LAURIN, JOSEPH, author, notary, trade unionist, politician, and public servant; b. 18 Oct. 1811 at Quebec City, son of Joseph Laurin and Catherine Fluet; m. 3 Sept. 1839, in the parish of Saint-Joseph (now in Lauzon), Lower Canada, Marie-Louise, daughter of merchant Étienne Dalaire (Dallaire); d. 3 March 1888 at Ancienne-Lorette, Que.
After completing a classical education at the Petit Séminaire de Québec from 1824 to 1833, Joseph Laurin remained there for a year to study theology and to teach. In 1834 he was transferred as a teacher to the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière but he gave up the idea of becoming a priest that year and sought training in the office of notary Fabien Ouellet at Quebec City. Obliged to pay for his studies, Laurin drew on his pedagogical experience to put together five works designed to remedy the lack of school texts at this period. Thus between 1836 and 1839 he published Traité d’arithmétique, Livre destiné à l’instruction de l’enfance, Traité sur la tenue des livres, Le chansonnier canadien, ou nouveau recueil de chansons, and Géographie élémentaire. These books, which according to Le Fantasque of Quebec showed a sometimes questionable scholarly rigidity, reveal the author’s belief in the necessity of training the mind: “Without education, a man cannot do for his fellows all the good they have a right to expect from him in society, nor can he hold the distinguished rank that enlightenment always ensures for the person possessing it. It is therefore each person’s duty . . . to use his influence to encourage men to cultivate their minds.”
Laurin was admitted to the notarial profession on 20 Aug. 1839 and established himself on Rue Couillard in Quebec City. An examination of his minute book, which contains more than 9,197 acts for the period 1839 to 1888, shows that he had a large clientele, which was drawn particularly from the working classes. A year after he opened his office, one of the first great strikes in the history of the working-class movement in Canada broke out in the shipyards along the Rivière Saint-Charles at Quebec City. More than 800 shipwrights stopped production to show their dissatisfaction with the owners of the shipbuilding yards, who had for some time been trying, through a coalition, to keep salaries as low as possible. In December 1840 the workers, wanting to organize their defence effectively, founded the Société Amicale et Bienviellante des Charpentiers de Vaisseaux de Québec. On this occasion Laurin, who was sympathetic to the aspirations of the workers, was elected secretary and legal adviser to the society; in this capacity he drafted both its request for incorporation and its by-laws. At a meeting on 21 December Laurin declared he “would make every endeavour to uphold the shipwrights in their noble determination to oppose vigorously and unremittingly the hateful monopoly of the master shipbuilders, who, not content with having exploited the toil and sweat of the poor shipwrights to amass wealth, also want in this harsh season to rob them and their families at one fell swoop of all means of subsistence by offering them a mere pittance, while they sell their ships at a good price on the other side of the Atlantic.” As a result of this organized response, the owners of the shipyards bowed to the workers’ demands in a few days and raised their wages from 3 to 4 shillings a day. This first victory added strength to the new trade union.
Laurin was also active in politics, In the 1836 elections he ran in Saguenay as a candidate favouring the 92 resolutions; although he was motivated by a restrained patriotism, he was confronted with a campaign to discredit him led by the Quebec Gazette. He failed to obtain enough support and withdrew his candidature after 13 days. Nevertheless in 1844 he was elected for Lotbinière to the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada; he retained this seat until 1854 when he was defeated by John O’Farrell, a Quebec lawyer, in an election declared fraudulent. During his ten years in the house Laurin struggled against instances of oppression of French Canadian people. Thus in 1844 he protested against English being used almost exclusively in the assembly and called for enforcement of the parliamentary regulation that all statutes and associated documents be translated into the two languages. But in the following year a motion made by Laurin was declared inadmissible by the speaker, Sir Allan Napier MacNab*, because it was written in French. Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine* tried unsuccessfully to have the speaker’s decision overturned. In 1849, during the debate on a bill for electoral reform, the young notary put forward a motion to bring in a system of proportional representation in order to correct the electoral injustices experienced by Canada East since 1840; when this motion was defeated, he joined those calling for the repeal of the union. Laurin’s name is associated particularly with the 1847 act to organize the notarial profession in Canada East; the bill incorporated a concept Laurin had put forward, the setting up of three boards of notaries (at Montreal, Trois-Rivières, and Quebec)authorized to issue certificates to candidates and to supervise professional practice.
Concerned about the proper conduct of his profession, Laurin in 1840 helped found the Association des Notaires du District de Québec [see Louis-Édouard Glackmeyer]. He also served as the first secretary of the Quebec Board of Notaries from 1848 to 1862, was its treasurer from 1862 to 1868, and became its president in 1868, retaining this office until 1870. During these years, Laurin concentrated on dealing with the board’s current business and at times sat on its committees, such as one to study the bill embodying the new civil code in 1865 [see René-Édouard Caron*] and another which in 1868 was to draft a bill to amend the 1847 legislation relating to the notarial profession. This last bill was adopted in 1870 by the Quebec Legislative Assembly, and brought the members of the profession together in a single corporation, the Quebec Provincial Board of Notaries.
Throughout his career Laurin carried out diverse administrative, legal, and military duties. Thus he represented Saint-Roch Ward on the municipal council of Quebec City from 1843 to 1846, and later served as mayor of the village of Ancienne-Lorette. For several years he was a commissioner on the Court of Queen’s Bench and justice of the peace for the district of Quebec. Laurin, who was described as physically robust, was given in 1847 the rank of captain in the local militia and in 1858 became a lieutenant-colonel. Three years earlier he had accepted a commission as crown lands agent and also as agent for the conversion of land tenure in the censive (seigneurial area) of Quebec. In 1868 he became superintendent of waterside lots in the province of Quebec and agent for the Lauson seigneury; he retained these posts until 1887.
Laurin died on 3 March 1888 at the residence in Ancienne-Lorette which he had purchased in 1845 from his friend, the musician and notary Louis-Édouard Glackmeyer. This house had been named Montebello, in honour of Louis-Joseph Papineau*, whom Laurin greatly admired.
Joseph Laurin was the author of Traité d’arithmétique, contenant une claire et familière explication de ses principes, et suivi d’un traité d’algèbre (Québec, 1836); Livre destiné à l’instruction de l’enfance, ou nouvel alphabet français à l’usage des enfans (Québec, 1837); Traité sur la tenue des livres, en partie simple et en partie double, rédigé pour la classe mercantile (Québec, 1837); Le chansonnier canadien, ou nouveau recueil de chansons (Québec, 1838); and Géographie élémentaire, par demandes et par réponses, à l’usage des écoles (Québec, 1839). His minute books (1839–88) are at the ANQ-Q.
ANQ-Q, État civil, Catholiques, Notre-Dame de Québec, 18 oct. 1811. Debates of the Legislative Assembly of United Canada (Gibbs et al.), VIII: 189–90, 349–50, 1427–28. Le Canadien, 13 janv. 1836, 21 déc. 1840, 20 janv. 1841. Le Fantasque (Québec), 3 juin 1839, 10 déc. 1840. DOLQ, I: 244. Ouellet, Hist. économique, 500–1. J.-E. Roy, Hist. du notariat, III: 57, 137–46, 148, 227, 317, 351, 436–37, 446. S. B. Ryerson, Le capitalisme et la Confédération: aux sources du conflit Canada-Québec (1760–1873), André d’Allemagne, trad. (Montréal, 1972), 231–35. Réal Bertrand, “Le notaire Joseph Laurin”, Vie française (Québec), 15 (1960–61): 218–28. Lionel Groulx, “Faillite d’une politique,” RHAF, 2 (1948–49): 81–96.