GUERNON, dit Belleville, FRANÇOIS, soldier and wood-carver; b. c. 1740 in Paris, France, son of François Guernon, an innkeeper, and Marie Coulon; m. first 10 Aug. 1761 Marie Dalpech, dit Bélair, in the parish of Saint-Sulpice (Que.), and they had eight children; m. secondly 28 Jan. 1793 Marie Martin, a widow, at Saint-Jacques-de-la-Nouvelle-Acadie (Saint-Jacques), Lower Canada; d. there 17 Aug. 1817.
François Guernon, dit Belleville, a grenadier in the Régiment de Berry, sailed for New France in the spring of 1757. Discharged after the defeat of the French troops, he settled at Saint-Pierre-du-Portage (L’Assomption, Que.). It is likely that Guernon did his apprenticeship as a wood-carver after his release from the army, possibly with Philippe Liébert or Antoine Cirier*.
In 1762 he was paid for a piece of carving done in the chancel of the church at Saint-Pierre-du-Portage, where Liébert worked on the interior decoration from 1760 to 1774. Guernon could have met Liébert when the latter was beginning his work and may have decided to learn the wood-carver’s craft with him, for in this period and until about 1770., Guernon lived at Saint-Sulpice, the parish next to Saint-Pierre-du-Portage. On the other hand, in 1772 Guernon, who was then residing in Montreal, was first mentioned as a wood-carver in the account-book of the parish of Saint-Enfant-Jésus, at Pointe-aux-Trembles (Montreal); the record indicates other sums were paid to him in 1773 and 1774. Between 1743 and 1781 Cirier received payment for various pieces of work from the fabrique of Pointe-aux-Trembles, and in 1773 Liébert’s name also appeared in the parish account-book. The three wood-carvers may have worked in close collaboration in this period. Whether he had learned his craft with Liébert or with Cirier, it is certain that around 1772 Guernon had established relations with the best wood-carvers in the Montreal region.
In 1775 or 1776 Guernon and his family went to live at the mission of Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes (Oka). It was probably during these years that he did seven reliefs to decorate the shrines and chapels of a Way of the Cross that the Sulpicians had built for the Indians. From 1742 and until about 1776 seven paintings brought from France had decorated the Way of the Cross at the Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes mission and had been a means of teaching religion to the Indians. The Sulpician François-Auguste Magon* de Terlaye was anxious to preserve these works and he put them in the church to protect them. But since he wanted to retain their value for teaching, he ordered exact reproductions, this time in wooden sculptures in relief that would be more suited to the climate and would weather it better. Although remaining faithful to the originals, Guernon simplified the composition in several instances.
In 1777 Guernon may have worked on the decoration of a chapel in the mission church. At this period he settled in Saint-Jacques-de-la-Nouvelle-Acadie, on one of the two properties that the Sulpicians had granted him on 8 June 1774, on the upper reaches of a stream called the Vacher. Later, on 12 March 1782, he sold the other piece of land to his son Jean-Baptiste.
From 1777 to 1784 he practised his craft in the church at Saint-Pierre-du-Portage, where in 1783 he collaborated with Jean-Louis Foureur, dit Champagne, and perhaps with Cirier. The following year he carved some tabernacles for the church of Sainte-Anne at Varennes, and in 1790 he worked at the church in Saint-Sulpice. His last known works date from 1791–92 and were done for the church at Saint-Pierre-du-Portage. Two other works have been attributed to Guernon: the tabernacle in the sacristy at Caughnawaga and a large relief in wood entitled “Saint Martin partageant son manteau avec un pauvre,” which was formerly part of the decoration of the church of Saint-Martin on Île Jésus.
François Guernon, dit Belleville, was illiterate and he had no known apprentices. Nevertheless he seems to deserve as important a place in the history of early art in Quebec as his contemporaries Liébert and Cirier. Many of his works have survived and through their characteristics they bear eloquent witness to the production of the wood-carvers of the second half of the 18th century.
Six of the seven reliefs carved for the stations of the cross at Oka are extant, although two have suffered some damage. The relief “Saint Martin partageant son manteau avec un pauvre” is now held by the Musée du Québec at Quebec.
AC, Joliette, État civil, Catholiques, Saint-Jacques, 28 janv. 1793, 19 août 1817; Saint-Sulpice, 10 août 1761, 2 mai 1762, 26 févr. 1766, 23 avril 1768; Minutiers, Joseph Daguilhe, 9 août 1761, 29 juin 1770; Terrebonne (Saint-Jérôme), État civil, Catholiques, L’Annonciation-de-la-Bienheureuse-Vierge-Marie (Oka), 7 mars 1775; 23 avril, 20 sept. 1776 (copies at PAC). ANQ-M, CN1-120, 8 juin 1774; CN1-364, 12 mars 1782. AP, Saint-Enfant-Jésus (Pointeaux-Trembles), Livres de comptes, 1726–1865. ASSM, 8, A; 36, André Cuoq, “Notes inédites pour servir à l’histoire de la mission du Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes” (typescript) (copy at PAC). MAC-CD, Fonds Morisset, 2., G933.5/F825. Sculpture traditionnelle du Québec (Québec, 1967), 76. Marius Barbeau, Trésor des anciens jésuites (Ottawa, 1957), 19, 150, 152. Morisset, Coup d’œil sur les arts, 18, 34; Les églises et le trésor de Varennes (Québec, 1943), 18, 31. J. R. Porter et Jean Trudel, Le calvaire d’Oka (Ottawa, 1974), 24–25, 93–101. Christian Roy, Histoire de L’Assomption (L’Assomption, Qué., 1967), 96–131. Ramsay Traquair, The old architecture of Quebec . . . (Toronto, 1947), 249, 289, 292. Olivier Maurault, “Les vicissitudes dune mission sauvage,” Rev. trimestrielle canadienne, 16 (1930): 16. Gérard Morisset, “Le trésor de la mission d’Oka,” La Patrie (Montréal), 13 nov. 1949: 18. L.-B. Richer, “Les chapelles d’Oka,” Québec-Histoire (Québec), 1 (1971–72), nos.5–6: 46–48.