DOUTRE, GONZALVE, lawyer, professor, author of literary, historical, and legal works, and president of the Institut Canadien; b. in Montreal, L.C., 12 July 1842, son of François Doutre and Élisabeth Dandurand; m. Laura Brunelle, by whom he had at least one son; d. 28 Feb. 1880 in Montreal.
The first years of Gonzalve Doutre’s life remain obscure. The youngest son of an illustrious family, he was also the brother-in-law of two distinguished men, Charles Daoust* and Médéric Lanctot. In 1861 he obtained his baccalaureate in law at McGill University. As he had not yet attained his majority, he had to wait two years before being called to the bar (August 1863). Meanwhile he spent his leisure time frequenting the literary and legal organizations of Montreal. In April 1862 he gave a lecture at the Institut des Lois, an association where law students got together, on “the utility of a course in civil procedure” for law students; the following month his confrères elected him their president.
Gonzalve Doutre still had no more than his baccalaureate when he started a movement that resulted in an important reform of the Canadian bar. In February 1863, at the young candidate’s suggestion, the Institut des Lois discussed a petition to be presented to the council of the bar for the purpose of “changing the present type of examinations for those aspiring to the study and practice of the profession of lawyer.” Three years later (1 May 1866), Gonzalve Doutre laid a series of concrete proposals before a general meeting of lawyers; the latter entrusted the study of them to a committee made up of George Washington Stephens, Robert Mackay, Charles-André Leblanc, Thomas Weston Ritchie, Pierre-Richard Lafrenaye, and Gonzalve Doutre. “It is not the first time that I take the trouble to ask for reforms within the bar,” he wrote in La Minerve of 29 May 1866. “In a period when I had everything to gain from the present system I wanted to try to have it changed, at the risk of suffering myself as a result. I hope therefore that no one will reproach me with waiting until I cleared the obstacles in order to pull up the ladder behind me.” On 9 June Doutre submitted the committee’s report to the assembled lawyers “in the form of a precise and detailed bill”; this bill became law on 15 Aug. 1866.
In the course of a meeting on 5 Oct. 1866, the lawyers’ association elected Gonzalve Doutre secretary-treasurer of the general council, whose president was then William Locker Pickmore Felton. At the end of his mandate, on 30 May 1868, the council presented Doutre with a silver inkwell as a tangible sign of its gratitude. It was a significant gesture, for already this young man of 25 had a remarkable achievement to his credit: he had initiated a reorganization of the Quebec bar, shepherded through parliament the 1866 law, watched over the application of this law, prepared rules governing the profession, and begun the publication of his principal legal works: all this despite failing health.
On 6 June 1867, wanting “to put an end to the permanent violation of the law that was occurring at the Jesuit College,” where diplomas were conferred sometimes without due regard for the requirements of the law and for the proper duration of the course, the Institut Canadien set up a law faculty, affiliated to Victoria University at Cobourg; Gonzalve Doutre taught civil procedure for it. The new faculty conferred its first diploma on Jean-Baptiste Doutre, who subsequently entered the law office of his two brothers.
McGill University engaged Gonzalve Doutre in September 1871 as professor “of civil procedure, legal medicine, and forensic logic.” On 28 March 1873 he received his doctorate in law from the same university, and on 3 Jan. 1879 the Quebec Liberal government made him a queen’s counsel; finally, on 1 May 1879 he was elected a member of the council of the Montreal bar.
Gonzalve Doutre already belonged to the Institut Canadien when on 30 April 1858 Bishop Ignace Bourget*, the promoter of religious restoration and revival, issued his comminatory decree censuring the institute and instructing confessors to refuse the sacraments to its members [see Charles-Joseph Laberge]. At its elections of 5 May 1859 the institute entrusted him with the office of secretary-archivist, a duty he was to take on several times until he became treasurer in 1863; in 1865 he became corresponding secretary, and finally president in 1871 and 1872.
Within the institute itself, Gonzalve Doutre’s great activity was evident in his regular attendance at meetings and his numerous lectures. As a member of the governing body, he placed at the disposal of the association his eagerness and his intelligent zeal. It was in large measure thanks to the approaches he made to Canadian and foreign authorities that the museum of the institute, founded in 1864, was enriched with objects of art of real value; he himself, on 17 March 1866, gave to the museum a precious collection of coins and medals.
