ROMAIN (Audivert, dit Romain; Odivert, dit Romain), FRANÇOIS, office holder and militia officer; b. 7 Jan. 1768 at Quebec, son of François Audivert, dit Romain, and Anne Ledroit, dit Perche; m. there 15 Sept. 1789 Agathe Debigaré, dit Lebasque; d. there 18 Aug. 1832.
François Romain belonged to the third generation of a family whose forebear had come from Italy to New France early in the 18th century. After studies at the Petit Séminaire de Québec, which he cut short in 1786, he worked with his father as keeper of the Quebec Library, an institution founded in 1779 by Governor Frederick Haldimand*. In 1792, when the province’s first house of assembly was convened, François Romain and his father undertook to set up a library for it. They may thus be considered the first Canadians to have exercised the profession of librarian in Lower Canada. The library apparently enjoyed a degree of popularity with the legislators, for a report of 1802 from an assembly committee suggested “arrangements . . . in regard to the Books imported for the use of this House.” The official responsible for the legislative library was the clerk, William Lindsay; from 1810 to 1816 Romain’s name was on the civil list with the modest title of door-keeper at the former bishop’s palace, which was being rented by the assembly. In 1809, however, when he assumed the office of president of the Literary Society of Quebec, he was called librarian.
During the War of 1812 Romain was made quartermaster of the town’s 1st Militia Battalion; the following year he was promoted lieutenant. In 1818 he quit his position as librarian and formed a general agency at Quebec in partnership with surveyor Robert-Anne d’Estimauville. According to an announcement in the Quebec Gazette on 3 September, the agency offered immigrants and travellers information on Canada; it also placed servants and sold or rented houses. The business does not seem to have been successful, since d’Estimauville left his partner on 2 June 1821 to become assistant to his brother, Jean-Baptiste-Philippe-Charles d’Estimauville, the grand voyer (chief road commissioner) for the District of Quebec. As for Romain, he went back to his post as librarian.
From 1821 it is hard to distinguish Romain’s career from that of his son François, a lawyer at Quebec from 1822 to 1832. Despite the identity of names, it seems logical, in view of his previous experience, to identify the elder François as the one who was the pioneer in the field of education. It would then have been he who on 7 May 1821 was a member of the founding committee of the Quebec Education Society and who a year later, with its president Joseph-François Perrault*, organized the first free public school at Quebec.
In May 1825, Romain became president of the society following the departure of Perrault, whose liberalism in matters of religion made Bishop Jean-Jacques Lartigue* deeply anxious. Romain was to retain the title of president until his death. In 1829, as a result of pressure from him, the assembly voted the society £483 “to pay the debts incurred and for the support of the school.” Romain appeared before the assembly’s special committee on education on 10 Feb. 1830 and explained that the society could no longer meet the demands on it and that a school with a capacity for more than 600 children was needed. The society had already bought land and was having a new building erected on Rue des Glacis in the faubourg Saint-Jean. Romain maintained that the high demand resulted from the fact that it was “the only truly Catholic free school at Quebec, although the Education Society admits all children, without reference to their faith.”
The plan for a new school was accepted by the assembly committee, which recommended grants be made to the society. On 15 March 1831 one of the committee members, Hector-Simon Huot*, was questioned by his colleagues about a petition that Romain had just presented on behalf of the society. Huot reminded them that the society, of which he was the secretary, had received £1,182 from the assembly in addition to an annual contribution of £142. Huot drew upon Romain’s report to stress that in 1831 the society’s schools had a total of 402 pupils (230 in the French section and 172 in the English). Since August 1830 classes had been held in a new building. Making an assessment of François Romain’s work as president, Huot noted that 918 pupils (618 in the French section and 300 in the English) had attended the schools since May 1826.
Romain then gave the committee an “estimate of probable expenses” for the year 1831–32. The budget of £401 included £250 for the two schoolmasters’ salaries, £30 for paper and textbooks, £20 for heating, £15 for repairs, and even £3 for insurance. The request for funds was granted, prior to the passage of a new act in 1832 providing for a comprehensive budget for education in Lower Canada, an objective pursued for 11 years as much by Perrault the liberal, as by Romain the conservative.
For these two pioneers 1832 consequently marked the culmination of a long period of struggle for the advancement of education. A series of painful events, however, cast a shadow over this final phase of Romain’s career. His old friend and former partner, Robert-Anne d’Estimauville, died on 31 July 1831. Then on 11 Feb. 1832 his only son François passed away.
François Romain himself succumbed during the great cholera epidemic of 1832. On 20 August the Quebec Gazette reported that a fortnight earlier there had been a fresh outbreak at Quebec as a result of temperatures ranging from 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit accompanied by high humidity. The newspaper mentioned specifically that more than 2,000 people had perished since the beginning of the epidemic in June. According to the daily record of “the awfull visitation,” 18 August with 33 deaths was the darkest day. Such were the ravages that the authorities were obliged to open a new cemetery on the Plains of Abraham for the residents of Upper Town. It was there that François Romain was hastily buried on 18 Aug. 1832, the day he died.
ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 7 janv. 1768; 15 sept. 1789; 11 févr., 18 août 1832; P-239. L.C., House of Assembly, Journals, 1823–31. Quebec Gazette, 6 March 1794, 24 Dec. 1799, 11 Dec. 1800, 8 Feb. 1810, 3 Sept. 1818, 10 May 1822, 20 Aug. 1832. Hare et Wallot, Les imprimés dans le Bas-Canada, 197. Officers of British forces in Canada (Irving). L.-P. Audet, Le système scolaire, 5: 33–34. Bernard Dufebvre [Émile Castonguay], Journal d’un bourgeois de Québec (Québec, ), 83. Gilles Gallichan, La bibliothèque de la Législature de Québec, 1802–1977 (Québec, 1977), 3–4; “Bibliothèques et culture au Canada après la Conquête (1760–1800)” (thèse de ma, univ. de Montréal, 1975), 102–3. Jolois, J.-F. Perrault, 99–113, 131–34, 234, 240. André Labarrère-Paulé, Les instituteurs laïques au Canada francais, 1836–1900 (Québec, 1965), 7–8, 90–91. I. [-F.-T.] Lebrun, Tableau statistique et politique des deux Canadas (Paris, 1833), 180. P.-G. Roy, “Quatre générations de Romain,” BRH, 34 (1928): 552–55.