TREMBLAY, dit Picoté, ALEXIS, farmer, merchant, and lumberman; b. 14 June 1787 in Saint-Louis-de-l’Isle-aux-Coudres, Quebec, son of François Tremblay and Magdeleine Beauché, dit Morency; m. first 4 Sept. 1810 Modeste Bouliane in La Malbaie, Lower Canada, and they had 11 children; m. there secondly 7 Sept. 1842 Olive Gagné, widow of Louis Desgagnés; d. there 26 Jan. 1859.
The parents of Alexis Tremblay, dit Picoté, left Île aux Coudres to settle at La Malbaie in the Charlevoix region at the end of the 18th century. Tremblay married after obtaining a grant of land in the seigneury of Mount-Murray on 27 Aug. 1810. This property represented an essential economic base for him until 1830. Subsequently, taking advantage of the experience of some relatives in the business world at La Malbaie, he gradually turned from farming to commerce and lumbering.
Tremblay opened a number of lumber camps in the environs of La Malbaie at the beginning of the 1830s. To get his timber on the market he had to deal with merchants such as Thomas Simard, who later became his partner, and William Price*. From 1832 his name often turns up in the latter’s account-books, and in subsequent years Tremblay and his brother François were regular associates of Price.
In 1833, with the support of Simard and several other influential residents at La Malbaie, Tremblay circulated a petition seeking the opening of the Saguenay region, an immense section of the king’s domain which had thus far been closed to farming and lumbering. It was submitted to the government along with a plan for an agricultural settlement built on lumbering and free of the seigneurial system. The petition stressed the lack of land in the Charlevoix region. But the sequence of events shows clearly that the signatories’ request stemmed primarily from the desire to have access to new forest resources for the sizeable lumber trade developing in their region in step with the expansion of Canadian lumbering that began in the early 19th century. Thus, without waiting for an official reply, Tremblay and Simard started to take pine logs on crown land, having obtained permission in January 1836 from Peter McLeod, then agent of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which held the licence to exploit the king’s posts. That month, in a by-election to fill the seat for Saguenay in the House of Assembly, Tremblay gave his support officially to Charles Drolet*, a Patriote who pledged to make the Saguenay region accessible to people in Charlevoix. Two months later Tremblay and Simard formed a partnership with three businessmen of La Malbaie to build a sawmill at the falls on Rivière Malbaie. In mid March the plan to settle the Saguenay region was rejected by Governor Lord Gosford [Acheson*] and his council. As a result, Tremblay and Simard sold their share to Price. Tremblay remained as manager of the sawmill and became the official agent of William Price and Company at La Malbaie.
In view of the deterioration of the social and political climate in Lower Canada, George Simpson, the HBC governor, had apparently judged it advisable by the beginning of 1837 to hand over the cutting licence in the territory of the king’s posts, which the company had enjoyed since 1836, to French Canadian lumber merchants. On 23 September he offered the licence to Simard, who in order to acquire it joined with Tremblay and some well-to-do people in La Malbaie to form the Societé des Entrepreneurs des Pinières du Saguenay, a joint-stock company later known as the Société des Vingt et Un. The company was secretly financed by Price, who would thus secure control of the best sawmill sites in the Saguenay valley, having left the actual installation and operation of the mills to local lumbermen under the direction of Simard and Tremblaet, despite the experience of several of its members and the support of Price, the company encountered one set-back after another. From 1840 to 1842 Price gradually bought up the shares of its members through Tremblay. Thus, even before the Saguenay was officially opened to settlement, Price managed to acquire practically all the mills in the area. Tremblay, who had become responsible for overseeing Price’s establishments at La Malbaie, on the north shore of the St Lawrence, and in the Saguenay region, in subsequent years regularly negotiated on his employer’s behalf the purchase of most of the sawmills built in these parts.
During this period of prosperity Tremblay was obliged to travel constantly between La Malbaie and the Saguenay and gave up farming. In 1840, in partnership with his sons Isaïe and Alexis, he built a storehouse and wharf at La Malbaie. As a businessman and Price’s agent he was now part of an élite there.
In 1839 Tremblay had backed a new and successful petition for the granting of lands in the Saguenay region. His support was detrimental to his own interests in the long run since the settling of the area created a local élite that freed the new centres from the grip of the Charlevoix merchants. Furthermore, when Peter McLeod became Price’s partner in November 1842 Tremblay found himself reduced to the role of manager of the establishment at Grande-Baie, McLeod becoming overseer of the Saguenay region.
From 1843 William Price and Company ran into a number of difficulties, and Tremblay concentrated more on attending to his own affairs. On 29 April 1844 he went into partnership with Pierre and André Harvey, brothers who were merchants in La Malbaie, to “do trading in the Saguenay.” His storehouse and wharf were placed at the disposal of the Harveys, and he agreed to let them run the company during the periods that he spent at Grande-Baie. A few days later the three new partners, along with other members of the bourgeoisie and some 100 farmers of La Malbaie and Sainte-Agnès, set up the Société du Saint-Laurent to develop trade, agriculture, and lumbering in the section of Saguenay County running along the St Lawrence. The partners undertook to respect the HBC rights in this territory, and chose Tremblay as their agent general. In little more than two months this new company was dissolved, on the ground that the exploration of the area had proved disappointing. But meanwhile Tremblay had been busy. First he mortgaged his land to obtain the funds to construct a new storehouse to keep supplies for the Saguenay. Then he dissolved his partnership with the Harvey brothers. In the autumn he was to open a lumber camp at Portneuf in the seigneury of Mille-Vaches, acting on behalf of James Gibb, a lumberman from Quebec who was a partner of Price.
Doubtless because he was too busy at Portneuf, Tremblay in 1846 made over his share of the storehouse to his son Alexis, who had become an active merchant at La Malbaie and a useful associate of Price. Furthermore, during the 1840s Tremblay was one of the largest money-lenders in La Malbaie. He continued to participate in some of Price’s ventures until 1850, and even took an interest in 1847 in the formation at La Malbaie of the Société des Défricheurs de la Rivière-au-Sable, which was set up to exploit the territory that later became the township of Jonquière.
Widowed in the spring of 1842, Tremblay married again that year. A shrewd businessman, on his first wife’s death he had refused to have an inventory and apportionment of his assets done, but eventually in December 1850 he relinquished most of his personal estate to some of his children. The others had already received their share of their mother’s estate in cash. Tremblay did, however, retain ownership of the land that he farmed with his son Augustin. In 1852, shortly after leaving Portneuf for good, he was again running a successful farming operation. During his last years he busied himself in setting up his younger children and settled a number of old debts and some earlier financial claims. He called himself a “bourgeois” like Thomas Simard, from whom he bought a mill at Port-aux-Quilles in 1858. In December of that year, not two months before his death, he finally made over to his son Augustin his land in the Ruisseau-des-Frênes range of lots.
At the end of his life, Alexis Tremblay, dit Picoté, owned only the mill at Port-aux-Quilles. He had indeed managed to provide for his numerous children, but this was a meagre recompense for a man who had helped build the empire of William Price.
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