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TRUDEAU, ROMUALD (he was baptized Denys-Romuald), pharmacist, merchant, author, and politician; b. 7 Feb. 1802 at Montreal, Lower Canada, son of François Trudeau and Marguerite Weilbrenner; m. 21 May 1833 Aurélie Paul, a schoolteacher, at Montreal; d. there 14 Jan. 1888.

Romuald Trudeau belonged to a family of the petty bourgeoisie which was hard-working yet impecunious and whose members were generally considered above urban artisans and farmers because of their outlook and education. Trudeau’s father had a small retail dry goods and furs business in Montreal; having started without capital, he fell gradually into debt and was forced to liquidate early in 1824.

Little is known about Romuald’s childhood. His later writings contain no significant recollections of his district, his family, or his friends. But one thing is certain: he was raised in a nationalistic environment. His family frequently visited that of Louis-Joseph Papineau* and on a few occasions his father even made a public show of sympathy for the Parti Canadien. The nationalistic mood of his family was certainly unlikely to encourage the boy to feelings of loyalty to the British government. It is known that he attended the preparatory classes at the Petit Séminaire de Montréal where in 1812 he began classical studies. A conscientious student, in his final year (Rhetoric) he won the general proficiency prize and the award for French composition. From the Gallican milieu in which he was educated he almost certainly drew a number of ideas that later proved formative.

When his studies were completed in 1820, Trudeau faced a relatively limited choice of careers: the priesthood, the retail business like his father, or the liberal professions. He decided on medicine and for two years trained under René-Joseph Kimber, who was well known for his nationalistic ideas. While a student in a doctor’s office, Trudeau witnessed some of the conflicts and partisan struggles in the colony. The autocratic spirit of the governor, Lord Dalhousie [Ramsay*], and his councils, the House of Assembly’s numerous battles concerning expenditures, the question of the division of customs revenues between Upper and Lower Canada, the bitter and difficult dispute over the erection of the diocese of Montreal, were all hotly debated in the city. In 1822, the year in which Trudeau completed his medical studies, the British merchants’ demand for a union of the two Canadas increased the tension and raised a storm of outrage and protest throughout Lower Canada. Undoubtedly affected by these events, Trudeau undertook to keep a personal diary, called “Mes tablettes,” whose entries date from 1820 and continue until 1845. This diary, which primarily reports the political context of the rebellions of 1837 and 1838, and occasionally records current economic and scientific developments, takes us to the heart of a tumultuous period.

A career as a pharmacist looked promising and Trudeau decided on it; a few days after his examination on 5 Nov. 1823 he received his licence to practise from the governor. On 21 November he bought “the whole dispensary . . . of Doctor R. J. Kimber for £900,” and the following month he was able to open a small shop in Montreal in a rented house near Custom House Square where his father had his business. On 23 Jan. 1824, in the course of a chemical experiment, he suffered a terrible accident, his face being burned and his eyes quite seriously injured. He dictated his first will from his bed; all he had to bequeath was a bundle of old clothes to his brother Eugène. Upon recovery, he continued his work as a pharmacist. Seeing that tourists were coming to Montreal he hastened to organize a small department in his shop for American Indian arts and crafts. He put an advertisement in La Minerve, extolling the efficacy of his medicines and the originality of his handicrafts.

A member of the petty bourgeoisie by origin, profession, and marriage, Trudeau identified himself with a social milieu sensitive to French Canadian struggles. Moreover, the agricultural crisis, the inaccessibility of land in the countryside, the dramatic retreat of French-speaking people from the towns and their replacement by the British, and the cholera epidemic from 1832 to 1834, exacerbated hostile national feeling among French Canadians and encouraged popular political agitation. After the British government rejected the 92 Resolutions in 1834, Trudeau lost confidence in Great Britain and turned increasingly to independence as an objective. However, during the Patriote insurrections of 1837–38 he confined himself to a modest, unobtrusive role. Not much involved in any revolutionary organization, he did give material aid to a number of rebels. No doubt he was afraid at that time of upsetting his pregnant wife, who had suffered two miscarriages and who in 1838 gave birth to Lactance, their only child to survive.

After the suppression of the Patriote movement and the abdication of its principal leaders, Trudeau fell in line with the trend of political events. Initially opposed to the union of Upper and Lower Canada, he subsequently rallied to the Reform policies of Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine* and to the clergy’s assertion of ideological hegemony. In 1845 Trudeau bought a three-storey stone house on the corner of Saint-Paul and Saint-Jean-Baptiste streets, in which he set up shop. His patience and thrift during 20 years behind a druggist’s counter had finally borne fruit. He then began purchasing land and lending money at eight per cent. The amount he invested was, however, relatively small, barely £500. He also further enlarged his business by adding a small line of religious objects and vestments. By 1850 Trudeau was a prominent druggist in easy circumstances and was thus able to find a place for himself in the Montreal bourgeoisie. He was elected a municipal councillor in 1852 and an alderman from 1853 to 1856. In 1861 he climbed another rung by becoming the president of the Association Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal. Meanwhile he sat on numerous political committees and signed several petitions which brought him to public notice. In 1864, with some Liberals and discontented Conservatives, he formed a committee to oppose confederation. Anxious to have French Canadian institutions functioning in the economy, he participated in founding the Banque du Peuple in 1843, the St Maurice Railway and Navigation Company in 1857, and the Société de Colonisation du Bas-Canada and the Banque Jacques-Cartier in 1861; he was president of the last firm from 1869 to 1875. All this brought him some standing and prestige.

