Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
November 2006

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Henri Raymond Casgrain


Casgrain, Abbé Henri Raymond, a distinguished French Canadian writer, was born at Rivière Ouelle, in the Province of Quebec, on the 16th of December, 1831. He is doctor of literature at Laval University ; member of the Royal Society of Canada ; corresponding member of the Geographical Society of Paris, France ; corresponding member of the Royal Academy of Pisa, Italy ; corresponding member of the Histo­rical Society of Boston, and member of the American Historical Association.

He is the son of the Honourable Charles Ensèbe Casgrain, barrister, late delegate of the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada, member of the special counsel of the same province, and assistant commissioner of public works. His mother was Eliza Ann Baby. His paternal family are originally from Ervault, in the ancient province of Poitou, in France. The first of this name who came to Canada about 1750 was Jean Baptiste Casgrain, an officer of the French army. His son, Pierre Casgrain was lord of Rivière Ouelle and the island, and was the grandfather of the subject of this sketch. On his mother’s side L'abbé Casgrain is descended from one of the oldest families of Nouvelle France. The first ancestor who came to this country, Jacques Babie, was an officer in the regiment of Larignau-Saliers, who disembarked at Quebec in 1665 ; he was the son of Jean Babie, lord of Rainville and Isabeau Robin ; his father and mother were from Monttou, not far from Mermandes, France. His descendants are always numbered among the most remarkable families of Canada. The great-grandfather of Madame Casgrain, Jacques Duperon Baby, settled in Detroit at the beginning of the last century, and served as an officer in the Canadian militia during the war of the conquest. (See Parkman's Conspiracy of Pontiac, and Montcalm and Wolfe.) At his death he was judge in the City of De­troit. One of his sons, the Honourable Jacques Duperon Baby, speaker of the Legis­lative Council of Upper Canada, was the father of Madame Casgrain.

The Abbé Casgrain, after having pursued a course of classical studies at Ste. Anne's College, Prov­ince of Quebec, for a short time, studied medicine, afterwards adopted an ecclesiasti­cal career, took his theological course at the Quebec seminary, and was ordained a priest on the 5th of October, 1856. He was successively professor at Ste. Anne's College un­til 1859, vicar of Beaufort, and afterwards at Quebec Cathedral from 1860 to 1873. The Abbé travelled in Europe in 1858, and again in 1867, in quest of historical materials ; and returned there in 1873. He passed the winters of 1880 and 1881 in Louisiana, was at Florida in 1882, and ar­rived at the island of Cuba in 1885. These extended travels were of inestimable value in Abbé Casgrain's literary labours. He was obliged to retire from the active ministry in 1874, owing to a serious affection of the eyes. His permanent residence is at Quebec. His first literary effort, Légendes Canadiennes, was published at Quebec in 1861, by J. F. Brousseau, printer. This pretty volume is printed in elegant European style, and contains three legends, of which two have been published in the Courrier du Canada, and reproduced in Europe, as has already been made known at the Abbé's lectures. The third is filled with the last reminiscence of Soirées Canadiennes : Le Tableau de la Rivière Ouelle, the Pionniers, and La Jongleuse, are interesting accounts of the adventures of the first settlers in the earliest days of the colony. They are written in a glowing and fine style, and form a complete and charming group of poetry, of which the value is fully appreciated by those who know the beautiful parishes south of the St. Lawrence river below Quebec.

Brought up amidst these grand sites, of a Christian family and distinguished society, the Abbé Casgrain has retained a touching remembrance of these beautiful rural scenes, and of past events which amused him in infancy. A voyage to Europe made later on, as he relates in a sort of prologue to his last legend, revealed to him the literary value of his remembrances, and in­duced him to write them. Owing to these happy circumstances, literature has been en­riched by the publishing of this agreeable volume. His next work, L'Histoire de  Marie de l'Incarnation, appeared in 1864, and was published by Desbarats. There was also a second edition in 1865 ; the third, in 1873, by C. Darveau ; and a fourth, in 1882, by L. Brousseau. This remarkable book was translated into German by the Abbé Geiger, of Munich, Bavaria, and published at Ratis­bon in 1873. Of the many merited eulo­giums passed by the highest authorities on this great literary performance, our space will only permit quoting the following :—"This is certainly the handsomest work we have yet seen from the Canadian press, and well deserves its dress. The Teresa of New France, whose biography her son portrayed in the 17th century, and Charlevoix in the 18th, had her claims upon the 19th ; and Canada, in one of her most gifted sons, a littérateur of exquisite taste, of rich and classic language, pays the tribute of his country to the heroine whose exalted piety and devotion can rouse even the sons of the Puritans to admiration. Mr. Casgrain weaves into his narrative all the grace and beauty of style called for in our day, without neglecting the accuracy of historical detail or the pious element, the omission of which, as a pervading atmosphere in such a life, would be a misconception of the subject."— American Historical Magazine (N.Y). "For this work l'Abbé Casgrain has re­ceived a medal from His Holiness the Pope in recognition of its literary merits. This talented author has done much towards creating a correct taste in literature and the arts amongst his countrymen, and is re­garded as one of the most finished writers which the French Canadians possess."—Bibliotheca Canadensis. Of the Abbe's numerous biographies, reviews, criticisms, etc., the thoughtful reader will be amply repaid by purchasing his "Oeuvres Complètes at present being published by Beauchemin & Valois, St. Paul Street, Montreal. The greater number of reviews and journals of France have shown their appreciation of the Abbé Casgrain's books. The Parisian critics agree in saying that his Histoire d'Hôtel Dieu de Québec, as well as Une Paroisse Canadienne au XVII. ème Siècle, which were written after his talents had matured, are the best of his works. The former has made known a number of facts in the history of Canada before ignored ; the second includes and has searched deeply into the first trials of colonization under the feudal system during the old regime. To give a full and adequate sketch of the Abbé Casgrain's life and works would require vol­umes, instead of pages. His countrymen, especially French Canadians, ought to be very proud that a star of such brilliancy and magnitude has in our time illumined the literary firmament.

Source: Geo. Maclean ROSE, “Henry Raymond Casgrain”, in A Cyclopedia of Canadian Biography. Being Chiefly Men of the Time. A Collection of Persons Distinguished in Professional and Political Life; Leaders in the Commerce and Industry of Canada, and Successful Pioneers, Toronto, Rose Publishing Company, 1886, 807p., pp. 644-645. Biography transcribed by Rack Hyuck Chung. Revision by Claude Bélanger. Proper French spelling has been restored throughout the text.


© 2006 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College