DÉNÉCHAU, CLAUDE, merchant, militia officer, politician, office holder, and jp; b. 8 March 1768 at Quebec, son of Jacques Dénéchaud*, a surgeon and apothecary, and Angélique Gastonguay; m. 23 June 1800 Marianne-Josette Delorme in Saint-Hyacinthe, Lower Canada, but she died childless the next year; m. secondly 26 May 1807 Adélaïde Gauvreau, daughter of Louis Gauvreau*, at Quebec, and they had a number of children, including three sons and four daughters who reached adulthood; d. 30 Oct. 1836 in Berthier (Berthier-sur-Mer), Lower Canada.
Claude Dénéchau was the twin brother of Charles-Denis, a priest ordained in 1793, who served in the parish of Saint-Joseph at Deschambault. Claude became interested in business at an early age. He formed a partnership with his brother Pierre, and they established themselves at Quebec on Rue de la Fabrique. Then Dénéchau went on his own, entering the import-export trade. His business enabled him to accumulate a good deal of capital rather swiftly. In a few short years he carved an enviable place for himself in Quebec society. The reputation and the confidence he enjoyed brought him an impressive list of responsibilities and offices, including a great many as trustee of estates and guardian for young children of friends and relatives.
In 1811, to mark his success in business and consolidate his commercial endeavours, Dénéchau bought an estate at Berthier for £4,000. In 1813 he took a 29-year lease on the seigneury of Bellechasse, a property owned by the nuns of the Hôpital Général of Quebec. At that time Dénéchau promised to build a communal mill and annually to remit £62 10s. and 480 minots of wheat to the nuns. To increase the return on his investment, he sought to improve the quality of the wheat grown. His efforts were rewarded in 1818 by the Agriculture Society of the district of Quebec, which awarded him prizes.
Some time after 1813 Dénéchau and his family went to live in the manor-house at Berthier so that he could oversee the development of his land more effectively. They maintained another residence at Quebec. Eager to ameliorate living conditions in his adopted region, Dénéchau went into partnership with Joseph Fraser in 1818 to operate a toll-bridge on the Rivière du Sud and was active in the local agricultural society. He served as commissioner for the summary trial of small causes at Berthier from 1821 till 1829, and for the improvement of communications in Hertford County from 1817 till 1829.
In 1794 Dénéchau had demonstrated his attachment to the crown by signing a declaration of loyalty to the constitution and the government. That year he joined a number of his fellow citizens in presenting an address to Prince Edward* Augustus (later Duke of Kent) on the occasion of his departure for the West Indies; apparently Dénéchau already enjoyed a friendship with him, and their good relations continued until the duke’s death in 1820. Dénéchau also signed an address presented to Governor Robert Prescott* when he was recalled to England in 1799.
Because of his loyalty, Dénéchau benefited from government patronage. Thus, in January 1808 he was made a justice of the peace for the district of Quebec, and his commission was renewed periodically until 1830. By virtue of a law dating from 1796, justices of the peace for the districts of Quebec and Montreal were responsible for maintaining and building roads and bridges in their districts, and Dénéchau gave his attention primarily to this aspect of his duties. In 1812 he was empowered to receive the oath of allegiance. Two years later he was appointed commissioner for the relief of the insane and foundlings, and in 1818 he was entrusted with overseeing additions and repairs to the Hôpital Général of Quebec
In January 1800 Dénéchau had become a freemason and member of St Paul’s Lodge in Montreal. That year he joined Merchants’ Lodge No.40 at Quebec. This association with masonry was rather an unusual step for a French Canadian, since it often led to exclusion from communion and in effect ostracism by compatriots. His action may have stemmed from his desire to make a name for himself and to succeed in the business world, which was largely controlled by the British merchants and authorities. He was sponsored by the Duke of Kent and rose rapidly in this secret organization. Treasurer of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Lower Canada in 1801, he was made grand senior warden, the third highest officer in the lodge, five years later. In 1812 he became its grand master, and in 1820 provincial grand master for the districts of Quebec and Trois-Rivières. In this capacity he was present at the laying of the foundation stone of the monument dedicated in 1827 by Governor Lord Dalhousie [Ramsay] to James Wolfe* and Louis-Joseph de Montcalm*.
As a prominent citizen of Quebec, Dénéchau became involved in the town’s social, economic, and cultural life, assuming a host of duties and offices in numerous societies and organizations. For example, from 1801 to at least 1820 he was involved in the Quebec Fire Society, of which he was secretary-treasurer from 1803 till 1805 and president in 1808. From 1805 to 1807 he was secretary-treasurer of the Union Company of Quebec, a joint-stock company founded in 1805 by some businessmen from the region to finance the purchase and refitting of the Union Hotel on Rue Sainte-Anne. This establishment rapidly became a select place for social events at Quebec; the freemasons held many meetings there. From 1811 till 1829 Dénéchau was a member of the commission to supervise the House of Correction for the district of Quebec. In 1813 he subscribed to the Loyal and Patriotic Society of the Province of Lower Canada, which aided wounded militiamen. Two years later he contributed to the Waterloo Fund, set up to help the families of men killed or wounded in the great battle. He was president in 1816 and vice-president in 1818 of the Quebec Benevolent Society, which had been founded in 1789 to establish a fund for the assistance of needy members.
