SMITH, JAMES, teacher, farmer, and writer; b. 5 Sept. 1820 at Caraquet, N.B.; m. Flavie Fournier; d. 18 May 1888 at Matapédia, Que.
James Smith’s life, about which few details are known, was quite eventful. After studying at the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière in Lower Canada, he is thought to have entered the Grand Séminaire de Québec, but he soon left to pursue a career in what became his principal occupation, teaching. He lets the character Pierre in his Les Soirées de la Baie-des-Chaleurs, published in 1883, speak for him: “The teacher named Pierre had long taught in the province of Quebec and in New Brunswick, where he founded a school in defiance of the atheistic [school] law. . . . He later went to the United States, worked there to found Catholic schools for Canadian [emigrants], and had the good fortune to see this venture grow, spread, and become the first and main concern of our exiled brothers today.” In 1856 Smith was a professor of English and mathematics at the new industrial college in Rimouski, Canada East, and from 1862 to 1865 he taught agriculture at the new Collège de Rimouski.
James Smith was always a deeply religious man. As the father of François-Xavier-Louis-Théodule, the first priest ordained in the diocese of Rimouski, he was accorded consideration and favours by the diocesan authorities, towards whom he always showed the greatest deference. A particular incident in 1878 could have upset this attitude of submission and respect. Smith had picked out a settler’s lot in the 1st concession of Causapscal Township, on the road to Matapédia, a road on which he had directed part of the construction. After he had presented the lot to the ecclesiastical authorities for a parish church, Bishop Jean Langevin* decided that it should be constructed in a location better suited to the geographical distribution of the township’s growing population, and gave possession of this lot, no.29, to Ferdinand Hepel. Smith, however, wanted to reclaim the property, and the two farmers firmly asserted their claims before the diocesan authorities of Rimouski. In a letter to Vicar General Edmond Langevin, Hepel painted this picture of Smith: “His whole life has been an unending succession of schemes which have produced nothing worthwhile. He has tried everything, teaching, mechanics, commerce, navigation and farming, and has never got anywhere, by adopting methods of husbandry contrary to the wisdom of successful farmers. Even with his children able to help him, he has never managed to live off his land, sowing out of season, and finishing his planting when ordinarily it is almost harvest time.” No doubt Hepel’s animosity towards Smith accounts for the exaggerations of this passage, which nevertheless is instructive testimony concerning Smith’s numerous occupations.
However, it is as a writer that James Smith left the most explicit evidence of his personality and the values that motivated him. His occasional writings in Le Canadien and La Vérité, both of Quebec City, and Le Moniteur acadien of Shediac, N.B., took up and amplified the themes developed in his three other unpretentious publications. The last of these, Les Soirées de la Baie-des-Chaleurs, is something of a treatise on education, showing the influence of the ideas of Mgr Jean-Joseph Gaume who stated: “Education makes the man.” Religious education in Smith’s view was the only way to overcome the evils of an age imbued with a spirit of freemasonry and thus characterized by Catholic liberalism, irreligion, separation of church and state, and disrespect for the authority of which the priest was the principal guardian.
In another field, Smith was one of a large group of authors who in the period from 1830 to about 1870 wrote a great deal about agriculture. In his second work, a small treatise entitled Les Éléments de l’agriculture, which appeared in 1862, he sought to demonstrate that agriculture was “the first, the most useful and consequently the most noble of the arts. In its train follow the prosperity and wealth of nations.” The diversity of his interests had also been revealed six years earlier in a modest publication, Havre de refuge, which discusses the problems of transportation on the lower St Lawrence River.
James Smith’s writings, then, reveal a man who, belonging to the great conservative and ultramontane movement of the second half of the 19th century, worked with sincerity and zeal for the advancement of agriculture, education, and the Catholic faith.
James Smith was the author of Havre de refuge; Rimouski vs. Bic et chemin de fer des Trois Pistoles (Québec, 1856); Les Éléments de l’agriculture à l’usage de la jeunesse canadienne (Québec, 1862); and Les Soirées de la Baie-des-Chaleurs, ou entretiens sur l’éducation de l’enfance (Montréal, 1883).
AP, Saint-Laurent (Matapédia), Reg. des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures, 18 mai 1888. Arch. de l’archevêché de Rimouski (Rimouski, Qué.), 355.146. Wallace, Macmillan dict. Charles Guay, Chronique de Rimouski (2v., Québec, 1873–74), II: 274. Lareau, Hist. de la littérature canadienne, 362. “Les disparus,” BRH, 34 (1928): 640.