Cartier, George Etienne (DNB00)

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CARTIER, Sir GEORGE ETIENNE (1814–1873), Canadian statesman, youngest son of Jacques Cartier, lieutenant-colonel in the Canadian militia, who died in 1841, by his wife Margaret, daughter of Joseph Paradis, was born at St. Antoine, on the Chambly river, in the county of Verchères, Lower Canada, on 6 Sept. 1814. He received his education at the college of St. Sulpice, Montreal, where he went through a course of study during eight years. Having left college, he entered the office of E. E. Rodier, a leading member of the Montreal bar, and in November 1835 became a member of the bar in Lower Canada. The same year he commenced practice, and soon succeeded in establishing an extensive and lucrative business. At different times he had for his partners in the law J. A. Berthelot and M. Dummerville. In March 1848, seven years after responsible government had been established in Canada, Cartier was elected a member of the legislative assembly for the county of Verchères. He continued to represent that constituency until the general election of 1861, when he contested Montreal, and after a hard struggle defeated M. Dorion, the leader of the rouge or Lower Canada party. On 25 Jan. 1856 he first held office as provincial secretary in the MacNab-Taché ministry, and on 24 May 1856 was appointed attorney-general for Lower Canada on the formation of the Taché-Macdonald administration. In November 1857 he was named leader of the Lower Canada section of the government, the Hon. J. A. Macdonald becoming premier, and the ministry under its new phase being known as the Macdonald-Cartier ministry. A slight change in the wheel of fortune produced a transposition of these names, and on 6 Aug. 1858 the ministry became the Cartier-Macdonald administration. As a legislator Cartier assisted to carry the bills for abolishing the seigniorial tenures, that for making the legislative council elective, and that for secularising the clergy reserves. It was also owing to his exertions that several important measures were enacted by the legislature. To say nothing of the Victoria Bridge Bill, he in 1856 passed an act for the establishment of three normal schools, and in 1857 carried a measure to provide for the codification of the civil laws. In the same session he framed an act to break up the system of judicial centralisation in Lower Canada. Two years later he introduced the French civil law into the townships, its operation having been previously confined to the seigniories. In the sitting of 1860 he passed the measures dividing the cities of Montreal, Quebec, and Toronto into electoral divisions, and also introduced the admirable municipal bill which the lower province now enjoys. On 28 July 1858, being defeated in an attempt to make Ottawa the seat of government, he was obliged to resign. As a leader and member of the government he was one of the most honest and upright ministers who ever held office; his enunciation of French in parliament was the most distinct of any member in the house, and he had a perfect command of English. Every year of his official life he submitted to a sacrifice of professional emolument, which had the effect of making him a comparatively poor man. The new ministry, under the Hon. George Brown, were only able to hold office two days, and Cartier immediately returned to power as premier in the month of August, and kept that position until May 1862. In 1864 he was again offered the premiership of the cabinet, but declined it, though he accepted the position of attorney-general. He was one of the delegates to England on the question of confederation and the intercolonial railway in 1865 and 1866. On the formation of the Dominion government in 1867 he was appointed minister of militia and defence in the new cabinet, and retained this place until the reconstruction of the cabinet under Lord Dufferin in 1873. In 1854 he was made a queen's counsel of Canada, created a C.B. on 29 June 1867, a member of the queen's privy council for Canada in July 1867, and a baronet of the United Kingdom on 24 Aug. 1868.

He died at his lodgings, 47 Welbeck Street, Cavendish Square, London, on 21 May 1873. The requiem mass was celebrated at the French Chapel, Portman Square, on 27 May, and his remains were then shipped to Canada for interment. He married, on 16 June 1846, Hortense, daughter of Edward Raymond Fabre of Montreal, and had issue two daughters. He was the author of the popular French Canadian song ‘O Canada! mon pays, mes amours!’ which was set to music and published, and of other songs.

[Morgan's Sketches of Canadians, 1862, pp. 603–8; Appleton's American Annual Cyclopædia, 1873, p. 597; Times, 23 May, p. 5, 28 May, p. 10.]

G. C. B.