Trudeau’s ambitions did not stop there. By establishing closer ties with religious communities and the clergy, he found another way up the social ladder. He had already won the good will of the Sisters of Charity of Providence (Sisters of Providence) in 1843 by supplying them with free medicine. Through his business in vestments and religious objects, he also maintained close relations with the Sulpicians and secured their good will. The minutes of the churchwardens’ meetings for the parish of Notre-Dame in Montreal reveal on numerous occasions how this petit bourgeois had won their confidence. He served as churchwarden of the parish from 1848 to 1851 and in 1852 was commissioned to render the accounts for the preceding year. By virtue of having been a churchwarden, he was given several other administrative responsibilities within the parish. His open opposition to the Rouges earned him the confidence of Ignace Bourget, the bishop of Montreal, who in 1858 appointed him treasurer of the Institut Canadien-Français of Montreal. Only his wife’s death on 27 March 1866 cast a shadow on his life.

After 1870 the momentum of his progress was halted by the rapid industrialization and urbanization of Montreal, which produced stiff competition among small businessmen and prompted many of those prominent in the old town to move to the fashionable Sainte-Catherine and Sherbrooke streets. Trudeau should probably have relocated on Rue Notre-Dame, where commercial activity was increasingly concentrating, but he was attached to his surroundings and, having prospered in “old Montreal,” preferred to remain loyal to his district even though his clientele was steadily dwindling. The financial crisis of 1873 further undermined his prospects and those of his son Lactance, who had recently gone into business. To cover him, Trudeau was obliged to mortgage his house for $4,800 to the Banque Jacques-Cartier. Even so, in 1878 Lactance was bankrupt and had then to resign himself to salaried employment. His death on 24 Jan. 1882 further saddened Trudeau’s final years. Forsaken by his daughter-in-law and almost blind, he managed with great difficulty to provide for himself. He died in poverty on 14 Jan. 1888. His last will, drawn up on 18 Oct. 1886, reflected his destitution. The value of his house had been eroded by the $4,800 mortgage and ten years of unpaid interest, and he left liabilities of $1,207.40. In these circumstances his heirs renounced all rights to the estate. His grandson fared little better: starting out as a clerk to a minor retail merchant, he ended up as a commercial traveller.

Richard Chabot

[Romuald Trudeau’s diary, “Mes tablettes,” at the ANQ-M (M–72–141), records various events of Montreal life from 1820 to 1848; typed copies are also available at the ANQ-Q and the Bibliothèque de la ville de Montréal.  r.c.]

AC, Montréal, État civil, Catholiques, Notre-Dame de Montréal, 24 janv. 1882; Minutiers, J.-L. Coutlée, 31 déc. 1888; J.-A.-O. Labadie, 18 oct. 1886, 29 mars 1888; Valmore Lamarche, 17 oct. 1888, 20 févr. 1889. ANQ-M, État civil, Catholiques, Notre-Dame de Montréal, 7 févr. 1802, 21 mai 1833, 19 sept. 1838; Minutiers, Thomas Bédouin, 25 janv., 13 févr. 1824; Joseph Belle, 27 sept. 1845, 8 juin 1848; Narcisse Bourbonnière-Gaudry, 8 mars 1858, 26 oct. 1860; Théodore Doucet, 8 janv. 1870, 28 janv. 1876; Z.-J. Truteau, 19 mai 1833. AP, Notre-Dame de Montréal, Reg. des délibérations du conseil de la fabrique, 1834–77. AVM, Doc. administratifs, Rôles d’évaluation, 1847–88. PAC, MG 24, B2; B22; L3. La Minerve, 8 oct. 1829; 4, 7 janv. 1830; 6 juin 1861. Montreal directory, 1843–88. Rumilly, Hist. de Montréal, II. F.-J. Audet, “1842,” Cahiers des Dix, 7 (1942): 215–54; “Toussaint Trudeau, 1826–1893,” BRH, 47 (1941): 182–86. L.-P. Desrosiers, “Mes tablettes,” Cahiers de Dix, 12 (1947): 75–92.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Richard Chabot, “TRUDEAU, ROMUALD,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 22, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/trudeau_romuald_11E.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:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/trudeau_romuald_11E.html
Author of Article:   Richard Chabot
Title of Article:   TRUDEAU, ROMUALD
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   September 22, 2023