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LANGELIER, CHARLES, lawyer, politician, office holder, judge, journalist, and author; b. 23 Aug. 1850 in Sainte-Rosalie, Lower Canada, son of Louis-Sébastien Langelier, a farmer, and Julie-Esther Casault; m. 2 Aug. 1882 Marie-Louise-Georgiana-Lucille La Rue at Quebec, and they had one daughter; d. there 7 Feb. 1920.
Charles Langelier went to school in the village where he was born, and then attended the Séminaire de Saint-Hyacinthe and the Petit Séminaire de Québec. As a student at the Université Laval, in 1875 he won the silver medal awarded by the governor general, Lord Dufferin [Blackwood*]. He was called to the bar on 18 Sept. 1875 and practised law at Quebec. Drawn in by his elder brother François, he became part of a small Liberal circle that included Télesphore Fournier*, Luc Letellier* de Saint-Just, Marc-Aurèle Plamondon*, Ernest Pacaud*, Armand La Vergne*, and Wilfrid Laurier. A born politician and orator, he went through all the rough battles in the political history of Canada and Quebec during the late 19th century.
From 1878 to 1881 Langelier represented Montmorency in the Quebec Legislative Assembly, having won a stunning victory over the attorney general, Auguste-Réal Angers, as a result of the Letellier affair [see Luc Letellier de Saint-Just]. But he subsequently suffered three electoral defeats: in Montmorency for the Legislative Assembly in 1881 and for the House of Commons in 1882, and in Bellechasse for the Legislative Assembly in 1886. It was not until 1887 that he went to Ottawa as the Liberal mp for Montmorency. He resigned, however, on 10 June 1890 to return to Quebec at the behest of his old friend Honoré Mercier*. He served in Mercier’s government as president of the Executive Council from 30 June to 29 Sept. 1890, and then as provincial secretary and registrar from 22 Aug. 1890 to 21 Dec. 1891. Implicated along with his leader in the Baie des Chaleurs scandal, Langelier suffered two more defeats, in Montmorency in 1892 and Bonaventure in a by-election of 22 Dec. 1897, before ending his campaigning days on a happier note as the mla for Lévis from 1898 to 1901.
Langelier got his political reward but found it disappointing. He had hoped that Laurier would make him a judge in return for his 25 years of staunch friendship and his bitter struggles on behalf of the Liberal party. The memory of the Baie des Chaleurs scandal was still too fresh for him to be entrusted with such an office, however. In any case, there was no shortage of candidates for the bench in the early days of the Liberal regime, and Laurier had already appointed Langelier’s brother François to the Superior Court in 1898. Beset by personal problems, Charles Langelier accepted a position as Quebec district sheriff on 26 June 1901. On 29 Jan. 1910 he became a judge of the Court of Sessions of the Peace. In that capacity he showed his opposition to conscription by freeing most of the participants in the Quebec riot that occurred in the spring of 1918 [see Georges Demeule], and by imposing light fines on those convicted. It is of some interest that Langelier took up the defence of French rights in Ontario during the debate on Regulation 17, which restricted the use of French as a language of instruction in that province [see Sir James Pliny Whitney]. During the same period he opposed the prohibition movement which, after some 20 years’ growth, had entered a decisive phase with the election of 1917.
Since his presence in the Legislative Assembly and the House of Commons was marked by frequent intermissions, Langelier also carried on the political struggle in the press. He contributed to various newspapers, including La Nation (Saint-Hyacinthe) and L’Éclaireur (Québec), but it was mainly in L’Électeur (Québec) that he defended the Liberal colours. From July 1883 to January 1886 he was the co-owner and co-editor of this newspaper with Ernest Pacaud, from whom he was said to be “inseparable.” Although his collaboration was intermittent, it was sustained; Pacaud observed that “he shared all our woes, all our struggles, all our hopes, and all our successes.” L’Électeur was the first important Liberal newspaper published at Quebec, and it would be considered the party’s official organ until 1936. During the 1880s it was a vehicle for Laurier and Mercier, as Le Courrier du Canada (Québec) and Le Journal de Québec were for the Conservative leaders.
Like many of his contemporaries who had a classical education, Langelier wrote because he enjoyed writing. It also supplemented his income, since law and politics were not very remunerative. Of his publications, the most important is Souvenirs politiques; récits, études et portraits. The first volume, which deals with the period 1878–90, contains short descriptive pieces on the Liberal party covering its founding, fiery struggles, and basic principles, the energy and patriotism of its leaders, and its influence on the political system. The portrayal is interesting, but of necessity partisan and idealized. The second volume, subtitled Mercier, son renvoi d’office, son procès, sa mort, carries forward the history from 1890 to 1896 and sings the praises of the Liberal party, focusing on the figure of Mercier. Langelier calls him “the idol of the people of this province.” Eager to set the record straight, Langelier sought to rehabilitate the man to whom he had been both close friend and strong right arm, whom he had followed enthusiastically, and with whom he had fallen in 1892. It may be thought, then, that he also wanted to reshape his own image for the historical record, but as writer he was too closely involved to produce such an effect. Despite the account of events and many portraits that can be appreciated, the work remains unconvincing.
It is easy to see Charles Langelier as a typical 19th-century politician, even though his career evolved within the Liberal party at a time when the Conservatives were front and centre on the national political scene. He died in his sleep at his home on Grande Allée, Quebec, on 7 Feb. 1920.
Charles Langelier is the author of: Le chemin de fer de Q.M.O. & O.: administration de M. L. A. Sénécal; discours prononcé dans la législature de Québec ([Québec?, 1881?]); La question des asiles; discours . . . sur l’adresse en réponse au discours du trône (Assemblée législative), séance du 10 novembre 1890 ([Québec, 1890]); Éloge de l’agriculture prononcé devant l’Institut canadien, à Québec, octobre 1891 ([Québec?, 1891]); Aux électeurs du comté de Montmorency (Québec, 1896); Lord Russell de Killowen à Québec: réception officielle du juge en chef d’Angleterre par le banc et le barreau; résolutions, discours, etc. ([Québec?, 1896]); John-Buckworth Parkin, avocat et conseiller de la reine: conférence donnée devant le Barreau de Québec (Lévis, Qué., 1897); L’honorable Thomas Cushing Aylwin, juge de la Cour du banc de la reine; conférence donnée devant le Barreau de Québec, novembre MCMIII (Québec, 1903); Le trois-centième anniversaire de l’arrivée de M. de Monts à Québec (Québec, 1904); Souvenirs politiques; récits, études et portraits (2v., Québec, 1909–12); La confédération: sa genèse, son établissement (Québec, 1916); La procédure criminelle d’après le Code civil et la jurisprudence (Québec, 1916); La prostitution: ses dangers, son remède; lettre ouverte à son honneur le maire et à MM. les échevins de la cité de Québec (Québec, 1916).
ANQ-M, CE2-25, 24 août 1850. ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 2 août 1882. L’Électeur (Québec), 1880–96. La Presse, 9 févr. 1920. Le Soleil, 27–28 juin 1901, 24 févr. 1909, 9 févr. 1920. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1912). DOLQ, vol.2. DPQ. J. Hamelin et al., La presse québécoise, vol.2. Le Jeune, Dictionnaire. Rumilly, Hist. de la prov de Québec, vols.2–3. Wallace, Macmillan dict.