808; 4 mai 1811; 7 avril 1818; CN1-243, 11 août 1807, 3 oct. 1809; CN1-313, 17 sept. 1792, 22 oct. 1806; CN1-334, 5 juill. 1804; 15 avril, 1er mai, 29–30 oct., 26, 29 nov., 2 déc. 1805; 11 mars, 5, 12, 21 oct. 1806; 21 mars, 10, 30 avril 1807; 6, 20 août 1807; 17 janv. 1809; 22, 26 oct. 1811. ASQ, Fonds Viger–Verreau, carton 46, no.9. PAC, MG 29, C89. Montréal en 1781 . . . , Claude Perrault, édit. (Montréal, 1969). La Minerve, 4 janv. 1830. Montreal Gazette, 4 Jan. 1830. Le Jeune, Dictionnaire. Tanguay, Dictionnaire. Hector Berthelot, Montréal, le bon vieux temps, É.-Z. Massicotte, compil. (2v. en 1, Montréal, 1916). Robert Rumilly, Histoire de Montréal (5v., Montréal, 1970–74), vol.2. Louise Dechêne, “La rente du faubourg Saint-Roch à Québec, 1750–1850,” RHAF, 34 (1980–81): 569–96. Édouard Fabre Surveyer, “Pierre Berthelet and his family (in Canada and in the United States),” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., 37 (1943), sect.ii: 57–76. P.-A. Linteau et J.-C. Robert, “Propriété foncière et société à Montréal: une hypothèse,” RHAF, 28 (1974–75): 45–65. É.-Z. Massicotte, “Un philanthrope canadien-français, M. A.-O. Berthelet,” BRH, 22 (1916): 183–85. Léon Trépanier, “Un philanthrope d’autrefois: Antoine-Olivier Berthelet,” CCHA Rapport, 28 (1961): 19–25.

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Cite This Article

Jean-Claude Robert, “BERTHELET, PIERRE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 25, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/berthelet_pierre_6E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/berthelet_pierre_6E.html
Author of Article: Jean-Claude Robert
Title of Article: BERTHELET, PIERRE
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1987
Year of revision: 1987
Access Date: October 25, 2014