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DUFOUR, dit Bona, JOSEPH (baptized Joseph-Michel), farmer, miller, seigneurial agent, politician, and militia officer; b. 7 Oct. 1744 in Petite-Rivière (Que.), son of Bonaventure Dufour and Élisabeth Tremblay; m. 2 Sept. 1771 Charlotte Tremblay at Île aux Coudres, Que., and they had four children; d. there 15 Dec. 1829.

Joseph Dufour, dit Bona, apparently remained with his parents until he married in 1771. He then went to live at Île aux Coudres, on some land inherited from his father-in-law. At this period the inhabitants of the island subsisted mainly by farming. Most of them also engaged in hunting marsouins, as beluga whales were then called. Hunting these small cetaceans, primarily sought for their oil, could sometimes be lucrative. To catch belugas the islanders formed groups of 10 to 15 men, each group being called a pêche (fishery). In 1778, following dissensions among various partners, the Séminaire de Québec, which was the seigneur of the island, had to strengthen the regulations in force. It limited the number of authorized pêches to four and appointed a leader to head each one, who was made responsible for seeing that the rules were respected. Dufour became the leader of the pêche du large (the offshore fishery) at this time, proof that he had rapidly acquired a degree of influence within the island community.

By 1781 Dufour had also become the largest censitaire on Île aux Coudres, with land holdings of 366 arpents, while the second largest had 300, and the others on average 120. Two or three years later the Séminaire de Québec chose Dufour to be one of the two millers on the island. He was free to do what he wanted with a portion of the grain ground, and could use for his own profit an extra share of water-side meadow besides the one already allotted to him as a censitaire. His various activities undoubtedly made him a tidy sum: between 1784 and 1790 he bought three more properties on the island, each for cash, in total laying out 3,000 livres.

In the summer of 1792 Dufour, who had recently been commissioned captain in the militia, was elected to the first Lower Canadian house of assembly for Northumberland riding, together with Pierre-Stanislas Bédard. During the two initial sessions he participated actively in the proceedings of the house and regularly voted with the Canadian party. He did, however, support the English party’s request that laws be amended in order to improve the roads and bridges in Lower Canada. Dufour took no part in the next two sessions and did not run in the 1796 elections.

Dufour’s withdrawal from political life may have been partly determined by events in his family life, because he lost his wife in 1792 and his eldest daughter in 1793, and so was left with two under-age daughters to look after. It is also possible that he had been disappointed by the focus of parliamentary proceedings, which were principally concerned with matters of a legal rather than a practical nature, such as the development of regulations for the house, the definition of its prerogatives, and the reorganization of the judicial system. Indeed, his withdrawal came after he and a minority of his colleagues had unsuccessfully tried to prevent a debate on parliamentary privilege, occasioned by the arrest of member John Young*, that went on for several days. Some time earlier he himself had been the centre of a rather curious debate. The English party maintained that several Scottish officers garrisoned at Quebec were taller than Dufour, a claim the Canadian party disputed. To end the discussion the tallest Scottish officers were brought into the house for comparison with the member from Northumberland; when all had been measured, Dufour proved the tallest. The incident is amusing; none the less it illustrates the state of mind that at times moved the members of Lower Canada’s first parliament.

Dufour subsequently turned his attention to farming and running the seminary’s mill, while enjoying the benefits of greater social status. On 24 May 1794 he had been named lieutenant-colonel of the Baie-Saint-Paul battalion of militia and had thus become one of the rare persons of humble origin to hold this rank. In addition, the seminary increasingly relied on him to be its agent in dealings with the island residents. In October 1803, for example, Dufour was named leader of not one but all the pêches on the island. From time to time the seminary also commissioned him to convey its wishes to the islanders, to supervise the establishment of boundaries for its lands and the distribution of shore lots among the inhabitants, and even to settle disputes between individuals.

In 1804 Dufour and seigneur Malcolm Fraser* were among the chief initiators of a petition to the grand voyer (chief road commissioner), Gabriel-Elzéar Taschereau*, asking for a road to be opened between Saint-Joachim and Baie-Saint-Paul. The petitioners argued that the road would be as useful for the trade of Quebec town as for the development of agriculture in Northumberland County, since parishes on the north shore of the St Lawrence downstream from Saint-Joachim could be reached only by boat. Their request was well received, and in September 1806 Jean-Thomas Taschereau laid out the route.

During the War of 1812 Dufour, as lieutenant-colonel of militia, had to intervene to quell a local mutiny. The militia in Lower Canada was raised in three stages, in May 1812, September 1812, and February 1813, the last levy being specifically for militia from the district of Quebec, to which the Baie-Saint-Paul battalion belonged. In March 1813 some militiamen from La Malbaie refused to answer the call to arms. They demanded that they be commanded by officers from their own area and be issued two outfits rather than one. By degrees, however, the mutineers surrendered of their own accord. On 2 April none the less Dufour had to order a detachment of 150 men to arrest the leaders of the movement, who in the end were imprisoned at Quebec.

After these events Dufour, by then in his seventies, played a diminishing role, acting for the seminary only on rare occasions. He retained his lieutenant-colonelcy until July 1825, when he handed in his resignation. He died four years later leaving no male heir. His assets were bequeathed to one of his sons-in-law, Joseph Desgagnés.

