COUILLARD-DESPRÉS, EMMANUEL, surveyor, seigneur, militia officer, builder, and farmer; b. 22 May 1792 in L’Islet, Lower Canada, son of Emmanuel Couillard-Després and Marie-Françoise Robichaud; d. 15 July 1853 in Saint-Aimé (Massueville), Lower Canada.
Emmanuel Couillard-Després was a sixth-generation descendant on his father’s side of Guillaume Couillard* de Lespinay, son-in-law of Louis Hébert*. His great-great-grandfather, Jacques Couillard, son of Geneviève Desprez (Després), had been the first in the family to add his mother’s name to his own, which then became Couillard-Després. In 1732 his great-grandfather, Jean-Baptiste Couillard-Després, had rendered fealty and homage as co-seigneur of L’Islet. Around 1793 his father had abandoned the seigneury, which he had inherited, to settle with his wife in Saint-Hyacinthe, where the fertile lands of Delorme seigneury were then being opened. A few settlers from Saint-Thomas parish (in Montmagny), including some of the Couillard-Després family, had already come. He bought several lots so that he could establish his family, and he himself took up a piece of land in the second concession of the seigneury.
The eldest of ten children, Emmanuel Couillard-Després attended the Séminaire de Nicolet from 1810 to 1815. At the end of his studies, believing that he had a religious vocation, he began training for the priesthood. He offered his services to Antoine Girouard*, the priest of the parish of Saint-Hyacinthe, who had founded the Collège de Saint-Hyacinthe in 1811. The young man became the first teacher of mathematics there. After four years, realizing that he had been mistaken about his vocation, he gave up the religious life. Because he had a liking for numbers he took up the study of civil engineering, and on 25 July 1821 he received his commission as a surveyor.
Couillard-Després began to practise his profession at Saint-Hyacinthe in 1824. On 18 May of that year, at Saint-Denis on the Richelieu, he married Louise-Esther Bourdages, the daughter of Louis Bourdages*, the great orator, who represented the riding of Buckingham in the House of Assembly. The marriage was celebrated with great solemnity by Girouard, a personal friend of the bridegroom, in the presence of all those prominent in the parish and in neighbouring parishes. Shortly afterwards the young couple settled in Saint-Hyacinthe. On 8 November Couillard-Després undertook to provide his parents with an income, and thus inherited his father’s estate. He was appointed a captain in the 1st Battalion of Saint-Hyacinthe militia on 10 Feb. 1831. Having lost his wife that year, he devoted most of his energies to his work.
Couillard-Després ran in a by-election in 1832 for the riding of Saint-Hyacinthe but was defeated by Louis Poulin, as was Thomas Boutillier*. In August Couillard-Després was given the job of surveying the land on which the church of the new parish of Sainte-Rosalie, near Saint-Hyacinthe, was to be erected. He put up the first court-house in Saint-Hyacinthe in 1835, and a decade later had to reinforce it with iron rods and chains which kept the building standing until it burned down in 1859.
In 1836 Couillard-Després engaged in land transactions. On 3 May he sold the property on the second concession of Delorme seigneury to François Morel for 4,500 livres on terms obliging the purchaser to pay the vendor’s parents the income he had previously paid them. Also in 1836 Couillard-Després staked out for himself a huge seigneurial land grant – 10 arpents by 30 – to the west of Saint-Hyacinthe and stretching beyond the present site of the municipal aqueduct.
When the rebellion broke out in 1837 Couillard-Després, as a captain in the Saint-Hyacinthe militia, did not see eye to eye with the Patriotes. Because he disapproved of their acts of violence, he had to endure all kinds of annoyances. The Patriotes took revenge on him by raising a ruckus on numerous occasions, smashing doors and windows and doing considerable damage to the interior of his home.
During the next 15 years Couillard-Després continued his career as a surveyor. In 1853 he decided to move to Sainte-Rosalie, and then went to Saint-Aimé; in both places he took up farming. He died at Saint-Aimé on 15 July 1853 at the age of 61, and was buried three days later in the vault of the cathedral at Saint-Hyacinthe.
Emmanuel Couillard-Després did a good deal of work as a surveyor, to judge by the seven volumes of reports that he wrote in the course of his 29 years in practice. He and his wife had only one son, Emmanuel-Louis-Rémi, who became the first secretary-treasurer of the town of Saint-Hyacinthe. A street there is still called Després, a reminder that “Village Després” was the name given in the 1860s to a group of houses spread across part of the former Couillard-Després land grant.
ANQ-M, CE2-1, 18 juill. 1853; CE2-12, 18 mai 1824; CN2-22, 3 mai 1836; CN2-80, 18 mai, 8 nov. 1824. ANQ-Q, CE2-3, 22 mai 1792; P-52. ASSH, F, Fg-41, Dossier 5.2. PAC, MG 30, D1, 9: 69–71; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841: 665. Le Courrier de Saint-Hyacinthe (Saint-Hyacinthe, Qué.), 19 juill. 1853. Liste de la milice du Bas-Canada pour 1832 (Quebec, s.d.). Allaire, Hist. de Saint-Denis-sur-Richelieu, 212. J.-B.-O. Archambault, Monographie de la paroisse de Sainte-Rosalie (Saint-Hyacinthe, 1939), 47–48. Choquette, Hist. du séminaire de Saint-Hyacinthe, vol.2; Histoire de la ville de Saint-Hyacinthe (Saint-Hyacinthe, 1930), 51, 98–99, 209, 414–15. Azarie Couillard-Després, Histoire des seigneurs de la rivière du Sud et de leurs alliés canadiens et acadiens (Saint-Hyacinthe, 1912), 79–84, 200, 206–8, 308–10, 374–80; La première famille française au Canada, ses alliés et ses descendants (Montreal, 1906), 306–7. Douville, Hist. du college-séminaire de Nicolet.