TOUSSAINT, FRANCOIS-XAVIER (baptized François), teacher, educational administrator, and author; b. 1 March 1821 in Saint-Jean, Île d’Orléans, Lower Canada, son of Pierre Toussaint, master pilot, and Justine Fortier; m. there 7 Aug. 1845 Marguerite Noël; d. 2 Dec. 1895 at Quebec.
François-Xavier Toussaint received his initial schooling in the village where he was born. His first teacher, Pierre Descombes, a native of France, belonged to the generation of itinerant lay teachers with no formal qualifications who were employed in the elementary schools of Lower Canada in the early 19th century. Toussaint did not immediately turn to teaching, a calling that La Minerve in 1836 described as “disagreeable in itself, [since] for years on end one must endure the dust of school benches.” In 1835 at the age of 14 he began his classical studies at the Petit Séminaire de Québec, although he left before the second and final year of Philosophy. In 1842 he went to New Orleans to study civil engineering, but after contracting yellow fever he was forced to return to Canada. Once recovered, he wanted to study medicine; however, his father, who disliked this profession, dissuaded him. Uncertain about his future, Toussaint consulted Abbé John Holmes*, one of his former teachers, who, following the passage of the School Act in 1836, had been involved in the establishment of normal schools to train primary school teachers. Holmes persuaded him to go into teaching.
Toussaint started his career as a teacher in 1843 on the Île d’Orléans, working in Saint-Jean for five years and then in Saint-Laurent for four. During this time he began his rise through the ranks of his profession, which was then becoming organized. In 1845 Toussaint helped create and served on a committee to found a professional association for the district of Quebec. Formed “for the purpose of union, mutual education, and general progress,” it was incorporated on 30 May 1849 as the Library Association of the Teachers of the District of Quebec [see Félix-Emmanuel Juneau*]. On 3 Jan. 1851 Toussaint was appointed to the Quebec Board of Examiners established under the School Act of 1846 to ascertain the intellectual and pedagogical competence of candidates for the teaching profession. In 1853 he worked with curé Narcisse-Charles Fortier* and the school trustees of Saint-Michel on the south shore of the St Lawrence to set up in the parish a commercial and industrial school, of which he was to be principal until 1857. This institution was part of a movement enthusiastically supported by the superintendent of the Board of Education, Jean-Baptiste Meilleur*, who wanted to encourage young French Canadians to go into business and industry rather than the liberal professions, since some members of the élite were complaining that these were becoming overcrowded. The Collège Industriel de Saint-Michel, with a staff solely of lay teachers, offered boys an ambitious four-year program covering some 15 subjects. The college soon acquired the enviable reputation of being able to compete, as the school inspector’s report for 1856 said, “with the best schools of this kind in the district of Quebec,” and its principal, a “gentleman well known for his knowledge and his success in teaching,” was singled out for particular praise.
In addition to promoting commercial education, Toussaint was also involved in the professional training of lay educators. He organized a teacher training course for the students of the Collège de Saint-Michel and of the local girls’ boarding-school. In 1855 the superintendent of the Board of Education, Pierre-Joseph-Olivier Chauveau*, commended this progressive step in his annual report, and pointed out the necessity of establishing normal schools in Lower Canada. Toussaint’s efforts were rewarded in May 1857, when the government set up one in Montreal and one in Quebec. Having obtained the highest primary school teaching certificate given at the time (a brevet d’académie), he became a teacher in the École Normale Laval at Quebec that year.
Throughout the next 37 years of his career, Toussaint continued to teach at the École Normale Laval. Since he was in charge of teaching pedagogy, mathematics, geography, and history, his responsibilities were onerous. Moreover, he regularly participated in the meetings of the Association des Instituteurs de la Circonscription de l’École Normale Laval, becoming its eighth president in 1866. He spoke in discussions on pedagogical questions as well as on the many problems of a material nature connected with the teaching profession. But his particular concern was the development of pedagogical methods. “No wife has ever inspired more sincere devotion than that of M. Toussaint for pedagogy,” Abbé Thomas-Grégoire Rouleau, the sixth principal of the École Normale Laval, noted in 1896. An excellent teacher beloved by his students, Toussaint also succeeded in writing textbooks, which were soon considered authoritative: Petit abrégé de géographie moderne . . . in 1870, Traité d’arithmétique in 1871, and Abrégé d’histoire du Canada . . . in 1874. In Rouleau’s opinion, although the form of these works “leaves something to be desired . . . , the method is excellent.”
