ROCQUE, OVIDE-ARTHUR, politician, businessman, and office holder; b. 19 Sept. 1847 in Bytown (Ottawa), son of Pierre Rocque and Sophie Normandeau; m. 18 July 1876 Gabrielle Galibert, a native of Milhaud, France, in the church of Sainte-Brigide, Montreal, and they had three sons and three daughters; d. 15 Feb. 1923 in Orleans, Ont.
At the time of Ovide-Arthur Rocque’s death, the Ottawa French-language daily Le Droit praised him at great length. “The cause of French language rights in Ontario,” it declared on page eight, “has just lost one of its most valiant defenders.” Four days later, the Montreal daily Le Devoir went even further, putting Rocque’s obituary on the front page and describing him as “an old fighter” in the French Canadian cause. Between these newspapers’ recollections of Rocque and the events of his life, there is, however, a marked difference.
Nothing is known about Rocque’s life before 1872, when he was elected an alderman in Ottawa, an office he held until 1876. During his term, he was a member of numerous committees (public works, health, by-laws, court of revision, water supply) and supported, in particular, the construction of sidewalks. He was also one of his ward’s two trustees on the separate school board. In 1874 he bought a farm located between the Ottawa River and the village of Orleans. He described himself at that time as a contractor in Ottawa. From 1878 to 1880 he was listed in the city directory as a bread and biscuit baker. Rocque returned to the city council in 1880, but for only a few months since he served as the inspector of markets for the city of Ottawa from 1881 to 1892.
From 1888 to 1903 Rocque was also an industrial inspector for eastern Ontario. The reasons for his appointment are still unclear. His support for the provincial Liberal party, which was reported in newspaper articles at the time of his death, may provide an explanation. As part of his duties under the terms of the Ontario Factories’ Act of 1884, Rocque submitted an annual report to the Legislative Assembly on working conditions in the factories and sawmills of eastern Ontario. He noted infractions related to ventilation in workplaces and sanitary facilities, suggested measures for fire prevention, and drew up the list of workplace accidents.
Rocque’s chief concern as an inspector, however, was the employment of children as young as 12 and 13 years of age in factories. He considered that this work was injurious to the physical and intellectual development of young people and exposed them to serious moral dangers, such as coarse language and reprehensible sexual conduct, because of the harmful influence of some adults. He did not hesitate to blame the parents of these children, calling them idlers motivated by the lure of gains. Rocque sometimes denounced employers, but he excused them, mentioning that they were led astray by parents who produced false documents to vouch for their children’s ages. In order to put an end to child labour, Rocque recommended to the legislature that the minimum legal working age be raised to 14 years for boys and 16 years for girls, a measure adopted in 1893. He was less successful with his suggestion that proof of literacy be required of young people who wanted to work in factories.
Little is known about the extent of Rocque’s militancy in support of the rights of French Canadians in Ontario. Since the beginning of the 20th century, growing conflicts between English and French Canadians in the province, especially on matters of religion and education, had led the latter to band together to defend their rights. This experience gave birth to the idea of an association that would unite all Franco-Ontarians. Rocque played a role, although not a leading one, in organizing the convention in January 1910 that would lay the groundwork for it. He displayed a keen enthusiasm for the event, and even confided to the secretary of the organizing committee that he had been trying for several years to set up a provincial association; he also pointed out that the most important issue for francophones was education, and especially securing adequate financing for the schools attended by French Canadians and the establishment of an institution to train French-speaking teachers in Ontario.
As one of the 25 people in charge of preparations for the event, Rocque went on promotional tours of eastern Ontario to arouse enthusiasm for it among French Canadians. The organizers hoped, of course, that this fervour would result in generous financial support. Rocque also became a member of the statistics committee. It fell to him to prepare a quantitative report on the French Canadians in the counties of Glengarry and Stormont that would be submitted to the convention.
When the gathering was held in Ottawa from 18 to 20 Jan. 1910, Rocque and 1,200 delegates supported the formation of the Association Canadienne-Française d’Éducation d’Ontario (ACFEO). In addition to defending and promoting the rights of French Canadians, the ACFEO leaders were given the responsibility for dealing with school system issues. Rocque was a member of the executive committee in 1910–11, and later of the administrative committee, which in fact was the association’s management committee. The association was the voice of Franco-Ontarians during the school crisis precipitated by the promulgation of Regulation 17 in 1912, which restricted instruction in French to the first two years of elementary school. Rocque did not play a major role on this occasion, unlike Philippe Landry*, Napoléon-Antoine Belcourt*, Charles Charlebois, and Samuel McCallum Genest*. His daughter Marie-Louise, who was teaching in the Ottawa region, was, however, among those who resisted during this dispute.
There is no further mention of Ovide-Arthur Rocque after 1916, since he had no specific administrative responsibilities in the ACFEO, probably because of his health. He died in 1923, “after a lengthy illness,” according to Le Devoir.
[Information concerning Ovide-Arthur Rocque was taken from a variety of sources, there being no archival collection devoted to him. m.m.]
ANQ-M, CE601-S15, 18 juill. 1876. Arch. paroissiales, Notre-Dame (Ottawa), RBMS, 19 sept. 1847. Centre for Research on French Canadian Culture (Ottawa), C2 (Assoc. Canadienne-Française de l’Ontario, formerly the Assoc. Canadienne-Française d’Éducation de l’Ontario). LAC, RG 31, C1, 1901, Gloucester Township, Ont., div.1: 1 (mfm. at AO). Le Devoir, 19 févr. 1923. Le Droit (Ottawa), 15 févr. 1923. Ottawa Evening Journal, 15 Feb. 1923. Directory, Ottawa, 1866–1922. Historical sketch of the county of Carleton, ed. C. C. J. Bond (Belleville, Ont., 1971), 176–77 [reprint of the text only of Illustrated historical atlas of the county of Carleton (including city of Ottawa), Ont. (Toronto, 1879)]. Ont., Legislature, Sessional papers (reports of the minister of agriculture, 1888–1903). Ottawa, City Council, Minutes, 1872–76, 1880.