LAROCHELLE, LOUIS-NAPOLÉON, manufacturer, railway contractor, and politician; b. 14 Nov. 1834 at Saint-Anselme, Lower Canada, son of Siméon Gautron*, dit Larochelle, and Sophie Pomerleau; m. there 12 Dec. 1876 Georgiana Plants; d. 27 Oct. 1890 at Saint-Anselme.
After studying at the Petit Séminaire de Québec from 1847 to 1856, Louis-Napoléon Larochelle embarked on a business career. He was the son of an enterprising industrialist who owned a sawmill, foundry, and textile factory; when his father died in 1859, Louis-Napoléon took over his interests. Although little is known about his activities in the local economy of Saint-Anselme, they seem to have made him fairly prosperous. His ability to raise money apparently was good enough to enable him to invest substantial sums in 1873 and 1874 in the Levis and Kennebec Railway Company. In 1885 he lost $20,000 when a carding mill he owned burned down. These facts suggest that Larochelle had considerable resources at his disposal.
It was probably the Levis–Kennebec affair that made Larochelle famous, particularly as a result of his disputes with his partner, Charles Armstrong Scott. Because of his involvement in the local economy, Larochelle was quickly attracted to the Levis and Kennebec Railway Company, incorporated in 1869 to link the town of Lévis with the Atlantic coast by a line through the Beauce region and the state of Maine. In 1870 Larochelle joined such influential politicians as Joseph-Godric Blanchet, Hector-Louis Langevin*, and Christian Henry Pozer on the company’s board of directors; the president was Alexandre-René Chaussegros* de Léry. Taking advantage of the political pressure it could bring to bear, the company obtained substantial subsidies from the Quebec government. On 31 Dec. 1870 the contract to build the first 50 miles was awarded to a well-known American promoter of roads with wooden rails, Jerome B. Hulbert, who began the work of levelling in 1871. By the next year the route was ready for the wooden rails but, feeling that these were not likely to stand up to spring thaws, the company opted for iron rails, and consequently had to put up more capital. A new building contract was then granted to Hulbert’s previous foreman, Charles Armstrong Scott, and to Louis-Napoléon Larochelle, who was to be the contractor: by its terms they could operate the line for 99 years and were to have a certain number of shares in the company. To further these interests, the two men entered into partnership on 8 Jan. 1873. Acting as guarantor for the necessary credit, Larochelle advanced $30,000 for the construction of the line to encourage English capitalists to supply the rest. At the end of 1873 Scott and Larochelle went to New York to buy a locomotive and 600 tons of rails, paid for by Larochelle, with money borrowed from Judge Joseph-Noël Bossé and James Gibb Ross.
At that time the company decided to issue debentures to provide financial backing for the contractors and commissioned Scott to negotiate these securities. Scott went to London and signed a contract with British broker John Langham Reed for the sale of debentures of the Levis–Kennebec company in the amount of £100,000. Reed, who paid only £55,000 for the debentures, secured the right to resell this issue, bearing 7 per cent interest over a 20-year period, as well as first claim to purchase the next two issues. Because the broker made various deductions Scott and Larochelle actually received only £48,000 (instead of £55,000) on the first debenture sale, and by 1874 the Levis–Kennebec company was saddled with a debt of £100,000 and annual interest payments of £7,000. On 20 June 1875 only the section from Lévis to the Scott junction (28 miles) was put in service, but a provincial subsidy of $4,000 a mile the following year enabled the company to complete the 15 1/2-mile section connecting Scott with Saint-Joseph in the Beauce region. Having laid only 43 1/2 miles of track by 1876, the Levis–Kennebec company was not yet legally authorized to issue the second series of debentures. Reed already had these securities in hand, having got the documents signed in advance by the company’s president, Joseph-Godric Blanchet, and he now asked for the third series. Failing in the attempt, Reed demanded to be reimbursed for the entire amount already paid to the Levis–Kennebec company, and this brought its operations to a standstill. Scott and Larochelle declared themselves insolvent. The two contractors became embroiled in a quarrel when Scott transferred to Reed the 65,000 Levis–Kennebec shares he had acquired under the terms of the construction contract; Reed thus gained control of the company.
Anxious to present his version of the facts, Scott in 1877 published a pamphlet entitled The Levis and Kennebec Railway, and its difficulties, which prompted Larochelle to defend himself similarly in a pamphlet also brought out that year entitled Chemin de Lévis et Kennebec; réfutation de la brochure de C. A. Scott. In it Larochelle attempted to show how Scott had shirked his responsibilities by making over his shares to Reed without requiring him to acknowledge a personal debt of $40,000 to the workers and suppliers of the Levis–Kennebec company. Larochelle further reproached Scott for acting from the outset as a servant of the English capitalists, regularly accepting their “one thousand dollar gifts” and readily submitting to their terms, while pocketing $1,800 annually for representing the company’s interests in London. Initially without financial resources, Scott had quickly made a fortune for himself in this operation, which by now had seriously depleted Larochelle’s assets.