Gonzalve Doutre had a likeable personality, he was sincere and deeply religious, and during the disturbed years from 1858 to 1866 he had the benefit of the clergy’s benevolence and indulgence. Bearing a note delivered to him on 3 April 1865 by the administrator of the diocese, Alexis-Frédéric Truteau, he made his Easter communion. In December 1865 he received absolution from Léon-Alfred Sentenne, and was admitted to the special jubilee communion decreed by Pius IX. An event occurred, however, which upset everything. On 16 Oct. 1865, 17 members of the institute decided to appeal to the pope, “less in order to complain than to ask the common father of the faithful for a reconciliation with their bishop,” as Louis-Antoine Dessaulles* wrote in 1868. When Bishop Bourget, who had just returned from Rome, was informed of this move, he stormed more than ever. He called the action “a sham appeal,” and assured Rome that “the so-called sentence of excommunication” was, when all was said and done, “only a pastoral letter to the people to forewarn them against the dangers to which this evil institution exposed their faith.” But on 1 Dec. 1865 the bishop none the less asked confessors to apply rigorously the rules concerning the institute and secret societies.
On 25 March 1866 Gonzalve Doutre followed the exercises of a retreat held by the Jesuits. When he presented himself before Abbé Sentenne to receive absolution, the latter insisted upon a formal authorization from Bishop Bourget. Forthwith, Doutre asked the bishop for this “permission to receive absolution and be admitted to the paschal communion.” A letter dated 28 March, from Joseph-Octave Paré, informed him that Bishop Bourget, in the discharge of a “rigorous duty,” found himself obliged to refuse Doutre access to the sacraments so long as he remained a member of the censured institution. Then came news that Bishop Bourget had allowed a member to receive the sacraments without requiring him to leave the institute. Doutre therefore took up his pen again on 12 April 1866. The bishop’s severity towards him, he wrote, had not prevented him from performing his religious duties punctually, even if he regretted “being excluded from the number of Catholics admitted to the paschal communion”; however, he was anxious to know the particular reasons that excluded him “from the favours that Your Excellency extends to other members of the Institut Canadien.” The next day, Bishop Bourget gave an answer to Doutre’s question: the bishop had indeed authorized a member of the institute to receive the sacraments, but on the express condition that he would use his influence to turn his associates away from this dangerous organization.
In an exchange of letters that went on until 22 May 1866, Gonzalve Doutre undertook the defence of the institute in a plea characterized by unusual deference and pained sincerity. He had never thought, he said, of casting doubt on the obedience he owed his bishop; but for all that he did not accept his harshness and injustice. In the first place, Doutre rejected the term “rebel,” which had been applied to him as one of the signatories of the petition sent to the pope to ask him to intervene between the bishop of Montreal and the members of the institute, who in Doutre’s opinion had been victims of an unjust censure. Furthermore, he disapproved of the bishop’s conduct, which was a cause of vexation to an institute that brought together Catholics and Protestants. “Certain Catholics,” he noted, “are members of associations composed of a majority of Protestants and possessing libraries that are worse than ours; we observe that they have not come under censure.” In the matter of the institute’s library, which had been condemned more than once, Doutre reminded the bishop of the directors’ promise to put offending books under lock and key; as for himself, he had not read a single book from the banned library for more than two years.
What were the reasons behind this special intransigence towards the institute? Doutre asked. “That Your Excellency is not strictly obliged [to give the reasons], I admit; but it also seems to me that a small gesture of graciousness, on behalf of those whose salvation may be in question, would not be out of place on the part of a bishop, and that this would have a better effect on the institute’s members than an unbending rigour.” Doutre ended his last letter with these severe words: “I shall never be convinced that in order to be a Catholic one must strip off the inalienable attributes of man, and be nothing but a kind of jelly-fish, delivered to the whims of a man who has not become God just because he has been consecrated bishop.”
