MOLLEUR, LOUIS, schoolteacher, businessman, and politician; b. 7 July 1828 in L’Acadie, Lower Canada, son of Louis Molleur, a farmer, and Marie-Angèle Mailloux; m. 20 Sept. 1851, in L’Acadie, his cousin Aurélie Molleur, and they had one daughter; m. secondly 18 Jan. 1898, in Saint-Jean (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu), Que., Elmina Mathieu, widow of François-Henri Marchand; d. 17 Aug. 1904 in Saint-Jean.
After growing up and studying in L’Acadie, Louis Molleur taught school there from 1848 to 1853. He left to become a merchant in the nearby community of Saint-Valentin in 1853, and ten years later moved to Henryville, where he was a merchant until 1865. His penchant for business deals was evident from the start. He purchased several pieces of land in Saint-Valentin which he later sold at a profit.
Molleur and his family then settled in Saint-Jean, where he became an entrepreneur and politician. Having first served as churchwarden there, he became a municipal councillor and in 1867 was elected to the Legislative Assembly as a Liberal to represent neighbouring Iberville. He would hold the seat until 1881. Molleur had probably contested Iberville rather than Saint-Jean in order to allow his friend and associate Félix-Gabriel Marchand* to represent Saint-Jean.
Marchand and to a lesser extent Molleur personified the strong Liberal tradition in the Saint-Jean area. Between long years of consecutive Conservative governments in Quebec after confederation, there were brief intervals during which other parties were in power. Two of the three non-Conservative governments of Quebec in the late 19th century were led by politicians from the Saint-Jean region, Honoré Mercier*, leader of the Parti National and premier from 1887 to 1891, and Marchand, premier from 1897 to 1900.
Molleur’s own political career was far less distinguished, although his local popularity never waned. He was influential in securing the passage of a bill in 1869 to regulate winter vehicles on public roads. Reportedly well informed in matters of public finance and municipal affairs, in 1871 he helped disclose a scandal in the government concerning the Asile de Beauport [see Joseph-Édouard Cauchon*]. Molleur belonged to a small group of local businessmen in the assembly who were committed to the industrialization of Quebec in order to check the emigration of its population, attracted by the factories in New England. He supported a protective tariff and bonuses for Quebec industries and opposed the colonization and railway schemes put forth by the Conservative governments.
Molleur’s ambitions were directed more towards local business than politics. For several years he would serve as director of the Canada Agricultural Insurance Company. In 1868 he and nine other prominent residents of Saint-Jean, including Marchand, formed the Permanent Building Society of the District of Iberville. Molleur, the company’s first vice-president and later its president, was the only businessman in the group; the others were lawyers and notaries. More important, eight of the ten, including Molleur, had served or would serve as municipal councillors or mayors of Saint-Jean in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Their lack of business experience may well have been overshadowed by their political influence, which could be used to help promote the society. In 1871 Molleur and a few of his associates became shareholders in the Waterworks Company of St Johns. The following year, probably with the help of their friends on the town council, they obtained the exclusive right to supply Saint-Jean’s water. There is no evidence that other tenders were submitted.
Neither the building society nor the waterworks company achieved any great success despite their political support. Owing to the construction of the St Lawrence and Atlantic Rail-road, Saint-Jean’s initial prosperity and commercial success had declined in favour of that of Saint-Hyacinthe and Sherbrooke. Like other communities, Saint-Jean tried to attract railway and industrial ventures through incentives such as tax exemptions and bonuses, but with few concrete results. It is therefore not surprising that no local businessmen joined Molleur in his undertakings.
The four other shareholders in the waterworks sold out during the depression of the 1870s or after a serious fire in 1876 which ravaged Saint-Jean’s downtown. Charges of inefficiency, typhus-infected water, and conflict of interest between the shareholders and the town council had increasingly been levied at the company. In 1877 Molleur became the sole owner of the waterworks. Two years later his offer to provide Iberville with similar services met with failure, despite his repeated lobbying. Molleur’s political influence obviously did not extend to Iberville’s town council. Eventually in 1917 the waterworks was expropriated by the provincial government and compensation was awarded to Molleur’s descendants.
