VOYER, LUDGER-NAPOLÉON, soldier and writer; b. 20 April 1842 at Quebec, son of Louis Voyer, a wheelwright; d. accidentally 22 Feb. 1876 at Quebec.
Information about Louis-Napoléon Voyer’s childhood is almost non-existent. We know, however, that he entered the college at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière in 1854, at the age of 12. There, under the influence of Abbé Pierre-Stanislas Vallée, a teacher at the college and an enthusiast of military history, he decided to take up a military career.
In 1858, England obtained authorization from the Canadian authorities to raise an infantry regiment in Canada, the 100th Royal Canadian Regiment of Foot. It was the first time a regiment of regular soldiers was recruited in Canada to serve imperial interests abroad. Rapidly, 1,027men were enlisted. Voyer was one of them. On 25 July 1859 he was sworn in, thanks to the support given by “protectors in high places.” He embarked at Quebec on 9 November of the same year, bound for England.
We know little concerning the motives that prompted the youth of 17 to enlist in the British army. There are only hints. In the diary he kept from 1859 to 1870 is the following passage: “My engagement, honour, and duty take me still further away from my country. My great, my sole hope is to earn distinction, to have my name attached to some meritorious act, some glorious deed, so that it will be repeated at home, and so that my friends will speak of me with interest . . . .” If this text sheds some small light on the motives, it tells nothing about the social, family, and other reasons behind his decision. André-Napoléon Montpetit, one of Voyer’s friends, merely reports that he enlisted “despite his parents, protectors, and friends.”
From 1859 to 1863 his military career abroad was uneventful. He seems to have accepted life in barracks at Parkhurst, on the Isle of Wight, and at Gibraltar calmly and patiently. He took advantage of it to improve his education by studying languages, history, and commerce, and to observe the behaviour of the British, Spaniard, and others. His personal diary of this period reveals certain traits of his personality, in particular perseverance, tolerance, a sense for observation, and a spirit of discipline. On 15 April 1863 he obtained a three months’ leave to come to Canada. He was never to leave it again.
On 15 June 1863 Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché*, the minister of militia, appointed him special instructor to the Canadian militia; this appointment was confirmed on 20 July by the Duke of Cambridge, commander-in-chief of the British army. He worked as an instructor at various places: Rivière-du-Loup, Trois-Pistoles, the college at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière, Quebec, and Lévis. On 31 July 1865 he purchased his discharge from the 100th Regiment. On 9 January of the following year he was appointed captain in the 9th battalion, Voltigeurs de Québec, which had been formed earlier by drawing upon Quebec independent volunteer companies. He served as captain for four years and six months. His career as an officer at Quebec was in fact no more thrilling than his career as a soldier in the 100th Regiment. Throughout the whole of the Fenian crisis, which alarmed the Canadian authorities unduly, he saw only garrison duty at Quebec and in the Eastern Townships.
It is not improbable that Voyer was grieved by the drab quality of his military career, for he was a man who extolled warlike virtues and idealized the life of the soldier. “Each of them,” he wrote in 1865 in Les qualités morales du bon militaire, “when he takes up his arms receives as in trust the safety of our countryside, the tranquillity of our towns, the life, the liberty of his brothers; he becomes the sword and shield of him who has none, or who, having limbs too weak to bear them, cannot make use of them.”
For Voyer, to be a soldier was not merely to serve one’s country, it was also and perhaps more a means of social advancement. Thus he wrote Les qualités morales du bon militaire in order to “show Canadians that it is a great honour to wear military uniform.” His friend Montpetit wrote that after his return in 1863 he lived all the time “with one foot in civilian society,” winning people’s sympathies and acquiring new protectors. The son of a wheelwright, on 2 Jan. 1869 he married Arline Laroche, “who had received her education from the Ursulines.”
In 1870 his social ascent continued, thanks to his appointment as chief superintendent of the Quebec Provincial Police, an office he held until 1876. In January 1871 he was promoted major. Practically nothing is known about his duties as superintendent except that he was appreciated by his subordinates, in whom he endeavoured to instil the spirit of military discipline.
On 22 Feb. 1876 he died from a wound which he had inflicted upon himself accidentally the day before while handling a fire-arm. He left his wife and three young children aged from one month to six years.
C. P. Stacey, Canada and the British Army, 1846–1871 (2nd ed., Toronto, 1963). G. F. G. Stanley, Canada’s soldiers; the military history of an unmilitary people (Toronto, 1960).