The crowning moment of François-Xavier Toussaint’s career came on 19 May 1893, when the Quebec civil and religious élite gathered at the École Normale Laval for the splendid celebration marking his fiftieth anniversary as a teacher. In recognition of his many years of service he received a blessing from Pope Leo XIII, a gift of money from Louis-Nazaire Bégin*, coadjutor to the archbishop of Quebec and a former student at the Collège de Saint-Michel, as well as the title of honorary professor emeritus of the École Normale Laval. The many honours conferred on him, as well as the distinction of those present, attest to his role as a pioneer in promoting the teaching profession and primary education in general. He himself made a point of recalling, with a hint of bitterness, that “people in the good old days took on causes no one else was advocating. One of these . . . is the cause of teaching. . . . It was, unfortunately, a very thankless cause, which a half century of pleas has only partially redressed.” But for Toussaint the battle was nearing its end; he died in December 1895, scarcely a year after his retirement.
AC, Québec, État civil, Catholiques, Saint-Roch, 5 déc. 1897. ANQ-Q, CE1-13, 1er mars 1821, 7 août 1845; E13/51; E13/52; E30/37; E30/39. “Avis officiel,” Journal de l’Instruction publique (Québec et Montréal), 1 (1857): 9. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, App. to the journals, 1855–56 (annual report of the superintendent of education); Statutes, 1849, c.45. “Cent douzième réunion des instituteurs de la circonscription de l’école normale Laval, tenue le 25 janvier 1896,” Journal de l’Instruction publique (Montréal), 14 (1896): 258–59. “Échos des noces d’or,” L’Enseignement primaire (Québec), 14 (1893): 311–12. “Fête grandiose,” L’Enseignement primaire, 14: 289–95. “Nécrologie: feu M. F.-X. Toussaint,” Journal de l’Instruction publique, 14: 226. Que., Parl., Doc. de la session, 1894–96 (rapport annuel du surintendant de l’Instruction publique). La Minerve, 24 nov. 1836. L.-P. Audet, Histoire de l’enseignement au Québec (2v., Montréal et Toronto, 1971), 2. Réal Bertrand, L’école normale Laval; un siècle d’histoire (1857–1957) (Québec, 1957), 44. P.-J.-O. Chauveau, L’instruction publique au Canada: précis historique et statistique (Québec, 1876). [L.-]A. Desrosiers, Les écoles normales primaires de la province de Québec et leurs œuvres complémentaires; récits des fêtes jubilaires de l’école normale Jacques-Cartier, 1857–1907 (Montréal, 1909). L’ école normale Laval, 1857–1970 (Québec, 1970). André Labarrère-Paulé, Les instituteurs laïques; Les laïques et la presse pédagogique au Canada français au XIXe siècle (Québec, 1963), 128, 132. Bernard Lefebvre, L’école sous la mitre (Montréal, 1980). J.-B. Meilleur, Mémorial de l’éducation du Bas-Canada (2e éd., Québec, 1876). Les noces d’or de l’école normale Laval, 1857–1907 (Québec, 1908), 28. “Les disparus,” BRH, 35 (1929): 158. C.-J. Magnan, “Éducateurs d’autrefois: F.-X. Toussaint,” BRH, 47 (1941): 304–6. P.-P. Magnan, “L’école normale Laval de Québec; quelques notes,” Le Soleil, 7 juill. 1928: 1, 9, 19. Roland Toussaint, “F.-X. Toussaint, premier professeur à l’école normale Laval,” Cap-aux-Diamants (Québec), 2 (1986–87), no.4: 49.
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Cite This Article
Ruby Heap, “TOUSSAINT, FRANÇOIS-XAVIER,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 21, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/toussaint_francois_xavier_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:||Ruby Heap|
|Title of Article:||TOUSSAINT, FRANÇOIS-XAVIER|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1990|
|Year of revision:||1990|
|Access Date:||March 21, 2023|