L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia
Philippe Baby Casgrain
CASGRAIN, PHILIPPE BABY (1826-1917) lawyer and author, was the son of Charles Eusèbe Casgrain by his wife Elizabeth-Anne Baby. The name Casgrain is ancient in French history, and several possible derivations have from time to time been put forward. Some have suggested "castrum agrinum" or "castinetum agrinum" for geographical reasons connecting the family with the Chateau d'Agrin in Velay; while others, in view of the wheat sheaf on the coat of arms, suggest "casa grani", the house of wheat. Whichever is correct, there can be no doubt of the antiquity of the family, for it is definitely mentioned as far back as the middle of the sixteenth century. The name is not common now in France, and though it is fairly frequent in Canada, it is an established fact that all who bear the name Casgrain here to-day are the direct descendants of the one Quebec family. Jean-François Cassegrain of the parish of Airvault, France, formerly a member of the famous Irish Brigade, was the founder of the illustrious line which has given the Dominion so many splendid statesmen, scholars and citizens.
Casgrain was born in the City of Quebec 30 December, 1826, and was educated at the College of Ste. Anne de la Pocatière. For several years Casgrain studied law in the office of Mr. Jean Thomas Taschereau, who became later a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. In 1850 Casgrain was called to the Bar, and entered into partnership with the Hon. Pierre Joseph Olivier Chauveau, at that time Solicitor-General in the Hincks-Morin administration. He was created K.C. in 1879.
Not long after this he was appointed to the Prothonotary's office of the Superior Court in the Province of Quebec, and served as Deputy Prothonotary for thirteen years. At the close of his parliamentary career he was made clerk of the Circuit and Revision Court. His profound knowledge of the law was highly respected by the other members of his profession, and the Attorney-General, his nephew the Hon. T. Chase Casgrain, profited by his learned advice frequently and gratuitously.
His political life was full of action and incident. In 1872 his eminent cousin the late Lieutenant-Governor of Quebec, the Hon. Luc Letellier de St. Just, persuaded him to stand as a Liberal candidate in the then violently Conservative constituency of L'Islet. On the day of nomination they travelled from Rivière Ouelle to St. Jean Port Joli, the county town, and there, after a stiff bout of fisticuffs, succeeded in handing in his papers. In the ensuing election he was victorious over the former member by the narrow margin of forty votes.
In the House of Commons he distinguished himself as a facile debater in opposition, and endeared himself to both sides by his courtesy. Casgrain's son was at the time an interpreter in Parliament, and to him Sir John A. Macdonald delighted to remark: "Your father is the finest gentleman in the House, my boy, but his politics are all wrong." This was usually said when the member for L'Islet was within earshot.
Casgrain was a fluent speaker in both languages. He made valuable contributions to the Liberal side of the debates on the New Brunswick school question, the Pacific scandal, and the Riel rebellion. He served on several important Royal Commissions, including that which investigated the abuses in the administration of public affairs in the county of Rimouski. His broad humanity was shown in the House when it was moved to devote twenty thousand dollars to the erection of a monument to the memory of Sir George Etienne Cartier. At his suggestion the sum was set aside, and the interest sent to the wife and daughters who were living in dire necessity in Rome.
Casgrain, with other prominent Liberals, refused to accept either the policies or the leadership of the Hon. Honoré Mercier, and stood for his sixth electoral contest in L'Islet in 1891, as an Independent Liberal. He was declared elected, but was defeated on a recount by two votes, because a poll clerk had omitted to initial some ballots. And so be left the House after a closely fought battle as dramatically as he had entered nearly twenty years before. Throughout his long life he had made an exhaustive and specialized study of history, and his greatest contributions to literature are in this connection. From his mother, who had written a Mémoire de famille (Rivière Ouelle 1891), and from his researches among the lives of his ancestors, he arrived at most interesting discoveries in the history and geography of Quebec . Among the famous landmarks which he identified are: Champlain's fountain, the houses in which Montcalm lived and died, and the house of Abraham Martin after whom the Plains of Abraham are named. It was largely due to Cas grain's efforts that the Plains were secured as a national monument.
His literary output was enormous, and the titles of his published works show probably better than anything else the nature and extent of his researches. Relating to his family he published Letellier de St. Just et son Temps (Quebec, 1885), La Vie de Joseph-François Perrault, surnommé le père de l'éducation du peuple canadien (Quebec, 1898), and Mémorial des familles Casgrain, Baby et Perrault du Canada (Quebec, 1898).
In addition to this voluminous work he found time for many pamphlets and articles on historical and legal subjects which appeared from time to time in periodicals and in the Transactions of the Royal Society. He was twice president of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec (1898-1906), and in 1908 he received the diploma of honour from the Royal Society of Canada for his zeal in archeological research. He was a member of the Navy League, and also president of the Canadian Landmarks Association.
In 1854 he married Charlotte Mathilde, daughter of Col. Perrault, the educationist. Of this union there were five sons and three daughters. Casgrain died 23 May, 1917, and was buried in Bellemont Cemetery. Mme. Casgrain predeceased him in 1910, and he was survived by the Hon. Senator J. P. B. Casgrain, Canon Casgrain, formerly a major of the Royal Engineers, Perrault Casgrain of Quebec, Mme. Eudore Evanturel, Mme. Alexandre Taché, and Mme. Pascal Poirier.
Casgrain's other published works were as follows: La fontaine d'Abraham Martin et le site de son habitation, (Ottawa, 1903); La Maison d'Arnoux où Montcalm est mort, (Lévis, 1903); La Maison de Borgia, premier poste de Wolfe, à la bataille des Plaines, où était-elle située? (Ottawa, 1904); The Monument to Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham and the old statue at Wolfe's Corner, (Ottawa, 1904); Le Moulin de Dumont , (Lévis, 1905); La Maison du Chien - d'Or à Québec, (Quebec, 1905); L'habitation de Samos, (Ottawa, 1906); Les batailles des Plaines d'Abraham et de Sainte-Foye, (Quebec, 1908); La Réserve de M. Ailleboust dans l'enclos de Québec. La chapelle et le tombeau de Champlain, (Quebec, 1909); Notre Système judicaire. Brèves suggestions de réformes urgentes, (Quebec, 1911); Cadet, sa maison et residence à Québec, (1906); De Vitré, a Canadian Mariner, (1904) and A Few Remarks on Various Gallicisms and French Locutions in the Plays of Shakespeare, (1907). (Morgan, Can. Men, 1898 and 1912; H. Charlesworth, Ed. Representative Canadians, Toronto, 1919; Wallace, Dict. Can. Biog . 1926; Bull. rech. hist. 1917; Gazette, Montreal, 25 May, 1917; private information.]
Source : G. A. G., in Charles G. D. ROBERTS and Arthur L. TUNNELL, A Standard Dictionary of Canadian Biography. The Canadian Who Was Who, Vol. 1, Toronto, Trans Canada Press, 1934, pp. 108-109. A few minor typographical errors have been corrected.
© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College