Gonzalve Doutre was living out a painful drama. On the one hand, he revolted against the bishop’s arbitrariness and injustice, on the other his soul was wracked by agony and dread. Consequently, on 11 Nov. 1866 he confided his personal case to Charles-François Baillargeon*, administrator of the archdiocese of Quebec. Because of the danger in which he would find himself in the event of unexpected death, he entreated the archbishop, who had “jurisdiction over the bishop,” to allow him to receive the sacraments in spite of the episcopal censures. Archbishop Baillargeon confessed his helplessness; he could only advise a reconciliation “with your worthy bishop. The bishop, and yours in particular, is a father. And such a father is always ready to give the kiss of peace to his child. . . . Why should you fear to go and cast yourself in his arms?” The letters received from Bishop Bourget, Doutre wrote subsequently, “scarcely allowed me to maintain this great confidence in the goodness and charity of the bishop of Montreal, who has never required from me anything less than a blind submission to his wishes, whether or not they have any connection with his episcopal powers.”
On 1 Jan. 1868, in the hope of learning the opinion of the Roman authorities, Gonzalve Doutre sent a letter to the vicar general of Montreal, Abbé Truteau, who had just returned from Rome: “I anxiously await the final decision, and I assure you that I for one am desirous of seeing a prompt settlement of these difficulties, one way or the other.” To Doutre’s profound consternation, Abbé Truteau replied that the matter had never been discussed. “I believed until now that the mission of a priest was to work for harmony and concord among Catholics, and to seize the slightest opportunity to end any cause of dispute or hatred. Unfortunately this has not been the case with His Excellency and his vicar general. Each time one of them has been in Rome, he has taken care to make no mention to anyone of the affairs of the institute, hoping to drag the question out so that the bishop may harass the institute with fresh censures, more threats, excommunications, or refusals of burial.”
In 1869 disasters beset the Institut Canadien: on 7 July, a decree by the Inquisition condemned the doctrines “contained in a certain year-book”; on 14 July, a decree by the Index banned the Annuaire de l’Institut Canadien pour 1868 . . . Gonzalve Doutre reassured the members of the institute. According to him, the aim of the decree by the Index was merely to withdraw the 1868 year-book from circulation; it was no more an attack upon the institute than upon “the person of the writer whose work is often condemned with so much thoughtlessness.” Furthermore, he went on, the court of the Inquisition, which “has judged without us, unknown to us and without consulting us,” had not passed any judgement on the merit of their appeal: “our appeal has never been heard by the Inquisition, and only the year-book has served as grounds for the decree.” The bishop of Montreal did not see the situation this way. On 29 August a statement was read in the churches of the diocese, requiring members to leave the institute under pain of being refused sacraments even at the point of death. But, having submitted purely and simply to the decrees, the institute came up against the intransigence of the religious authorities of Montreal, who demanded in particular that its constitutions and regulations be revised by the ordinary, in order that the latter might eradicate from them “false principles.” Four members, including Gonzalve Doutre, then had recourse to Cardinal Alessandro Barnabo, and on 12 Oct. 1869 complained bitterly to him about the stiffness and inflexibility of the bishop of Montreal, “a man of great piety, but somewhat lacking in enlightenment, and consequently ill equipped for debate.”
On 16 October Gonzalve Doutre left Canada to go to plead the institute’s case before the authorities in Rome. He arrived there on 6 December. He met the prefect of the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda, and then Lorenzo Nina, the assessor to the Holy Office, with whom he entered into “a long conversation” on the whole issue. Bishop Nina declared that one must not expect “censure to be passed on the bishop of Montreal; for to censure him would be a cause of scandal.” He therefore recommended that Doutre prepare for him a “concise report with conclusions embodying an acceptable method of settlement.” On 20 December Doutre submitted his report. After relating the salient facts in the painful dispute, the author proposed in conclusion that the bishop of Montreal’s jurisdiction should be exercised only over the Catholic members of the institute, and that equally Catholics should be allowed to belong to it provided they submitted to the church’s directives.
Subsequently Gonzalve Doutre made two attempts to smooth away the difficulties “without anyone making unworthy concessions.” The first was on 18 Oct. 1873, when Canon Édouard-Charles Fabre* became coadjutor to Bishop Bourget; the second was on 2 June 1879. A plan took shape: to create a literary and scientific institution grouping together “all Canadian and Catholic youth.” Gonzalve Doutre was not to see his project through: he died on 28 Feb. 1880, fortified with the last sacraments and assisted by Bishop Fabre and the parish priest Sentenne.