Dénéchau was involved in the cause of education. In 1815 he acted as secretary-treasurer of a committee for its advancement in all classes of society, especially among the poor. That year he was treasurer of a committee working to get a free school opened in Upper Town. He was a member of the British and Canadian School Society of the District of Quebec [see Joseph-François Perrault] from 1829 to 1832.
Yielding to the entreaties of his circle, Dénéchau in 1808 had stood against Jean-Antoine Panet* for election to the House of Assembly in the riding of Upper Town Quebec. With the backing of the English party, and in particular of Pierre-Amable De Bonne* and Perrault, he was elected. He represented the riding until 29 May 1820. Members of the assembly did not at that time receive a salary, but Dénéchau had a large personal income. He participated regularly and actively in debates, meetings of all sorts, and parliamentary committees. Among the many questions on which he took a stand was Panet’s appointment as speaker of the house in 1809, and his opposition to it is worth noting. That year and in 1810, he voted against making judges ineligible to sit in the house [see Pierre-Amable De Bonne]. In 1811 he served on a committee studying the bill to establish a workhouse in Montreal. Seven years later he fought against Denis-Benjamin Viger*’s motion to pay the costs of travel by members coming to attend sessions of the house.
Along with his activities as a businessman and politician, Dénéchau held important posts in the militia. In 1804 he was a lieutenant in Quebec’s 1st Militia Battalion. Three years later he received a captaincy. He held that rank at the beginning of the War of 1812, and was transferred to the 6th Select Embodied Militia Battalion of Lower Canada on 20 March 1813. On 17 March 1814 he was appointed deputy paymaster in the Army Bill Office [see James Green*]. On 10 April 1826 Dalhousie made him a major in the 1st Militia Battalion of Quebec County. Dénéchau reached the summit of his military career when he became lieutenant-colonel of the 6th Battalion of Saint-Roch militia on 9 Sept. 1828.
Beginning in 1829 or 1830 Dénéchau gave up his numerous judicial, administrative, and military duties one by one. Now over 60, he left Quebec, which faced the threat of epidemics, and went to join his family at the manor-house in Berthier. The last years of his life were marked by great upheavals. He suffered serious financial reverses, probably attributable to a combination of political changes, poor harvests in 1832–36, bad debts, and also, according to several contemporaries, his own excessive generosity.
Dénéchau died on 30 Oct. 1836, succumbing to a massive stroke. A few months before, he had withdrawn from freemasonry because of the insistence of his family, in particular his brother Charles-Denis, and of the parish priest of Berthier, and perhaps also because he was tired of ostracism by his contemporaries. Having recently returned to the church, he was entitled to receive the last rites and the honours befitting his rank and he was buried in the church at Berthier.
Claude Dénéchau left an insolvent and encumbered estate which his widow and children decided to renounce. As well, Mme Dénéchau gave up her claims to the community of property stipulated in her marriage contract, but she retained her own property. She had to restore the seigneury of Bellechasse to the nuns of the Hôpital Général in 1838, before the lease had expired, and she sold the Berthier estate, mill, and manor-house a few years later. Despite this discouraging financial situation, all her children received an excellent education, went into leading professions, and made advantageous marriages.
ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 8 mars 1768, 26 mai 1807; CE2-2, 3 nov. 1836; CN1-205, 8 juill. 1813; CN1-212, 1er déc. 1836, 28 juin 1838; CN1-230, 8 juill. 1813; CN1-253, ler mars 1826; CN1-262, 11 oct. 1811. PAC, RG 68, General index, 1651–1841. “Les dénombrements de Québec” (Plessis), ANQ Rapport, 1948–49: 159. L.C., House of Assembly, Journals, 1811, 1818. Recensement de Québec, 1818 (Provost). Le Canadien, 10 janv., 13, 17 juin 1807; 24 janv., 4, 14 mars 1810; 14, 28 mars, 4 avril, 9 déc. 1818; 6 janv. 1819; 20 sept. 1820; 31 mars 1824; 29 mars 1833; 18 avril 1834; 25 nov. 1835; 2 nov. 1836. La Gazette de Québec, 1794–1836. Quebec Mercury, 30 March 1805. F.-J. Audet, “Les législateurs du Bas-Canada.” Desjardins, Guide parl. Officers of British forces in Canada (Irving). Quebec almanac, 1804–32. Quebec directory, 1790–91, 1826. P.-G. Roy, Inv. concessions, vols.2, 5; Fils de Québec, 2: 141–43. M.-J. et George Ahern, Notes pour servir à l’histoire de la médecine dans le Bas-Canada depuis la fondation de Québec jusqu’au commencement du XIXe siècle (Québec, 1923), 148–50. [E. Dénéchaud], Biographie de la famille Dénéchaud (Québec, 1895). Bernard Dufebvre [Émile Castonguay], Journal d’un bourgeois de Québec (Québec, ), 246–47. George Gale, Historic tales of old Quebec (Quebec, 1923), 109. J. H. Graham, Outlines of the history of freemasonry in the province of Quebec (Montreal, 1892). P.-G. Roy, La famille Panet (Lévis, Qué., 1906). Sulte, Hist. de la milice. E. Dénéchaud, “Claude Denechaud,” BRH, 8 (1902): 271–74. Ignotus [Thomas Chapais], “Le monument Wolfe et Montcalm à Québec,” BRH, 5 (1899): 305–9. Eugène Rouillard, “Les premiers francs-maçons canadiens,” BRH, 4 (1898): 188–90. P.-G. Roy, “La seigneurie de Bellechasse ou Berthier,” BRH, 27 (1921): 65–74.