Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
November 2006

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


Sir Louis Hippolyte Lafontaine


Lafontaine, Sir Louis Hippolyte, Bart. (1807-1864), prime minister of Canada (1848-51), was born near Boucherville, Chambly county, Lower Canada, on October 4, 1807, the third son of Antoine Ménard dit La Fontaine, a farmer, and the grandson of Antoine Ménard La Fontaine, a member of the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada from 1796 to 1804. He was educated at the College of Montreal, was called to the bar of Lower Canada, and practised law in Montreal. From 1830 to 1837 he was a member of the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada for Terrebonne; and he was a supporter, though by no means a blind follower, of Louis Joseph Papineau. He opposed the appeal to arms by the patriotes in 1837; but he deemed it wise to leave Canada, and on his return to Canada in 1838 was arrested. He was released, however, without trial ; and when the union of 1841 was brought about, he became the leader of the French-Canadian Reformers. In the elections of 1841 he was defeated in Terrebonne, but found a seat, through the offices of Robert Baldwin, in the fourth riding of York, Upper Canada. Thereafter he sat continuously in the Assembly until 1851, first for the fourth riding of York (1841-4), next for Terrebonne (1844-8), and lastly for the city of Montreal (1848-51).

During this period he was twice a member of the government of Canada. In 1842 he joined with Robert Baldwin in the formation of the first Baldwin-Lafontaine administration, holding the portfolio of attorney-general for Lower Canada; and it was as a result of a disagreement between himself and Sir Charles Metcalfe that the government resigned in November, 1843. He remained in opposition until the defeat of the Draper administration in 1848, and he was then called upon by Lord Elgin to form what is called the second Baldwin-Lafontaine administration. In this he again held the portfolio of attorney-general for Lower Canada; and it was he who introduced into parliament the famous Rebellion Losses Bill of 1848, the passage of which finally demonstrated the triumph of the principle of responsible or parliamentary government in Canada. This episode marked the zenith of his political career. Henceforth he grew more and more conservative in his attitude, especially in regard to the burning questions of the abolition of the seigniorial tenures and the secularization of the clergy reserves; and, shortly after the retirement of Robert Baldwin in 1851, he resigned from the government, and withdrew from public life. In 1853 he was appointed chief justice of Lower Canada, and this position he occupied until his death at Montreal on February 26, 1864.

He was twice married, (1) to Adèle, daughter of Amable Berthelot, of Montreal, and (2) to Jane, daughter of Charles Morrison, of Berthier, and widow of Thomas Kinton, of Montreal; and by his second wife he had two sons, both of whom died in infancy. In 1854 he was created a baronet of the United Kingdom, but the title became extinct on his death. He was the author of Les deux girouettes, ou l’hypocrisie démasquée (pamphlet, Montreal, 1834), Notes sur l'amovabilité des curés dans le Bas Canada (pamphlet, Montreal, 1837), Analyse de l'ordonnance du Conseil Spécial sur les bureaux d' hypothèques (Montreal, 1842), and, with Jacques Viger, the joint author of De l'esclavage en Canada (Montreal, 1859).

See Stephen Leacock, Baldwin, Lafontaine, Hincks (Toronto, 1907) ; L. O. David, Biographies et portraits (Montreal, 1876) ; and E. Z. Massicotte, Notes sur Sir Louis- Hippolyte Lafontaine (Bull. rech. hist., 1916), and Sir L.- H. Lafontaine (Bull. rech. hist., 1917). Lafontaine's papers were left to the Société Historique de Montréal, and a selection from them was printed and edited by M. de la Bruère in the Revue canadienne, 1916.

Source: W. Stewart WALLACE, “Sir Louis Hippolyte Lafontaine, Bart.“, The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. III, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 396p., pp. 372-373.


© 2006 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College