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Biographies of prominent Quebecers


Last revised:
August 2004


Henri Bourassa



Damien-Claude Bélanger,

Department of History,

McGill University

Journalist and politician, was born at Montreal. The son of artist and poet Napoléon Bourassa and the grandson of Louis-Joseph Papineau, he was mainly educated by private tutors. In the mid-1880s he studied briefly at Montreal's École polytechnique and at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts. The young Henri quickly turned to journalism and politics, and became the mayor of Montebello, Quebec, in 1890, and the founding editor of L'Interprète of Clarence Creek, Ontario, in 1895. He sat as a Liberal in the House of Commons for the riding of Labelle, Quebec, from 1896 to 1899, and was the secretary of the Anglo-American Commissions of Quebec (1898) and Washington (1899). Unwilling to accept any Canadian participation in the South African War, Bourassa broke with Sir Wilfrid Laurier and resigned his seat in 1899. He was re-elected shortly thereafter as an independent Member of Parliament. In 1907 he made the jump to provincial politics, and sat as a nationalist in Quebec's Legislative Assembly from 1908 to 1912. In 1910 he founded Le Devoir, French Canada's most prestigious newspaper, which he was the publisher and editor until 1932. Bourassa returned to federal politics in 1925, serving for the next ten years as the independent Member of Parliament for Labelle. Defeated in the 1935 general election, he retired from active politics and lived out the rest of his days in relative silence. During the first two decades of the twentieth century Bourassa was French Canada's most influential intellectual. However, his brand of Canadian nationalism lost favour after the Great War as a new generation of intellectuals led by Lionel Groulx chose to centre their nationalism on French Canada. Though, like most French Canadians, Henri Bourassa was primarily concerned with the threat posed to Canada by British and English Canadian imperialism, he was also troubled by the nation's progressive Americanization. He articulated his rejection of American civilization in dozens of articles in Le Devoir, many of which were later published in pamphlet form. Bourassa actively campaigned against the Liberal Party during the 1911 federal elections, and played a key role in eroding support for the governing Liberals in their Quebec stronghold.

[The site offers several pages about Henri Bourassa. Consult the main page on Bourassa in the Encyclopedia as it links to several dozen studies and documents on Bourassa. His role in the controversy at the Eucharistic Congress of 1910 is fully documented, his contribution to Quebec nationalism is analysed and the program of the Nationalist League of 1903, which he inspired and led, is found in English and in French , his views on Franco-Americans are outlined, as is his position in the Sentinelle Affair . See his picture on this page. The dossier of the Encyclopédie de l'Agora should also be consulted (French).]

© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College