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Biographies of Prominent Quebecers


Last revised:
August 2004

Sylva Clapin



Damien-Claude Bélanger,

Department of History,

McGill University

Linguist, historian, journalist, short-story writer, sailor, and civil servant, was born at Saint-Hyacinthe, Canada East. He was educated at the Séminaire de Saint-Hyacinthe. As a young man Clapin served for two years in the American navy. In 1875 he returned to Canada and became the editor the Courrier de Saint-Hyacinthe (1875-1879) and of Montreal's Monde (1880-1885). He left Montreal in 1885 to become a bookseller and publisher in Paris, but returned four years later and opened his own bookstore and publishing firm - the two occupations generally being linked in the nineteenth century. In 1892 he emigrated to Boston and continued to labour in the book trade until he became the editor of L'Opinion publique of Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1896. During the Spanish-American War Clapin re-enlisted in the American navy as a gunner and was decorated for bravery. He returned to Canada in 1900 and became a bookseller and publisher in Ottawa . Shortly thereafter, he was appointed translator at the Canadian House of Commons, a position he would occupy until his retirement in 1921. Sylva Clapin is best remembered as a short-story writer and lexicographer (see his Dictionnaire Canadien-Français , 1894) - his 1902 Dictionary of Americanism is of particular interest in this regard. However, his most widely read book was undoubtedly his lavishly illustrated Histoire des États-Unis (1900). Inspired by the success of A. D. DeCelles' similar but more erudite Histoire des États-Unis (1896), Clapin - an admirer of American institutions - produced a positive, though not uncritical assessment of the American experience that served for decades as the standard American history textbook in French Canadian schools and colleges. Re-edited in 1913 and 1925, the book was also widely used in Franco-American parochial schools.

© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College