VIGER, DENIS, carpenter, wood-carver, merchant, and politician; b. 6 June 1741 in Montreal (Que.), son of Jacques Viger, a shoemaker, and Marie-Louise Ridé (Riday-Beauceron); d. there 16 June 1805.
Almost nothing is known of Denis Viger’s formative years, but presumably he served his apprenticeship in Montreal, where he first began doing pieces of carpentry. On 30 June 1772 he married Périne-Charles, daughter of the notary François-Pierre Cherrier*, in a big wedding at Saint-Denis on the Richelieu. The couple went to live in Montreal, in a stone house Viger owned on the northeast corner of Rue Saint-Paul and Rue Saint-Vincent. At the time of his marriage Viger already possessed two lots in Montreal, probably by inheritance from his father.
In 1774 Viger and Jean-Louis Foureur, dit Champagne, received 904 livres for carving various wooden pieces in the church of Saint-Denis, where Viger’s brother-in-law François Cherrier was parish priest. These included the tabernacles, candlesticks ornamented with carved crosses and crucifixes for the side-chapels, the high altar, the decoration on the churchwardens’ and acolytes’ pews, a prie-dieu chair with turned columns for the celebrant, and two other chairs for the two chief cantors.
From then until 1783, Viger worked mainly for the Hôtel-Dieu in Montreal, where he did several pieces of work in wood and iron. His accounts, however, reveal a diversity of activities, such as repairing carrioles and making coffins and packing-cases. In addition, during the 1790s he engaged in the potash business; he would buy the product, have it inspected, and ship it to England.
While he was pursuing these occupations, Viger became interested in politics. In 1792 he openly supported the candidatures of his wife’s brother-in-law Joseph Papineau*, Pierre Foretier, and others in Montreal ridings. Four years later he decided to run with Papineau in Montreal East. The two men sent a letter to the voters, which was published in the Montreal Gazette on 27 June 1796; in it they observed: “The only return we can offer is an ardent desire of rendering service to our Country.” Viger was elected on 29 July 1796 but took part in just two sessions, in which he supported the Canadian bloc wholeheartedly; however, he remained in office until 4 June 1800. He died five years later; his wife lived another two decades, dying in Montreal on 3 Feb. 1825.
Over the years Denis Viger had seen his social status improve. His marriage linked him with the great Papineau, Cherrier, and Lartigue families. He was able to give his son, Denis-Benjamin*, who became a lawyer and influential politician, an education with the Sulpicians, rather than keeping him with himself, as craftsmen usually did. Denis Viger was the uncle of Jacques Viger*, the first mayor of Montreal, and Louis-Michel Viger*, a lawyer, member of the assembly, and president of the Banque du Peuple.
ANQ-M, P-24; CE1-51, 6 juin 1741, 25 avril 1776, 18 juin 1805; CE2-12, 30 juin 1772. AP, Saint-Denis (Saint-Denis sur le Richelieu), Livres de comptes, I (1755–1821), 1774: f.20v. Arch. des Religieuses hospitalières de Saint-Joseph (Montréal), Affaires temporelles de la communauté, Comptabilité, 1744–83. MAC-CD, Fonds Morisset, 2, V674/ D395. F.-J. Audet, Les députés de Montréal, 45–46. Tanguay, Dictionnaire, 7: 465–66. É.-Z. Massicotte, “Les demeures de Denis-Benjamin Viger,” BRH, 47 (1941): 269–70.