LEPAGE DE SAINTE-CLAIRE, LOUIS, priest, canon, seigneur; b. 22 Aug. 1690 at Saint-François, Île d’Orléans, son of René Lepage de Sainte-Claire, the first seigneur of Rimouski, and Marie-Madeleine Gagnon; d. 3 Dec. 1762 at Terrebonne (Que.).
Louis Lepage de Sainte-Claire belonged to a family that had been in New France since 1663. He entered the seminary of Quebec, and on 8 Oct. 1713 he received the minor orders from Bishop Saint-Vallier [La Croix*]. On 6 April 1715 he was ordained a priest in the cathedral of Quebec. As soon as he had been ordained, he was appointed priest of the parish of Saint-François-de-Sales on Île Jésus. Some years after his installation he bought some pieces of land, and in January 1719 he obtained his first land grant from the seminary of Quebec, the owner of Île Jésus; he acquired other properties in February and March 1720. In addition, he had a project for developing the immense domains situated on the other side of the Rivière des Mille-Îles. Indeed, the seigneury of Terrebonne, which had been first granted in 1673, had scarcely been developed. The successive owners, André Daulier Deslandes, Louis Le Conte* Dupré, and François-Marie Bouat*, had settled only a small number of censitaires, and no banal mill or seigneurial manor had been built. On 2 Sept. 1720, following financial reverses, Bouat made the seigneury of Terrebonne over to Lepage for the sum of 10,000 livres, while keeping the mortgage on the lands. The seigneury then consisted of a territory of two leagues by two.
Lepage de Sainte-Claire, who had been named a canon of the chapter on 9 June 1721, received permission from his bishop to reside on his domain. He began making land grants in 1723 and in a single day signed 24 contracts. The recognition of sovereignty and the census of his seigneury in 1736 show that the number of censitaires had reached 81. Even though the authorities of the colony forbad its establishment, Lepage de Sainte-Claire created a proper village on the Rivière des Mille-Îles. On his domain he had built a stone church, a presbytery which served as the seigneurial dwelling, four flour mills, and a sawmill. According to Intendant Hocquart*, such industry was unparalleled in the colony.
The development of his seigneury had, however, left him scarcely any time to carry out his duties as a canon. He was not the only one in this situation, and in a letter to Maurepas on 19 Oct. 1728 Canon Charles Plante complained of the canons’ negligence in attending services and mentioned particularly “M. Louis Lepage [who] has his land and mills to develop.” When asked by Bishop Dosquet* to comply with the residence requirement, Lepage de Sainte-Claire resigned in 1729.
In 1731 the seigneur of Terrebonne obtained a grant of a piece of land two leagues deep adjoining his seigneury, in order to increase the reserves of wood he needed. That same year he contracted to supply ship yards in the colony and the mother country with pine and oak boards and planking, and to obtain more raw materials he worked oak stands in the seigneuries of Berthier-en-Haut and Dautré. On 20 Oct. 1730 Lepage de Sainte-Claire had sent the minister a long report in which he emphasized that the difficulties “in succeeding in the different undertakings ... simply come from the scarcity of money and men.” To cope with these two difficulties he proposed that a greater number of ships be built, which “would cause an influx of money into the colony” and “would promote competition.” His argument was not, however, considered.
At this period Lepage de Sainte-Claire, whose health was delicate, was constantly contending with financial worries. He wanted to retrieve his position, and 12 July 1738 he signed a deed of partnership with the d’Ailleboust brothers of Montreal for the establishment of ironworks on his seigneury. But he had overlooked an essential step, obtaining the king’s permission, and despite Canon Pierre Hazeur* de L’Orme’s support he received a royal order not to go ahead with the project. The king was afraid that this new enterprise might injure the Saint-Maurice ironworks, which at that time were in great financial difficulties. Lepage de Sainte-Claire was in an awkward position, as his partners had on 29 Sept. 1739 obtained annulment of the contract. Lepage was consequently under the obligation of repaying the sums advanced by his partners and of handing over to them possession of his sawmill for eight years. He again tried, but without success, to interest the authorities in his enterprise. In a final attempt he asked permission to operate the Saint-Maurice ironworks, which were in a bad way, but when he could not put up guarantees his proposal was rejected.
As his financial situation did not improve he sold his seigneury on 15 Jan. 1745 to Louis de La Corne, known as La Corne l’ainé, for 60,000 livres, to which was added an annual payment of 1,000 livres that was to cease at his death. The statement of his debts attached to the bill of sale showed the sum of 55,268 livres; according to contemporary estimates the seigneury was worth at least 150,000 livres. In a final effort in 1749 Abbé Lepage built a sawmill on the Rivière des Mille-Îles, but the business rapidly declined.
The following year he retired to the presbytery of Saint-Louis-de-Terrebonne, where he died on 3 Dec. 1762 at 72 years of age. Like many other builders who could rely only upon themselves, Lepage de Sainte-Claire ran several enterprises without worrying too much about the debts he might contract. His activities on his seigneury and the running of his numerous enterprises did not prevent him from exercising his ministry in his seigneury and neighbouring parishes that were without a priest. He had also been titular parish priest or the serving priest at Saint-François-de-Sales, Lachenaie, and Sainte-Rose, Île Jésus. The numerous gifts he made to these different churches still bear witness to his devotion and activity.
AAQ, 12 A, Registres d’insinuations B, 245, 246; Registres d’insinuations C, 7; 11 B, Correspondance, II, 150; 1 W, Église du Canada, I, 69–75. AJQ, Registre d’état civil, Saint-François, île d’Orléans, 22 août 1690. AN, Col., C11A, 53, pp.116–23; 57, pp.123–28; 58, pp.52f; 74, pp.27–31; E, 278 (dossier Lepage) (PAC transcripts). ANQ, Greffe de Pierre Duquet, 26 oct. 1681; NF, Aveux et dénombrements; NF, Ord. int., I, 115. ANQ-M, Greffe de C.-F. Coron, 10 juill. 1749; Greffe de L.-C. Danré de Blanzy, 15 janv. 1745; Greffe de Pierre Raimbault, 1er Oct. 1718, 2 sept. 1720; Greffe de Nicolas Senet, 24 janv. 1719, 24 avril 1723, 26 mars 1730, 12 juill. 1738. PAC, MG 8, A7, 5; MG 24, L3, 7, 37, 44. “Procès-verbaux du procureur général Collet” (Caron), APQ Rapport, 1921-22, 291, 369.