BERTRAND, JOSEPH-LAURENT, Roman Catholic priest; b. 6 Nov. 1741 in Montreal (Que.), son of Jacques Bertrand, a mason, and Marie-Louise Dumouchel; d. 29 Oct. 1813 in Rivière-du-Loup (Louiseville), Lower Canada.
On 31 Aug. 1762, in Montreal, Joseph-Laurent Bertrand married Marie-Thérèse Dulignon, who died shortly afterwards. Finding himself widowed and with no children, Bertrand was attracted to the religious life; he entered the Petit Séminaire de Québec in 1768. Five years later he began theological studies, and in the course of these, like many of his colleagues, he taught at the Petit Séminaire [see Henri-François Gravé de La Rive]. On 18 Aug. 1776, at the age of 34, Bertrand was ordained priest by Bishop Briand*.
After serving as curate for two years in the parish of Saint-Joachim, near Quebec, Bertrand was appointed parish priest of Sainte-Anne, at Yamachiche, in 1778. Two years later lightning destroyed the parish church and its rebuilding led to heated disputes. The parishioners were divided over the choice of a site. The parish priest also joined in the debate, apparently with no great skill or tact; he was in favour of the old site but did not win. As a result of this setback his position became intolerable and he asked to be transferred.
In 1786 Bishop Louis-Philippe Mariauchau* d’Esgly put him in charge of the neighbouring parish, Saint-Antoine-de-Padoue, at Rivière-du-Loup, which until then had been served by the Recollets from Trois-Rivières. When he took up his new post Bertrand’s first concern was to make an inventory, with the help of churchwarden Joseph Lesage, of the fabrique’s possessions. In 1790 Bishop Hubert* of Quebec appointed him archpriest and the following year, lauding his prudence, made him confessor extraordinary to the Ursulines of Trois-Rivières.
In 1792 Bertrand wanted to provide his parish, which had more than 300 families, with a new church. Once again the same troubles he had encountered at Yamachiche began to develop. The parishioners split over the choice of a site and both sides sent numerous letters and petitions to the bishop. Hubert hesitated a long time before settling the question. “We have found the parish about equally divided,” he wrote to Bertrand in March 1796. Finally he gave Solomon’s judgement, ordering that the existing church “be repaired or added to on the site where it stands at the present time.” In this decision the opposing parties perceived the discreet but persuasive influence of Bertrand and they would not yield. The bishop delegated the task of reaching an agreement to the vicar general of Trois-Rivières, François-Xavier Noiseux, who succeeded in reconciling the parties. Finally, between 1803 and 1805 the church was demolished and another was erected on a new site. In 1806 Bertrand had a school, which accommodated two classes, built across from the presbytery.
In the mean time various curates had agreed to go to assist Bertrand, whose authoritarian reputation had spread beyond the bounds of his humble parish. In 1797 Bishop Denaut sent François Plessis-Bélair, who stayed four years. He was replaced by Michel-Charles Bezeau, who stayed only a few months, then by Louis Delaunay, and subsequently by François-Xavier Marcoux. Although Marcoux was young, he administered the parish after Bertrand’s death pending the appointment of the new incumbent, Jacques Lebourdais, dit Lapierre, a nephew of Bishop Bernard-Claude Panel*.
In 1804 Bertrand sued Pierre Lavergne, who the preceding year had refused to provide the host for the new church in the parish of Saint-Léon-le-Grand. This parish, which had been set up in 1800 by detaching a region from the parish of Saint-Antoine-de-Padoue, was served by Father Bertrand. Lavergne justified his refusal by claiming that he had remained a member of the parish of Saint-Antoine-de-Padoue, because Saint-Léon-le-Grand had no legal existence: the bishop of Quebec had not had the right to create parishes since the conquest, he maintained. Lavergne lost in the Court of King’s Bench but went to the provincial Court of Appeal. Before the case was heard, Lavergne petitioned Attorney General Jonathan Sewell* to intervene; Sewell, who agreed with Lavergne’s claims, accepted. Finally, as a result of the decision handed down in 1806 by the chief justice of the District of Montreal, James Monk*, Lavergne won. Although the lawsuit had raised the important and complex question of the legal status of the Roman Catholic church after the conquest, Monk in rendering his decision explicitly stated that “the court . . . was deciding nothing concerning the important questions that have been debated in the case.”
Bertrand’s worries gradually undermined his health and he developed ulcers and rheumatism. He died on 29 Oct. 1813, a week before his 72nd birthday. According to Louiseville’s historian, oblate Germain Lesage, Bertrand “had for twenty-seven years been in charge of a large and restless population,” among whom he left “a highly respected memory.”
ANQ-M, CE 1-51, 8 nov. 1741, 31 août 1762. ANQ-MBF, CE1-15, 30 oct. 1813. ASQ, C 35: 258, 269, 273, 293; mss, 11. PAC, MG 11, [CO 42] Q, 115: 96–111. Le Canadien, 13, 20 déc. 1806. Allaire, Dictionnaire, vol.1. Caron, “Inv. de la corr. de Mgr Briand,” ANQ Rapport, 1929–30: 113; “Inv. de la corr. de Mgr Hubert et de Mgr Bailly de Messein,” 1930–31: 227, 248, 267; “Inv. de la corr. de Mgr Mariaucheau d’Esgly,” 1930–31: 192; “Inv. de la corr. de Mgr Plessis,” 1927–28: 232, 239. Napoléon Caron, Histoire de la paroisse d’Yamachiche (précis historique) (Trois-Rivières, Qué., 1892). Chapais, Cours d’hist. du Canada, 2: 139–40. Germain Lesage, Histoire de Louiseville, 1665-1960 (Louiseville, Qué., 1961).