In 1873 Molleur and many of his associates from the building society and the waterworks founded what he considered to be the great accomplishment of his life, the Banque de Saint-Jean. As Ronald Rudin shows in his study of French Canadian banks, English banks did not serve small French Canadian centres during this period. None the less, local economic conditions in Saint-Jean did not favour the creation of a bank. From its inception, local merchants stayed away. The promoters indicated $540,000 of subscribed stock in their initial application for a charter, $479,000 of which was to be purchased by the building society, whose own assets amounted to less than $127,000. The federal Treasury Board rejected the application because almost 90 per cent of the bank’s stock would have been held by one corporate shareholder. A second application was accepted despite the Treasury Board’s doubts about 36 per cent of the subscribed stock, and the bank began operation in October 1873. During its existence the bank reported paid capital above the amount actually received, published few annual reports, and seems to have kept no minutes or records. Molleur, its president until 1904, and a few other opportunists in the region had sought and received a charter in order to serve their own interests rather than those of the community.
The bank survived the depression of the 1870s and even showed profits in the 1880s but was hard hit by the recession of 1885. It overextended itself by establishing three branches in the region and making poor loans, such as $350,000 to the East Richelieu Valley Railway. The railway’s president, Philippe-Honoré Roy, was Molleur’s son-in-law, the bank’s largest shareholder, and eventually Molleur’s successor as its president. Molleur and subsequently Roy paid out dividends of six per cent from 1900 to 1906, but the money is unlikely to have come from profits. It more probably was taken from deposits, in order to cover up the bank’s poor financial position and to maintain Molleur’s and Roy’s respectability and standing in the community.
The closure of the bank in April 1908 was initially interpreted by the press as having been caused by competition from larger banks and over-investment in the railway rather than as the result of irresponsible actions on the part of directors, but Roy soon faced an inquiry, a trial, and imprisonment. The ultimate consequences of Molleur’s and Roy’s opportunistic dealings fell on the depositors. Little was left for them after preferred creditors were paid.
Molleur’s only attempt at manufacturing was equally dismal. A shoe factory, the Compagnie Manufacturière de Saint-Jean, of which he was president and shareholder, existed for one year, 1875. Lack of profits forced him to sell out in 1876 to Louis Côté* of Saint-Hyacinthe for $11,000.
The life of Louis Molleur may well have been overshadowed by the careers of more prominent figures. He is none the less representative of local 19th-century businessmen who sought to promote their own aims in small Quebec towns and whose legacy in failing to establish a strong regional industrial base remains to this day.
AC, Iberville (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Qué.), État civil, Catholiques, Saint-Jean-l’Évangiliste (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu), 18 janv. 1898, 20 août 1904. ANQ-M, CE4-1, 8 juill. 1828, 20 sept. 1851. Arch. de la Ville de Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Procès-verbaux, 1848–1914. Le Canada français (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu), 26 janv. 1977. Pierre Brault, Histoire de L’Acadie du Haut-Richelieu (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, 1982). Lionel Fortin, Félix-Gabriel Marchand (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, 1979). M. Hamelin, Premières années du parlementarisme québécois. Kathleen Lord, “Municipal aid and industrial development: Saint-Jean, Quebec, 1848–1914” (ma thesis, Concordia Univ., Montreal, 1981); “Nineteenth century corporate welfare: municipal aid and industrial development, Saint-Jean, Quebec, 1848–1914,” Urban Hist. Rev. (Winnipeg), 12 (1984–85): 105–15. Qué., Assemblée Législative, Débats, 1867–81. RPQ. Ronald Rudin, Banking en français: the French banks of Quebec, 1835–1925 (Toronto, 1985).