Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
November 2006

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


The Hon. Hector Louis Langevin, C.B.,

Minister of public Works


[This biography was written in 1880, several years before the death of Langevin. For the precise bibliographical information, see the end of the text.]

SINCE the death of Sir George Cartier no French Canadian statesman has enjoyed a wider popularity among his Conservative fellow-countrymen than the present Minister of Public Works. He is of French Canadian descent on both sides of his house. His father, the late Mr. Jean Langevin, was formerly Assistant Civil Secretary under Lords Gosford and Sydenham. His mother was Sophia Scholastique, a daughter of Major La Force, who served his country loyally during the American invasion of 1812, -13, and -14. Major La Force's father—who was the great grandfather of the subject of this sketch—is said to have been an acting Commodore of the British fleet on Lake Ontario during the American War of Independence.

He was born at the city of Quebec, on the 25th of August, 1826, and received his education at the Séminaire de Québec. He is said to have been a proficient student, more especially in the department of Mathematics. He left school in 1846, and became a law student in the office of the late Hon. A. N. Morin, at Montreal. He had not long been so employed when he began to write for the press. In the autumn of 1847 he became editor of the Mélanges Religieux, a paper devoted to politics and theology, and published in Montreal. He afterwards became editor of the Journal de l’Agriculture, also published in Montreal, and contributed occa­sional editorial articles to one of the daily papers of that city. Upon Mr. Morin's retirement from practice, young Langevin en­tered the office of the late George E. Cartier, where he remained until the completion of his legal studies. In the month of October, 1850, he was called to the Bar of his native Province, and began practice in Montreal. A year later he removed to Quebec, which has ever since been his home.

Soon after taking up his abode at Quebec he began to interest himself in the promo­tion of railway enterprises, and was elected to the position of Secretary-Treasurer of the North Shore Railway Company. He sub­sequently became Vice-President of the Company. In 1854 he married Justine, eldest daughter of the late Lieutenant-Colonel, Charles H. Têtu, J.P. During the following year he wrote an essay on Canada for circu­lation at the Paris Exhibition. To this essay, which extended to 186 printed pages, the Exhibition Committee awarded the first of three extra prizes. In 1856 he was elected as the representative of Palace Ward in the City Council of Quebec, and became chairman of the local Water Works Committee. Next year (1857) he assumed the editorship of the Courrier du Canada, and acted as Mayor of Quebec during the absence of the Mayor-elect—the late Dr. Morrin—in England. At the elections held in the following December he was himself returned as Mayor, and continued to fill that position for the three succeeding years. During his term of office he visited England on a mission connected with the financial affairs of the city, and also on business relating to the North Shore Railway Company.

The same month which witnessed his first election to the dignity of Mayor of Quebec also witnessed his advent into political life. At the general elections held in December, 1857, he offered himself as a candidate in the Conservative interest for the representation of the county of Dorchester in Parliament. He was returned at the head of the poll, and continued to represent that constituency in the Assembly until Confederation. After Confederation he represented it in the House of Commons until 1874. His first Parliamentary session was a somewhat notable one. He took his seat in the House as a supporter of the Macdonald-Cartier Administration, which was defeated in the course of the session on the seat of Government question, and was succeeded  by the brief administration under Messrs. Brown and Dorion. It was Mr. Langevin who moved the resolution of want of confi­dence which accomplished the defeat of that short-lived administration, and for this he has been accused of violating the rules of Parliamentary courtesy by his undue haste.


"There can be no doubt," says Mr. Fennings Taylor, "that the resolution exactly expressed the sentiment of Parliament, but it is by no means as clear that the time of sub­mitting it was well chosen. Less haste would not, in all probability, have altered the vote ; perhaps it might have increased the major­ity by which it was affirmed. In any case it would have placed the proceeding beyond the reproach of unfairness, and have effectu­ally removed it from the grave imputation, which has been affixed to it by many, of being wanting in Parliamentary courtesy. In affairs of state the means as well as the end should be considered. The proceeding appeared to lack generosity, and though it offended no rule, it was not, so far as we are aware, supported by any example of Parliament."


