COUTURE, GEORGE, merchant and politician; b. 4 June 1824 in the parish of Saint-Joseph (now in Lauzon), Lower Canada, son of Ignace Couture, a carpenter, and Anastasie Lefebvre, dit Boulanger; d. 4 Nov. 1887 at Lévis.
George Couture belonged to the fifth generation of descendants of the youngest son of Guillaume Couture. In 1836, after studying briefly with an elderly teacher, George embarked on a commercial career, becoming a clerk with P. Lachance, a crockery merchant on the Rue du Palais in Quebec City. Five years later, armed with his meagre savings and the encouragement of his former employer, he went into business for himself in a small house in Lévis where he sold pottery and flour. This new enterprise was in an excellent location, at the intersection of the Côte du Passage, which led to the St Lawrence, and the “King’s Road.” Businesses such as those of Étienne Dalaire and Louis Carrier were already well established there.
In 1844 Couture established himself in his father’s home at the same crossroads, where 20 years later he erected an impressive stone building to house the firm of “George & Ed. Couture,” general merchants. In a short time George, who had taken his younger brother Louis-Édouard into partnership in 1861, was in control of most of the trading on the south shore. He amassed a sizeable fortune and became one of the largest landowners in Lévis. In the 1850s he had become interested in the ferryboat service between Quebec and Lévis, bought two boats (one from his brother Ignace, an enterprising businessman), and also built wharves. In 1863, when the town councils of Quebec and Lévis decided to assume direct control of the river crossing in order to end excessive competition, Couture formed a company with Pierre Barras, James Tibbits, and François-Théodule Foisy which obtained the contract to operate the ferry service for ten years.
His prominent position in the economic affairs of the region led Couture to take an interest in public life. In 1865 he was elected to the Lévis municipal council for the first time; from 1870 to 1881 he held the office of mayor; only in 1884 did illness force him to retire from municipal activities. From 1857 he had been a member of the toll-roads commission for the south shore, and was its chairman for several years. He was leader of the Conservative party for the counties of Lévis and Dorchester, and on 28 April 1881 was appointed to the Legislative Council of Quebec by the government of Joseph-Adolphe Chapleau*. He was remembered in the council as a man of few words who possessed an eminently practical mind.
George Couture ranked as one of the most generous benefactors of charitable works in Lévis. He was a churchwarden in 1852 when the parish of Notre-Dame-de-la-Victoire was created, and agreed that year to take part in the syndicate appointed by the archbishop of Quebec, Pierre-Flavien Turgeon*, to superintend the building of the Collège de Lévis [see Joseph-David Déziel]. Each year he distributed his salary as legislative councillor among the religious communities of Quebec and Lévis. Thus in 1882 he gave $300 to the Hospice Saint-Joseph-de-la-Délivrance, $250 to the convent at Lévis, and $250 to the convent of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd at Quebec. In 1884 he was made a knight of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre in appreciation of his services to charitable organizations. His philanthropy has been compared to that of Joseph Masson*, Barthélemy Joliette*, and George Manly Muir.
George Couture left no descendants. On 3 Feb. 1846 he had married Marie, daughter of Pierre Roy, a farmer at Saint-Charles; the couple’s four children died in infancy. After the death of his first wife he married Geneviève Jelly, the widow of Pierre Saint-Hilaire, on 5 June 1854 at Lévis, but they had no children.
George Couture, who was still to be seen behind his counter in his sixties, when he was at the height of his fortune and laden with honours, had already been held up to his contemporaries as a model of how to succeed by dint of hard work and perseverance.
ANQ-Q, AP-G-239. Le Canadien, 7, 9 nov. 1887. La Minerve, 7 nov. 1887. P.-G. Roy, Dates lévisiennes (12v., Lévis, Qué., 1932–40), I–IV. J.-E. Roy, Biographie de l’honorable George Couture, représentant au Conseil législatif la division de Lauzon (Lévis, 1884).