MILETTE (Millette), ALEXIS, carpenter, wood sculptor, and architect; b.15 Feb. 1793 at Sainte-Anne-d’Yamachiche (Yamachiche, Que.), son of Joseph Milette and Judith Leblanc; m. 15 Feb. 1819 Marie, daughter of Jean-Baptiste Hébert, and they had 13 children, one of whom, Joseph-Octave-Norbert, became an architect and sculptor; d. 11 Oct. 1869 in his native parish.
There is no documented information about Alexis Milette’s childhood and training. We know that his father was himself a sculptor and had at least one apprentice, Édouard Besse. Did Joseph Milette train his son? It is impossible to state that he did with certainty. Émile Vaillancourt* asserts, in Une maîtrise d’art en Canada, that Milette attended the workshop of Louis-Amable Quévillon* at the same time as Amable Gauthier*. Moreover, in 1821 Milette was associated with the latter in the decoration of the church of Sainte-Geneviève-de-Berthier; they may well have become acquainted at Quévillon’s workshop at Saint-Vincent-de-Paul (Laval), a place commonly called Les Écorres. At this school the pupils learned the currently accepted styles of fine carpentry, wood carving, and gilding by working with the master and the advanced pupils.
In 1815 Alexis Milette obtained a contract to make and install “the wood panelling of the sanctuary and the interior ornamentation” of the church of Sainte-Anne-d’Yamachiche; he had probably just finished his training under Quévillon. The principle of team-work, apprenticeship, and the trade guild, which was used at Les Écorres, seems to have served as a model for Milette. Like several of Quévillon’s pupils, he set up a workshop. The first associate to appear in connection with Milette’s work is the sculptor’s father Joseph, who is thought to have backed him financially and given him his shop; others were his brothers Michel, Bénoni, and Pierre; his son, Joseph-Octave Norbert; Joseph-Hengard Lapalice, who built numerous churches including Sainte-Trinité-de-Contrecœur, Saint-Paul-d’Abbotsford, Saint-Simon, and Sainte-Cécile (at Valleyfield); Moïse Berthiaume; and the brothers Joseph and Georges Héroux.
Throughout his career, Alexis Milette handled several contracts at the same time; moreover, his clients generally called upon his services more than once. His principal clients were the councils of the following parishes: Sainte-Anne-d’Yamachiche (1815–58), La Nativité-de-Notre-Dame-de-Bécancour (1817–22), Saint-Antoine-de-la-Baie-du-Febvre (1818–45), Sainte-Geneviève-de-Berthier (1822–29), Saint-Joseph-de-Maskinongé (1835), Sainte-Geneviève-de-Batiscan (1837), Saint-Aimé (1843), Saint-Michel-d’Yamaska (1843–52), Saint-Jean on the Richelieu River (1845–55), Saint-François-du-Lac(1849–56), Saint-Joseph-de-Lanoriae (1864), and Saint-Barnabé (1864).
Like most French Canadian artists of the period, Alexis Milette had to turn his hand to all the varied forms of his art. Primarily a sculptor in wood, he was hired in this capacity, with the builder Jean-Baptiste Hébert, for the church of Saint-Michel-d’Yamaska; on other occasions he himself was builder, as for the church of Saint-Antoine-de-la-Baie-du-Febvre. In addition, he often had to supply plans for repairs, architectural modifications, or the decoration of church interiors and exteriors.
“The most fashionable sculptor of the day in the whole Trois-Rivières region” apparently enjoyed an excellent reputation among his contemporaries; the solidity and elegance of his buildings, in Louis XV style, were highly commended, and his ability to erect churches in keeping with the financial means of the parishes was generally acknowledged. Whether as sculptor or builder, Milette was strongly influenced in the decoration of church interiors by the plans of the architects who conceived the building. Thus at Baie-du-Febvre and Saint-François-du-Lac he worked according to the principles of Thomas Baillairgé*; at Lanoraie and Maskinongé we can see the architecture of Victor Bourgeau*. In this sense Milette’s work is broadly comparable to that of Augustin Leblanc*, who also was torn between two spheres of influence: Quebec and Montreal.
ANQ-TR, Greffe de Petrus Hubert, 8 mars 1855. Archives judiciaires, Saint-Hyacinthe (Saint-Hyacinthe, Qué.), Greffe de P.-P. Dutalmé, 26 juill. 1814. Archives paroissiales, La Nativité-de-Notre-Dame-de-Bécancour (Bécancour, Qué.), Livres de comptes, II; Saint-Antoine-de-la-Baie-du-Febvre (Baieville, Qué.), Livres de comptes, I (1734–1819); Sainte-Anne-d’Yamachiche (Yamachiche, Qué.), Livres de comptes, 1789–1843; Sainte-Geneviève-de-Berthier (Berthierville, Qué.), Livres de comptes, I, II; Saint-François-du-Lac (Saint-François-du-Lac, Qué.), Livres de comptes, III (1849–82); Saint-Michel-d’Yamaska (Yamaska, Qué.), Livres de comptes, I (1763–1843), II (1844–1907). IBC, Centre de documentation, Fonds Morisset, Dossier Alexis Millette. PAC, MG 30, D62, 21, pp.678–81. Le Courrier du Canada, 26 oct. 1864. La Minerve, 17 janv. 1860. Louis Carrier, Catalogue du Musée du château de Ramezay de Montréal, J.-J. Lefebvre, trad. et édit. (Montréal, 1962), 115. Napoléon Caron, Histoire de la paroisse d’Yamachiche (précis historique) (Trois-Rivières, 1892). O.-M.-H. Lapalice, Histoire de la seigneurie Massue et de la paroisse de Saint-Aimé (s.l., 1930). Émile Vaillancourt, Une maîtrise d’art en Canada (1800–1823) (Montréal, 1920), 91–92.