After the perpetration of the "Double Shuffle" Mr. Langevin was a zealous supporter of the Cartier-Macdonald Administration, and indeed continued to support Mr. Cartier's policy so long as that gentleman continued in active political life.

During the years 1861 and 1862 Mr. Langevin was President of the St. Jean Baptiste Society of Quebec; and during the two following years he was President of the Institut Canadien. In 1862 he published a work entitled Droit Administratif, ou Manuel des Paroisses et Fabriques, which received high commendation from the Lower Canadian press. On the 30th of March,1864, he was created a Queen's Counsel, and on the same date he became Solicitor-General for Lower Canada in the Taché-Macdonald Government, and a member of the Executive Council. During the month of November, 1866, he became Postmaster-General in the Coalition Government, and retained that office until the Union.

In the proceedings which resulted in Confederation Mr. Langevin took a prominent part. A speech made by him in the course of the debates was regarded at the time as displaying remarkable powers of argument.

He was one of the delegates on behalf of Lower Canada to the Charlottetown Conference of 1864 ; and also represented his Province at the Quebec Convention held later in the same year. He also attended the Conference held in London, England, two years afterwards, when the terms of union were finally settled.

When Confederation had been accomplished, Mr. Langevin accepted office as Secretary of State for the Dominion in the Government formed on the 1st of July, 1867. He was at the same time sworn of the Privy Council; and during the following year he was created a C.B. (Civil.) Dual Representation being then permissible, he successfully contested the representation of the county of Dorchester in the Local Legislature at the general elections of 1867. He sat in the Local House for Dorchester un­til 1872, when he was returned by acclamation for Quebec Centre, which constituency he thenceforward represented until 1874, when he retired. He retained the portfolio of Secretary of State in the Dominion Cabinet until the 8th of December, 1869, when he was transferred to the Department of Public Works. During his Secretaryship he was ex officio Registrar-General of Canada, and Superintendent-General of Indian affairs. He was also a Commissioner to assist the Speaker in the management of the interior economy of the House of Commons, and Chairman of the Railway Committee of the Privy Council. In 1870 he was created a Knight Commander of the Roman Order of Pope St. Gregory the Great.

In 1871 Mr. Langevin visited British Columbia at the desire of the Privy Council, for the purpose of acquiring a knowledge of that Province, in relation to the western terminus of the Canada Pacific Railway, and for the purpose of ascertaining what public works were needed there. On his return he published a report showing the result of his observations.

In the session of 1873, during the absence in England of Sir George Cartier, Mr. Langevin acted as Conservative leader in the Province of Quebec ; and after Sir George's death he was permanently appointed to that position. He retired from office with his colleagues in November, 1873, in consequence of the Pacific Scandal disclosures.

In 1876 Mr. Langevin was returned to Parliament by the electors of Charlevoix. His election was contested, and subsequent­ly cancelled by the Supreme Court, but he was again returned by the same constituency in April, 1877. At the general elec­tions held on the 17th of September, 1878, he was an unsuccessful candidate for the representation of Rimouski. In the Con­servative Cabinet, formed by Sir John Macdonald on the 18th of October following, Mr. Langevin accepted the portfolio of Postmaster-General. Having been defeated in Rimouski he was without a seat in Parliament. Mr. William Macdougall, however, the member-elect for Three Rivers, made way for him by nominally accepting an as­sistant postmastership. On the 21st of November, Mr. Langevin was returned for Three Rivers by acclamation, and now represents that constituency in the House. He retained the portfolio of Postmaster-General until the 20th of May, 1879, when he was appointed Minister of Public Works.

Mr. Langevin is a man of active mind, and is attentive to the duties of his office. In the early days of his Parliamentary career his speeches were marked by diffuseness ; but practice and criticism have cured him of this drawback. He now speaks with coolness and precision, and is not easily disturbed by hostile interruptions.

Source: John DENT, "The Hon. Hector Louis Langevin, CB., Minister of Public Works", in The Canadian Portrait Gallery, Vol. II, Toronto, John B. Magurn, 1880, 224p., pp. 164-166.


© 2006 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College