SMITH, CHARLES-GUSTAVE, artist, musician, educator, author, businessman, journalist, civil servant, and inventor; b. 14 Feb. 1826 in London, England, son of Alcibiado Smith and Amélie Eméric; m. 19 Aug. 1857 Louise-Emilie-Hermine Leprohon in Montreal, and they had nine children, of whom three sons and one daughter survived infancy; d. 6 Feb. 1896 in Ottawa.
Despite his name and birthplace, Charles-Gustave Smith’s culture and main language were French. His paternal grandfather, an Englishman, had been a prosperous manufacturer of machinery and munitions near London whose trading with Napoleon made a move to Paris advisable. Smith’s father had apparently received some of his education at the University of Oxford; his mother came from Basel, Switzerland. Charles-Gustave was born while his parents were visiting London. His mother was a gifted amateur musician and gave her son piano lessons until he was eight, at which time she turned him over to her former teacher, Pierre-Joseph-Guillaume Zimmermann, of the Paris Conservatoire. Young Gustave took the school’s courses for eight years, though apparently as a non-registered student. For reasons of health he went to Marseilles in 1844. In the years that followed he travelled extensively in Europe, North Africa, and India, acquiring experiences that supplied rich food for lectures and writings in later years. In 1848 he was back in France, a corporal fighting on the republican side; wounded in action while rescuing a wounded comrade, he refused the pension to which he was entitled. In 1856 he received a diploma from the Conservatoire and crossed the Atlantic.
After a short sojourn in the United States, where he worked for a painter, he settled in Montreal in March 1856 and found employment with a German painter named Ruther. He met the wood-sculptor Louis-Xavier Leprohon, whose daughter he married in 1857, after having converted to Roman Catholicism. Montreal society stimulated Smith’s triple talent as musician, artist, and writer. He taught music at the convent of the Religious of the Sacred Heart at Sault-au-Récollet (Montreal North), wrote musical instruction material, contributed articles and criticism on music to journals, and around 1860 served as organist and choirmaster at St Patrick’s Church. In 1863 he set up a small print-shop, Gustave Smith et Leprohon, and at the beginning of the following year took over the editing and printing of Les Beaux-Arts, a magazine begun by Adélard-Joseph Boucher in April 1863. Smith turned it into “une revue des sciences, des lettres, de l’industrie,” but a dearth of subscriptions caused the magazine to fold with the May 1864 issue. Soon after, likely for reasons of health, Smith left for the warmer climate of the United States. In New York he renewed his friendship with Marie-Hippolyte-Antoine Dessane*, the French musician he had met in Quebec in 1858. After a year in New York he went to New Orleans, where he worked as a music teacher and church musician until moving to Ottawa in 1868. While in New Orleans he learned from the French consul that his bravery during the fighting in 1848 had resulted 12 years later in his being made a knight of the Legion of Honour.
The focus of Smith’s musical activity in Ottawa was his work as organist at Notre-Dame Basilica. He occupied this position from 1868 until 1892, though possibly with some interruptions (a contemporary music journal reported in 1882 that he had resigned). Smith taught music at the Grey Nuns’ convent [see Élisabeth Bruyère*] and the College of Ottawa [see Joseph-Henri Tabaret*], and gave private piano and singing lessons as well. He was paralysed by a stroke in November 1894.
From 1870 until 1892 his daytime occupation had been that of a clerk and draftsman for the federal departments of agriculture, railways and canals, and public works. In the course of his cartographic work Smith developed and patented an improved method of using water-colour on tracing-cloth, which he called Kaoline. Upon entering the civil service he gave up writing music criticism, which he had contributed to Le Canada (Ottawa) beginning in 1868, but from January until October 1870 he was editor of Le Courrier d’Ottawa/Ottawa Courier (soon changed to Le Courrier d’Outaouais). He continued to write articles on music and art and occasionally gave lectures under the auspices of the Institut Canadien-Français of Ottawa.
