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GUY, ÉTIENNE, politician, surveyor, and militia officer; b. 16 Feb. 1774 in Montreal, Que., son of Pierre Guy and Marie-Josephte Hervieux; m. 16 Nov. 1801 Catherine Vallée in Lachine, Lower Canada, and they had six children, three of whom reached adulthood; d. 29 Dec. 1820 in Montreal.

Étienne Guy carne from one of the leading bourgeois families of Montreal at the end of the 18th century. When he was six he inherited a 30-acre farm belonging to Etienne Augé*, a family friend. This property, located in the faubourg Saint-Antoine, formed part of the lands farmed by his father, at least until 1799, first because Etienne was very young when he inherited it, and then because his father steered him in another direction for his career.

Guy studied initially at the Collège Saint-Raphaël in Montreal, from 1785 till 1792; then his father sent him to Princeton to finish his education at the College of New Jersey, with the avowed aim of having him learn English. He arrived in the United States in October 1794, got to know New York and Philadelphia, and tried, with limited success, to master the English language. Disappointed with his progress, he confided to his father that everyone was paying him compliments on the way he spoke English, but that no one understood him. After being questioned by his father, who found this stay in the United States extremely costly and who regularly had to borrow money from relatives to meet his needs, Guy was summoned back to Montreal at the end of January 1796.

A few months after his return Guy stood as a candidate in the riding of Montreal in the 1796 elections for the Lower Canadian House of Assembly and was elected, together with Jean-Marie Ducharme. He was then only 22 and he still had to rely on financial support from his family, since members of the assembly received no salary and none of their expenses were paid.

Guy could hardly be called one of the leading members of the second parliament. But neither was he the silent member who, according to historian Francis-Joseph Audet*, was content “to vote with the majority when the occasion arose.” If he did not intervene regularly in debates during the first two sessions, he nevertheless took part in the assembly’s work, particularly when it dealt with trade. Thus on 8 March 1797 he was appointed to a committee responsible for preparing a law on commerce between Lower Canada and the United States. Some weeks later he was on a committee to study a bill on the inspection and export of flour. During the endless debates on a bill concerning roads and bridges in March 1798 he spoke out occasionally in support of certain amendments. By contrast, in the 1799 and 1800 sessions he took no part in committee work, and his name does not appear in recorded votes. On 15 April 1799, at the time of proceedings to expel Charles-Jean-Baptiste Bouc*, he was “excused because of illness at home.” The fact that he had obtained his commission as a surveyor in the spring of 1798 might explain his absenteeism. Faced with a choice between an unpaid political career and a stable profession, Guy quite obviously decided on the latter. He probably did not stand in the 1800 elections. His surveying work shows one interest in particular: he signed numerous reports and plans concerning transactions carried out by his father.

Like most of the prominent citizens of his time, Guy served in the militia. From adjutant of Montreal’s 2nd Militia Battalion in 1797, he rose to major in the Longue-Pointe battalion of militia in 1812. This unit took part in the operations against Plattsburgh, N.Y., in September 1814, but Guy himself did not necessarily participate in the fighting. Having sought promotion to lieutenant-colonel, Guy subsequently obtained that rank and held it until his death in 1820.

Unlike the other members of his family, Étienne Guy did not have a career in business. He took up politics for a few years, but he chose the peaceful profession of surveyor over the uncertainties of public life.

Gilles Langelier

AUM, P 58, A4/60, 68; L/33. Bibliothèque nationale du Québec (Montréal), Dép. des mss, mss-101, Coll. La Fontaine, Extraits des reg. de Montréal, 1793–1812: 65, 75, 84, 96, 108, 115. PAC, MG 24, L3: 6624–32, 6636–38, 6645–46, 6653–55, 6658–62, 6681–85, 6689–90, 6703–7, 6761–62, 6773–79, 6793–95 (copies); MG 53, 55; RG 4, B33, 18; RG 8, I (C ser.), 1708: 10–14; 1717: 30; RG 9, 1, A1, 13; A7, 20. Bas-Canada, chambre d’Assemblée, Journaux, 1797–1800. Montreal Gazette, 30 May, 27 June 1796; 21 July 1800. Quebec Gazette, 10 May 1798; 25 July 1799; 2 July 1812; 7 June 1819; 12 Sept., 26 Dec. 1822; 4 Sept., 6 Nov., 18 Dec. 1823. Quebec almanac, 1799–1820. F.-J. Audet, Les députés de Montréal, 352–55. Officers of British forces in Canada (Irving), 172. T.-P. Bédard, Histoire de cinquante ans (1791–1841), annales parlementaires et politiques du Bas-Canada, depuis la Constitution jusquà lUnion (Québec, 1869), 27–45. André Bernard et Denis Laforte, La législation électorale au Québec, 1790–1967 (Montréal, 1969). É.-Z. Massicotte, Faits curieux de lhistoire à Montréal (Montréal, 1922), 63–64.

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Cite This Article

Gilles Langelier, “GUY, ÉTIENNE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 29, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/guy_etienne_5E.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:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/guy_etienne_5E.html
Author of Article:   Gilles Langelier
Title of Article:   GUY, ÉTIENNE
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1983
Year of revision:   1983
Access Date:   September 29, 2023