JONCAS, LOUIS-ZÉPHIRIN, teacher, civil servant, author, politician, and journalist; b. 26 July 1846 in Grande-Rivière, Lower Canada, son of Léon Joncas and Esther Beaudin; m. 18 July 1870 Émérentienne Blouin, daughter of François Blouin, of Saint-Vallier, Que., and they had 12 children; d. 28 March 1903 at Quebec.
Louis-Zéphirin Joncas was born into a family engaged in the Gaspé fisheries. He left the region to do classical studies at the Collège Masson in Terrebonne, and went on to study law in Montreal. When financial troubles befell his family, he returned to his birthplace, becoming a teacher. Subsequently he worked for a dozen years in the fishing business as an accountant, general agent, and manager of the Gaspé Fishing Company in Grande-Rivière. He was also involved in the commercial and maritime affairs of a number of large firms in Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, Boston, and Quebec.
Joncas held the office of sheriff for Gaspé county from 1876 to 1887. He was well known for his courage and it is said that on several occasions he unhesitatingly went to the rescue of fishermen from his community when their lives were in danger. In March 1883 he was chosen by the Canadian government to represent the dominion at the International Fisheries Exhibition in London, England. His speeches received favourable comment in the English press. In 1886 the federal government collected his articles and speeches on the Canadian fishing industry and published them as a 24-page pamphlet entitled Les pêcheries du Canada. Published in French, English, and German, it was distributed at home and as far away as Europe; an expanded version of the French edition appeared later the same year.
On 22 Feb. 1887 Joncas was elected to the House of Commons for Gaspé. He succeeded Pierre-Étienne Fortin*, to whom he had been private secretary in 1875–76 when Fortin was speaker of the Quebec Legislative Assembly. Joncas was re-elected by acclamation in 1891. He sat as an independent Conservative, and his speeches often dealt with protection for fishermen, construction of docks and harbours for ships to shelter for repairs, and measures to facilitate the shipping and marketing of fishermen’s produce.
Since he was regarded as an expert on fisheries and their organization and commercial development, his speeches on the subject, both in the house and outside, were always received with attention. His reputation was clearly demonstrated when the American government chose him as a judge on the fisheries commission of the 1893 world’s fair, the Columbian exposition in Chicago, and when his colleagues elected him chairman of the committee awarding the prizes. One of the speeches he gave there was widely reported in the American press.
In 1892, in addition to his duties as an mp, Joncas took on the editorship of L’Événement, the Quebec Conservative daily, and he held the position until 1897. He had been involved in journalism since 1867, writing columns, letters, and special features, which he sent to various newspapers, including La Presse of Montreal, Le Canadien in Quebec, and L’Événement. According to Narcisse-Henri-Édouard Faucher* de Saint-Maurice, he was an “informed, firm, and courteous” journalist, and always upheld the dignity of his profession. He also proved to be a polemicist who wrote clearly, logically, and with conviction. His articles on patronage and on schools in the northwest made quite a stir. He was twice elected president of the Province of Quebec Press Association.
Joncas did not seek re-election in 1896, but retired from politics. The Conservative premier Edmund James Flynn*, who was the mla for Gaspé, wanted to reorganize the Quebec Crown Lands Department and to promote hunting and fishing. He named Guillaume-Alphonse Nantel commissioner of crown lands and on 17 November appointed Joncas superintendent of fisheries and game. Joncas held this senior position until his death, and the department, which in January 1897 became known as Lands, Forests, and Fisheries, grew in importance and brought the government ever-increasing revenues.
Joncas understood the importance of protecting wildlife resources. In 1899 he collaborated with Edward Thomas Davies Chambers in writing a pamphlet for anglers and hunters. Entitled The . . . sportsman’s . . . companion, it was widely circulated as a government publication. Joncas also helped organize the Province of Quebec Fish and Game Protective Association and was the first secretary of the North American Fish and Game Protective Association.
After suffering from a heart ailment for some years, Joncas died at Quebec on 28 March 1903, in his 57th year. His funeral service was held in the Catholic church of Saint-Jean-Baptiste and he was buried on 31 March in the cemetery of Notre-Dame de Belmont, in Sainte-Foy.
Louis-Zéphirin Joncas published three separate pamphlets under the title The fisheries of Canada: his speeches at the International Fisheries Exhibition (London, 1883); a paper delivered the following year before the British Assoc. for the Advancement of Science in Montreal, issued at New York around 1884; and the English edition of the collection of his articles published by the federal Department of Agriculture ([Ottawa, 1885?]). The French version of this collection, Les pêcheries du Canada, appeared in two editions, of 24 and 31 pages respectively, both issued at Ottawa in 1886. He also produced, in collaboration with E. T. D. Chambers, The . . . sportsman’s . . . companion: showing the haunts of moose, caribou and deer, also of the salmon, ouananiche and trout, in the province of Quebec, and how to reach them ([Québec], 1899).
ANQ-Q, CE1-97, 31 mars 1903. L’Événement, 30 mars 1903: 1–3; 31 mars 1903: 4. Le Monde illustré (Montréal), 21 avril 1894: 604–5. L’Opinion publique, 29 nov. 1883: 69. Le Soleil, 30 mars 1903: 1, 7; 31 mars 1903: 5. Auguste Béchard, La Gaspésie en 1888 (Québec, 1918). Jules Bélanger et al., Histoire de la Gaspésie (Montréal, 1981). Can., House of Commons, Debates, 1887–96. Canadian directory of parl. (Johnson). Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898). J. Desjardins, Guide parl. [N.-H.-É.] Faucher de Saint-Maurice, “Louis-Zéphirin Joncas, député de Gaspé,” Rev. d’hist. de la Gaspésie (Gaspé, Qué.), 6 (1968): 58–68.