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GAMELIN, IGNACE, merchant, receiver for the king’s domain, militia captain, and judge; b. 10 Dec. 1698 in the parish of Saint-François-Xavier (Batiscan, Que.), son of Ignace Gamelin* and Marguerite Le Moyne; m. 31 Jan. 1731 in Montreal Marie-Louise Dufrost de La Gemerais, sister of Marie-Marguerite, and they had 15 children; d. 9 March 1771 in Montreal.
Ignace was a member of the important Gamelin family who were prominent as merchants in New France. He was introduced to trade at a young age and started his career as a businessman early in the 1720s, when he seems to have taken over from his father, a Montreal merchant. He soon enlarged his field of action by entering into partnership with Charles Nolan* Lamarque, and in 1721 he invested 24,000 livres tournois in fitting out voyageurs for the pays d’en haut. From then on he exhibited the enterprising spirit that would enable him to become one of the outstanding figures in the 18th-century fur trade.
Gamelin’s interest in that trade led him to participate in the venture of Pierre Gaultier* de Varennes et de La Vérendrye, his wife’s uncle Although La Vérendrye was commandant of the poste de l’Ouest and theoretically had a monopoly of the fur trade in the region of Lake Ouinipigon (Winnipeg), he lacked funds to realize the old dream of discovering the western sea. He succeeded in interesting Gamelin, who agreed to participate in the undertaking. In 1731 La Vérendrye formed a nine-man partnership made up of four separate sub-partnerships; one of the members was Gamelin. For the first expedition Gamelin and Nolan Lamarque supplied trade goods worth 33,000 livres tournois, payable in beaver pelts at the price offered by the Montreal merchants on the return of the canoes in August the following year. In the spring of 1734 a new company replaced the one created in 1731; Gamelin and Nolan Lamarque again participated, supplying goods worth 26,405 livres tournois. As exploration was not proceeding at the desired pace, it was agreed on 18 May 1735 that a new company would be formed for three years. The contract stipulated that La Vérendrye would confine himself to exploration, leaving the running of the business and trading to his partners. In a sense La Vérendrye was farming out his posts to the merchant-outfitters in return for an annual salary of 3,000 livres; in addition the partners were to pay Governor Charles de Beauharnois* for the trading lease of Kaministiquia (Thunder Bay, Ont.). The company undertook to obtain all its trade goods from the warehouses of Gamelin and Nolan Lamarque, who in that one year invested more than 50,000 livres tournois. On 21 April 1738, when another company replaced the one set up in 1735, the terms of the agreement remained approximately the same.
In 1740, disappointed by La Vérendrye’s never-ending delays in paying his debts, Nolan Lamarque and Gamelin instituted proceedings against him. The explorer, who had been short of money since the beginning of his enterprises, promised to pay off his debts in the next two years. When this agreement was reached, La Vérendrye appointed Gamelin his agent on 1 June 1747 and for a period of three years leased Fort Maurepas on the Red River and Fort La Reine (Portage-la-Prairie, Man.), as well as their dependent posts, to his son Pierre Gaultier* de La Vérendrye de Boumois and Pierre-Julien Trottier-Desrivières. Gamelin became the sole supplier of goods and the sole receiver of furs from these posts. It may well be asked why merchants played such an important role in the attempts to discover the western sea. La Vérendrye had tried in vain to obtain funds from the minister of Marine, Maurepas, who distrusted him. Thus he constantly had to have recourse to the merchants, who as financial backers were scarcely disinterested collaborators; they had, however, the merit of making his expeditions possible.
Gamelin’s considerable activity in the fur-trading field was not limited to his partnership with the explorer. A summary inventory of hiring contracts shows that between 1727 and 1752 he signed on his own behalf and that of his partners with more than 370 voyageurs going to the pays d’en haut, principally to Michilimackinac (Mackinaw City, Mich.) and the numerous western posts.
Gamelin also took part in another large-scale venture. In 1729 François Poulin* de Francheville undertook to organize the Saint-Maurice ironworks. In order to make such an enterprise successful he had to ally himself with experts, financial backers, and officials. Consequently on 16 Jan. 1733 Francheville signed a contract with his brother Pierre Poulin*, Gamelin, François-Étienne Cugnet*, director of the Domaine d’Occident, and Louis-Frédéric Bricault* de Valmur, Intendant Hocquart’s secretary. Nevertheless the enterprise encountered great difficulties; in November 1733 Francheville’s death led to a temporary shut-down of the ironworks. In the autumn of 1735 Gamelin and Cugnet, who still had faith in the project, formed an alliance with Pierre-François Olivier de Vézin to reorganize the ironworks, on condition that they received financial aid from the king. A new company was formed on 16 Oct. 1736 by Gamelin, Cugnet, Thomas-Jacques Taschereau*, agent of the treasurers general of the Marine in New France, and two ironmasters, Vézin and Jacques Simonet* d’Abergemont. On 20 Aug. 1738 the fires were lit. Gamelin, the only partner who was a native of Canada, maintained rigorous control of operations, but to no avail. Since they were unable to make the undertaking profitable, Cugnet and Gamelin resigned in October 1741, as did the other partners soon after. Gamelin was the only one to pay a share of the enterprise’s debts.
In addition to his activities in the pays d’en haut and the ironworks, Gamelin operated a wholesale and retail business in the Montreal region and was one of the main suppliers to the government for various products. He obtained his supplies in La Rochelle, from the Pascaud brothers in particular. To transport their goods between France, the West Indies, and New France, Gamelin and his partners Francheville, Nolan Lamarque, and Jean-François Malhiot* could depend on their ship the Montréal (1731–35) and a schooner, the Magnonne, which belonged to Gamelin. The brigantine Dauphin also sailed on their account between Montreal and Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island). It is not known whether Gamelin had these ships built in New France, but in 1743 he paid part of the cost when the Caribou was built at Quebec. For voyages to the pays d’en haut he employed the usual birch-bark canoes built for six to ten men, which were made in Trois-Rivières.
As a prominent businessman Gamelin was solicited for services which increased his prestige in Montreal society. In 1734 he was named a churchwarden for the parish of Notre-Dame. He often acted as arbitrator, guardian, appraiser, and legal representative. In 1739 he was commissioned receiver for the king’s domain within the Government of Montreal, a post he had held on a temporary basis since 1735, and in 1754 he was assistant director of a Montreal merchants’ guild. From 1750 to 1760 he held the office of militia captain in Montreal and the amount of time he devoted to it may explain the decrease in his commercial activity, which ceased towards the middle of the Seven Years’ War.
Under the British régime Gamelin was appointed a lower court judge of the Montreal Chamber of Militia. During his term, which lasted from 1760 to 1764, he played a rather ambiguous role: sitting with his fellow judges on this military court, he signed 23 decisions in cases in which he was plaintiff or party.
At the end of the military government in 1764 Gamelin was penniless and still had seven children at home to feed. The final years of his life were sad: from 1768 until his death he was paralysed, deaf, dumb, and almost blind. He left his heirs debts of 49,719 livres and receivables amounting to 79,543 livres, including numerous bonds of which some dated from 1721. One of the principal merchants in Montreal, Ignace was probably the most important member of the Gamelin family.
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