Smith’s major contribution was that of a teacher and a writer rather than a performer or a composer. His erudition was widely respected and his instruction books enjoyed wide circulation; in this regard he surpassed any other music instructor in the Canada of his time. His Abécédaire musical, first issued in Montreal in 1861, was still in print in 1920, when it went into its 78th printing. The surviving compositions, some 15 works representing piano pieces and vocal works for religious use, are musically lightweight. His writings tend to moralize about the “True” and “Good,” but one of his series of articles, “Du mouvement musical en Canada,” published in L’Album musical (Montreal) in 12 monthly instalments beginning in December 1881, is of value as an early chronicle of musical life. Progress or decline? is the question Smith poses, and drawing on his experience of 25 years in Canada he comes to a rather negative conclusion, bemoaning the growing trends towards superficiality and commercialism. Undoubtedly, his own idealism within his community counteracted this trend, and he was remembered in obituaries as an amiable gentleman, full of good will and without enemies.
[Charles-Gustave Smith’s first known publication is a series of eight articles on music teaching written for Le Pays (Montreal), 2 févr.–27 mai 1858. It was followed by Compte-rendu de la réception de l’orgue de la chapelle wesleyenne . . . (Montréal, 1861); “Musique et musiciens,” L’Écho du Cabinet de lecture paroissial (Montréal), 4 (1862), 16 janv.–15 oct. (published under the pseudonym Diérix); a letter in English on the subject of musical examinations published in Le Foyer domestique (Ottawa), 3, no.7 (14 févr. 1878), and in the Ottawa Daily Citizen, 2 Sept. 1878; and a 13-article series (numbered I–XII, with an unnumbered instalment beween nos.III–IV) called “Du mouvement musical en Canada,” L’Album musical (Montréal), décembre 1881–décembre 1882.
He is also the author of a series of articles relating to art which appeared in Le Foyer domestique: “Etudes sur les beaux-arts,” 1, nos.1–3 (1er mars–1er juin 1876); “. . . iième étude: notions générales sur les arts du dessin,” 1, no.4 (1er juill. 1876)–3, no.3 (1er mars 1877); and “. . . iiième étude: des couleurs,” 3, no.5 (1er mai 1877)– no.35 (1er déc. 1878). In addition he published two shorter pieces in the same journal: “Chronique musicale,” 4, no.3 (1er mars 1879), and “Les livres,” 5, no.5 (1er mai 1880).
A fragmentary manuscript, dated 1895, “Souvenirs et relations de voyages (1826–1844–1856)” is held in the ms coll. of the National Library of Canada, Music Division (Ottawa), as are two lectures which Smith gave before the Institut Canadien-Français of Ottawa: “Souvenirs et anecdotes” and “Les erreurs de la société moderne.”
The first of Smith’s musical instruction books was announced in La Minerve, 9 août 1859. Since no copy of “Le parfait musicien; ou, grammaire musicale” has yet been traced, it is possible that it was published two years later as Abécédaire musical contenant la théorie simplifiée des principes élémentaires appliquée à l’étude d’un instrument ou de la voix (Montréal, 1861). The work enjoyed an extraordinary run: its 38th edition was published in Montreal in 1901, its 78th in 1920. Of Le guide de l’organiste practicien . . . , only the second and third editions are known (Montréal, 1874 and 1879). Two later instruction books are Le claviste; ou, petite méthode pratique pour le piano . . . (Ottawa, 1890) and Le gamma musical; ou, exposé raisonné des principes de la musique . . . (Ottawa, 1891 [copyright date 1887]). h.k.]
ANQ, CE1-51, 19 août 1857. NA, Cartographic and Architectural Arch. Division, maps executed by [C.-]G. Smith; RG 31, C1, 1881, Ottawa. National Library of Canada, Music Division,
© 1990–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
Helmut Kallmann, “SMITH, CHARLES-GUSTAVE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 1, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/smith_charles_gustave_12E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Helmut Kallmann|
|Title of Article:||SMITH, CHARLES-GUSTAVE|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1990|
|Year of revision:||1990|
|Access Date:||June 1, 2023|