Dufour is remembered chiefly because he was a member of the first parliament of Lower Canada. But the importance of such members of humble birth has generally been underestimated since historians have been more interested in its outstanding figures – men such as Jean-Antoine Panet*, Joseph Papineau*, Pierre-Amable De Bonne*, and John Richardson. Ontario historian Arthur Reginald Marsden Lower is a good illustration: “In the same assembly there was also a good ‘sprinkling’ of genuine men of the people, and with them we come to our last class division, the anonymous mass. . . . Another member [from this group] was Joseph Dufour. . . . Joseph, it appears, soon got too much of the grand company he had to keep at Quebec. . . . Under such stress, Joseph had the good sense not to stand a second time. He seems to have been a six-foot seven-inch innocent! Perhaps his height explains his election.” Such a judgement says much about an author’s preconceptions, for there is nothing in Dufour’s career to corroborate it.

On the other hand the testimony of vicar general Alexis Mailloux* may at first glance seem suspect as almost a panegyric: “At Île aux Coudres there lived and died a sort of giant. . . . His name was Joseph Dufour. . . . Truly a man of peace, he laboured throughout his long life to maintain peace and unity among his fellow parishioners. Who can say how many disputes he settled, how many disagreements he smoothed over, how much acrimony he moderated.” This testimony seems the more dubious in light of the fact that the vicar general’s father, Amable Mailloux, was adopted as a child by Dufour and subsequently married one of his daughters. It none the less reflects Dufour’s achievements more adequately than do Lower’s cutting remarks. All things considered, the witness of contemporaries, even when sympathetically coloured, is sometimes more reliable than interpretations offered by some historians.

Pierre Dufour

[A number of people named Joseph Dufour lived in the colony during the subject’s lifetime. The following brief identifications are provided as an aid to researchers.

Joseph Dufour (fl. 1732–74), appointed royal bailiff on 25 May 1736 for the north shore of the St Lawrence around Beaupré and the Charlevoix region, was the subject’s uncle; historians not infrequently confuse the two. One of his sons (and the subject’s cousin), also named Joseph, was born at Petite-Rivière on 7 Oct. 1740. He seems to have settled around Kamouraska about 1770, and was killed by Indians in 1783 in New Brunswick. Joseph Dufour, dit Latour (fl. 1759–86), a carpenter living in Montreal in 1759 and in Lavaltrie in the 1780s, worked on the construction of a number of churches and other buildings. He was probably related to the Joseph Dufour of Montreal who signed up in 1797 as a voyageur for Todd, McGill and Company. The Joseph Dufour who was surveyor of roads at La Malbaie in 1807–8 may be the subject’s cousin who was born 14 Sept. 1780 at Île aux Coudres. Finally, in the 1790s there was a Joseph Dufour living at Kamouraska and another at Madawaska.  p.d.]

ANQ-Q, CE4-1, 11 févr. 1794; CE4-2, 2 sept. 1771, 3 juin 1774, 23 janv. 1788, 7 sept. 1792, 24 juill. 1793, 12 févr. 1798, 22 juin 1802, 16 déc. 1829; CN1-92, 23 sept. 1790; CN4-16, 5 nov. 1783, 25 mai 1784, 6 nov. 1786, 19 avril 1790, 18 juill. 1792. ASQ, C 36: 74, 146; C 37: 28, 33, 40, 85, 173–76, 187–88, 280, 304, 322; Lettres, S, 32–32b; S, carton 46: 8a–8b, 26, 26b–26c, 27a–27e; S-184a. PAC, MG 8, F131: 930–36; RG 8, I (C ser.), 704: 264; RG 9, I, A5, 4: 31. L.C., House of Assembly, Journals, 1793–95. “Le recensement du gouvernement de Québec en 1762,” ANQ Rapport, 1925–26: 135. Quebec Gazette, 12 Feb. 1789, 22 Aug. 1793, 13 Feb. 1794. F.-J. Audet et Fabre Surveyer, Les députés au premier parl. du Bas-Canada. Bouchette, Topographical description of L.C. Desjardins, Guide parl., 135. P.-G. Roy, Inventaire des procès-verbaux des grands voyers conservés aux Archives de la province de Québec (6v., Beauceville, Qué., 1923–32), 2: 28; 4: 74–75. Aubert de Gaspé, Mémoires (1971). Raymond Boily, Le guide du voyageur à la Baie-Saint-Paul au XVIIIe siècle (Montréal, 1979). F.-X.-E. Frenette, Notes historiques sur la paroisse de St-Étienne de La Malbaie (Charlevoix) (Chicoutimi, Qué., 1952). Robert Lavallée, Petite histoire de Berthier (La Pocatière, Qué., 1973). A. R. M. Lower, Canadians in the making, a social history of Canada (Don Mills [Toronto], 1958). Alexis Mailloux, Histoire de lÎle-aux-Coudres depuis son établissement jusquà nos jours, avec ses traditions, ses légendes, ses coutumes (Montréal, 1879); Promenade autour de lÎle-aux-Coudres (Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière [La Pocatière], 1880). Paul Médéric [J.-P. Tremblay], La Tremblaye millénaire (Québec, 1975). Raynold Tremblay, Un pays à bâtir, Saint-Urbain-en-Charlevoix ([Québec], 1977). Hare, “L’Assemblée législative du Bas-Canada,” RHAF, 27: 361–95. Alexis Mailloux, “Le colonel Joseph Dufour,” BRH, 3 (1897): 157. P.-G. Roy, “Joseph Dufour,” BRH, 7 (1901): 309.

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Pierre Dufour, “DUFOUR, Bona, JOSEPH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 17, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/dufour_joseph_6E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/dufour_joseph_6E.html
Author of Article: Pierre Dufour
Title of Article: DUFOUR, Bona, JOSEPH
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1987
Year of revision: 1987
Access Date: April 17, 2014