George-tienne Cartier
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George-tienne Cartier

In 1860, George-Étienne Cartier was one of the most powerful politicians in Lower Canada and a fervent protector of French Canadian nationality. But Cartier would work to bridge the gap between English and French Canada and become one of the leading Fathers of Confederation.
Prominent politician George-Etienne Cartier was the leading spokesman for French Canada during Confederation negotiations. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)
Prominent politician George-Etienne Cartier was the leading spokesman for French Canada during Confederation negotiations. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)

Cartier had the character to undertake this monumental task. He was worldly, urbane, supremely self-confident and utterly at ease with the French and English elite of Montreal. He was a fixture at social events and loved nothing more than to sing songs he had written to the assembled guests.

"(Cartier)... was not a man with whom you could talk very much, " wrote financier Hugh Allan. "Because in all interviews with him he generally did most of the talking himself and you could with difficulty say anything."

Cartier's oratorical gifts were such that he once spoke for thirteen hours in Parliament delivering a passionate critique of the government.

Cartier grew up on a large estate on the Richelieu River and attended the strict Collge de MontrÉal from the age of ten. He began his career as a lawyer and took an interest in politics in his twenties.

Although a product of the establishment, Cartier joined the 1837 uprising against British authority. Cartier was a member of the Patriotes - a group of mainly French and Irish Canadians opposed to arbitrary rule by the colonial administration. Cartier had fought in the battle of St. Denis.

Cartier was charged with treason for his part in the Rebellion and fled to the United States. There, the rebel had a change of heart and wrote to the colonial governor, swearing his allegiance to the Queen.

"Let me express my burning desire to return to my homeland ... to resume my obligations as citizen and British subject and I would be infinitely grateful", wrote Cartier.

The charges against him were annulled and Cartier returned to Montreal after six months with a new cause: to make Montreal a great commercial centre of the empire.

"This city is inspired by the spirit of progress. Nothing can stop it from becoming, eventually, a rival for the great American cities," said Cartier.

In his personal life, Cartier made an advantageous marriage to Hortense Fabre - uniting two families with deep roots in French society. It was a loveless and lonely marriage. Hortense was an austere, religious women who was uncomfortable in social settings.

Cartier soon began a lifelong affair with his wife's cousin Luce Cuvillier. Luce loved politics and often advised Cartier. She wore pants, smoked cigars and read Byron and the novels of George Sand.

Cartier ran for office in 1848 at the age of 34 and was elected as a member of the Legislative Assembly of United Canada. It would mark the beginning of a long, illustrious career in politics. Cartier worked tirelessly for his constituents and French Canada; rewriting property laws; creating a modern civil code; setting up primary schools for Catholics and Protestants and modernizing the institutions of his province.

But Cartier would make his biggest mark when he teamed up with a prominent Upper Canadian politician named John A. Macdonald. Together, the two men would help form a country.

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