Meanwhile the Levis–Kennebec company insisted that Reed hand over to it the second series of debentures and at its annual meeting in February 1877 deprived him of the right to exercise his power as principal shareholder. The British bondholders then brought some dozen actions against the company; the result was a complete financial impasse at the beginning of the 1880s when the company was unable to pay the interest on its borrowed capital. The Levis and Kennebec Railway Company went bankrupt, and on 22 March 1881 was finally auctioned by the sheriff, on the steps of the church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Victoire at Lévis, for $192,000. James Robertson Woodward purchased it for the Quebec Central Railway Company.
A supporter of the Quebec Conservative party, Larochelle held many posts in the course of his political career. One of the most distinguished citizens of the region, he served as mayor of Saint-Anselme from 1870 to 1878 and again from 1881 to 1889. In the provincial elections of 1867 he stood in Dorchester County against an influential opponent, Hector-Louis Langevin. In this contest between two Conservatives, Langevin had the advantage of having represented the county for 10 years in the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada. In addition Langevin intended to seek the federal seat as well in order to help establish the new federal system, and he promised if elected to devote his salary as an mla to the needs of the county. Larochelle agreed to withdraw provided that Langevin promised to resign his provincial seat after one year and to give Larochelle his support in the subsequent by-election. Having finally decided to ignore Larochelle’s demands Langevin went after and won both seats. In the 1871 provincial elections Langevin stood in the riding of Quebec Centre, leaving the field clear for Larochelle, who was returned for Dorchester by acclamation. That year he was appointed to the legislature’s select committee for industrial development. He was re-elected in the elections held four years later.
Larochelle’s tendency to independent views became evident when the provincial government of Charles-Eugène Boucher* de Boucherville committed itself in 1875 to building the Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Occidental Railway on the north shore of the St Lawrence. The member for Dorchester and four ministers of the Conservative cabinet opposed the government’s railway policy, fearing that public subsidies for the railways on the south shore would be reduced. After this quarrel with the party leadership Larochelle did not run in the elections of 1878.
He returned to political life in 1881 but was beaten by Nicodème Audet in the provincial elections in Dorchester; he finally won the seat, by acclamation, in 1886. At that time the Conservative party of Quebec, led by John Jones Ross*, was the victim of the backlash against Ottawa’s refusal to commute the death sentence imposed on Louis Riel. A few months after his election Larochelle was one of the five “National Conservatives” who withdrew their confidence from the Ross government and thus held the balance of power in the Quebec Legislative Assembly. On 20 Dec. 1886 he and Ferdinand Trudel published a statement in La Presse calling on Ross to resign. Honoré Mercier* came to power early in 1887 and the following year appointed Larochelle to the Legislative Council, usually the final stage in a political career.
Larochelle died on 27 Oct. 1890, after some weeks of illness; he was survived by his wife and five children. His funeral, attended by many political figures, was held at Saint-Anselme.
Louis-Napoléon Larochelle was the author of Chemin de Lévis et Kennebec; réfutation de la brochure de C. A. Scott (Québec, 1877), which was written as a reply to the charges levelled at him by Charles Armstrong Scott some months earlier in a work entitled The Levis and Kennebec Railway, and its difficulties: a brief history of Larochelle & Scott’s connection with the line from its commencement to the present time (Quebec, 1877).
AC, Beauce (Saint-Joseph de Beauce), État civil, Catholiques, Saint-Anselme, 12 déc. 1876; 30 oct. 1890. ANQ-Q, PQ, TP, Bureau des chemins de fer (mémoires rédigés par L.-N. Larochelle sur les affaires de la Compagnie du chemin de fer de Lévis et Kennebec). ASQ, Fichier des anciens. Le Canadien, 28 oct. 1890. Le Courrier du Canada, 29, 31 oct. 1890. La Presse, 20 déc. 1886. CPC, 1889: 246. Dominion annual register, 1885: 371; 1886: 366. P.-G. Roy, Dates lévisiennes (12v., Lévis, Qué., 1932–40), I–IV. Adrien Bouffard, Saint-Anselme de Dorchester . . . une paroisse coopérative (n.p., ), 22, 45. Désilets, Hector-Louis Langevin. Gervais, “L’expansion du réseau ferroviaire québécois.” M. Hamelin, Premières années du parlementarisme québécois. Honorius Provost, Chaudière Kennebec; grand chemin séculaire (Québec, 1974). Rumilly, Hist. de la prov. de Québec, II–VI. “Les disparus,” BRH, 39 (1933): 435.