The originator of a major reform of the bar, the author of important legal works, a dedicated teacher respected by his students, Gonzalve Doutre lived through a grievous spiritual experience that commands the highest respect. The painful battle between ultramontanism and liberalism in Canada, which began in 1848 and occupied the remainder of the century, reached its climax around 1870. Bishop Bourget and his clergy wanted to build a kingdom with a theocratic emphasis, and did not shrink from means to crush the opposing camp: accusations of malicious intent, insinuations, and invectives were mingled with condemnations and excommunications. More adept in hurling anathema than in refuting the boldest arguments of the liberals, and ill adjusted to the times, the ecclesiastics stirred up confused currents within the liberal bourgeoisie. Some people submitted uncomprehendingly, others preferred to revolt, for example, Jean-Baptiste-Éric Dorion*, Pierre Blanchet, Toussaint-Antoine-Rodolphe Laflamme*, and Doutre’s brother Joseph*, who could not “pardon the clergy for the harm it has done us.” Were they, as their opponents claimed, ungodly men? To probe the intimate lives of human beings in an endeavour to determine what they are, or to interpret incidents and statements that put their deepest beliefs in question, is not easy. One fact stands out, however: in the period that concerns us, the most uncompromising of the liberals still remained attached to the Catholic religion.
Amongst these harried liberals, Gonzalve Doutre appears as a unique case. He entered the institute at the moment when the struggle was approaching its decisive phase, and lost no time in measuring himself against the leader of ultramontanism in person. To blind obedience, even to easy and fruitless revolt, he preferred combat, conducted with moderation, courtesy, and sincerity. As a profoundly religious man he would no doubt not have sacrificed his faith; but neither was he in any way disposed to submit blindly. He waited for a decision which never came, and even when death was drawing nigh he was at grips with an internal drama whose intensity is difficult to estimate.
More than once Doutre betrayed his impatience, and that is understandable. “There is hatred in the bishop’s heart towards us,” he wrote in 1870. Indeed, at Rome Doutre tried three times to meet the bishop of Montreal, who avoided him; at Rome, Bishop Bourget refused to support a Canadian’s request to attend a papal audience because Gonzalve Doutre was one of those applying; again at Rome, a single Canadian was excluded from a celebration organized in honour of a friend, the Chevalier Joseph-Édouard Lefebvre de Bellefeuille – that Canadian bore the name of Gonzalve Doutre.
It is difficult to resist the feeling of sympathy this man inspired. He died very young, without having time to give full development to his great talent.
Gonzalve Doutre, Conseil général du Barreau du Bas-Canada; assemblée annuelle tenue à Québec le 28 mai 1867; rapport officiel (Québec, 1867); Loi du Barreau du Bas-Canada, suivie des règlements du conseil général et des sections de Montréal, Québec, Trois-Rivières (Montréal, 1867); Les lois de la procédure civile; savoir: texte du code, rapport des codifacteurs, autorités par eux citées, lois de faillite, règles de pratique des différents tribunaux, principes et formules de procédure, etc., etc., etc. (2v., Montréal, 1867); Règles de la profession d’avocat (Montréal, 1868); Tableau des avocats du Bas-Canada pour 1867 (Montréal, 1867); Gonzalve Doutre et Edmond Lareau, Le droit civil canadien suivant l’ordre établi par les codes; précédé d’une histoire générale du droit canadien (1v. paru, Montréal, 1872).
Gonzalve Doutre, “Cours d’histoire du Canada; cours donné à l’institut à partir du 13 octobre 1870,” Le Pays (Montréal), 12 oct., 20 oct. 1870 and later numbers; [ ] “Discours de M. Gonzalve Doutre; sur les affaires de l’Institut canadien à Rome, prononcé à l’institut le 14 avril 1870,” Le Pays (Montréal), 14 juin, 15 juin, 17 juin, 18 juin 1870; “Du principe des nationalités; lecture faite à l’Institut canadien, le 1er décembre 1864,” Le Pays (Montréal), 15 déc., 17 déc., 20 déc. 1864; “Étude critique médico-légale: procès Provencher-Joutras,” La Minerve (Montréal), 2 mars–31 mars 1868; “Musée de l’Institut canadien; lettre destinée à Alphonse Lusignan,” Le Pays (Montréal), 20 mars, 22 mars, 24 mars, 30 mars 1866; “Procès Ruel-Boulet: étude critique médico-légale: conférence prononcée devant les membres de l’Institut médical de la faculté de médecine de l’université du collège Victoria, le 23 janvier 1869,” Le Pays (Montréal), 10 févr.–18 févr. 1869; “Profession d’avocat,” La Minerve (Montréal), 29 mai 1866; “Recherches dans les vieilles archives françaises appartenant à l’État; conférence prononcée à l’institut, le 23 février 1871,” Le Pays (Montréal), 22 févr., 28 févr. 1871; “Vaccination,” Le National (Montréal), 16 juill. 1872.
Gonzalve Doutre, “Administration de la justice,” Revue canadienne (Montréal), X (1873), 762–70; “Code des curés, marguilliers et paroissiens, par l’Hon. J.-U. Beaudry, un des juges de la Cour supérieure, 1870,” La Revue légale (Montréal), II (1870), 473–89; [ ], “Discours prononcé par M. Gonzalve Doutre, D.C.L., professeur de procédure à l’université McGill de Montréal, lors de la distribution des diplômes le 30 mars 1874,” Revue canadienne (Montréal), XI (1874), 280–85; “La profession d’avocat et de notaire en Canada,” Revue canadienne (Montréal), X (1873), 840–48; XI (1874), 58–68, 134–42; “Québec: la législation de la session 1869–1870,” La Revue légale (Montréal), II (1870), 78–90.
Gonzalve Doutre gave many speeches on the most varied subjects; the texts of many do not seem to be extant, and in some cases all that remains is the announcement made in the newspapers at the time: “Un avocat plaidant sa propre cause, a-t-il droit à des honoraires contre la partie adverse qui a perdu sa cause? Conférence prononcée à l’Institut des lois, en février 1862,” Le Pays (Montréal), 12 févr. 1862; “Considérations sur le procès Connol jugé le 13 janvier 1860; essai prononcé à l’institut, le 15 mars 1860,” Le Pays (Montréal), 26 déc. 1860; “Les dîmes, essai donné à l’institut, le 22 septembre 1859,” Le Pays (Montréal), 11 oct. 1859; “L’encombrement des professions; conférence prononcée à l’institut, le 30 janvier 1862,” Le Pays (Montréal), 6 févr. 1862; “Essai sur les romans et les romanciers; conférence prononcée à l’institut, le 9 février 1860,” Le Pays (Montréal), 17 avril 1860; “La guerre américaine; conférence donnée en avril 1863,” Le Pays (Montréal), 18 avril 1863; “L’influence des maisons d’éducation et des institutions littéraires sur la jeunesse; conférence prononcée à l’Institut canadien, le 26 novembre 1863,” Le Pays (Montréal), 28 nov. 1863; “L’Institut canadien en 1859; conférence prononcée à l’institut, le 30 mars 1859,” Le Pays (Montréal), 31 mars 1859; “Le passé, le présent et l’avenir de l’Institut des lois; conférence prononcée en novembre 1862,” Le Pays (Montréal), 8 nov. 1862; “L’utilité d’un cours de procédure civile; conférence prononcée à l’Institut des lois, en avril 1862,” Le Pays (Montréal), 8 avril 1862.
ACAM, 901.135, pp.866–901. Bibliothèque municipale de Montréal, Fonds Gagnon, Institut canadien. Pierre Beullac et É.-F. Surveyer, Le centenaire du Barreau de Montréal, 1849–1949 (Montréal, 1949). Lareau, Hist. de la littérature canadienne; Histoire du droit canadien depuis les origines de la colonie jusqu’à nos jours (2v., Montréal, 1888–89). Sylvain, “Libéralisme et ultramontanisme,” Shield of Achilles (Morton), 111–38, 220–55. Maréchal Nantel, “Les avocats à Montréal,” Cahiers des Dix, VII (1942), 185–213; “L’étude du droit et le barreau,” Cahiers des Dix, XIV (1949), 11–40. Léon Pouliot, “Le cas de conscience de Gonzalve Doutre,” RHAF, XXIII (1969–70), 231–45. É.-F. Surveyer, “Une école de droit à Montréal avant le code civil,” Revue trimestrielle canadienne (Montréal), VI (1920), 140–50.
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Cite This Article
Jean-Roch Rioux, “DOUTRE, GONZALVE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 31, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/doutre_gonzalve_10E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Jean-Roch Rioux|
|Title of Article:||DOUTRE, GONZALVE|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1972|
|Year of revision:||1972|
|Access Date:||March 31, 2023|