Viger, Denis Benjamin (DNB00)

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VIGER, DENIS BENJAMIN (1774–1861), Canadian statesman, born at Montreal on 19 Aug. 1774, was the only son of Denis Viger by his wife Charlotte Périnne, second daughter of François Pierre Cherrier. He was educated at St. Raphael's (Roman catholic) College, Montreal, proceeding to the bar, where he soon became distinguished. He entered the assembly as member for Montreal in 1808, and, being a cousin of Louis Joseph Papineau [q. v.], espoused the popular side. In 1809 he issued a pamphlet urging in the interests of Great Britain that the manners and institutions of the French Canadians should be preserved. For this he was threatened with imprisonment, and in 1810 a warrant was issued for his arrest on account of his contributions to the French Canadian newspaper ‘Le Canadien,’ but it was not executed. From 1810 to 1814 he represented the county of Leinster in the legislature, and from 1827 to 1830 that of Kent. In 1828 he was deputed by the legislature to proceed to England as the exponent of their grievances. In 1830 he became a member of the upper house, and was again sent to England to support the cause of the legislature and to oppose Sir James Stuart [q. v.], being joined by William Lyon Mackenzie [q. v.] as representative of the assembly. On this occasion Viger extended his journey to France and Italy.

On 4 Nov. 1838, in connection with the ferment of the young Canada party [see under Mackenzie, William Lyon], Viger was arrested for treasonable articles in ‘La Minerve,’ and, declining to go out on bail, was kept nineteen months in prison.

In 1841, when the two Canadas were united, Viger entered the new parliament as member for Richelieu County, and in 1845 was elected member for Trois Rivières. About 1842 he was nominated by his party as speaker of the legislative council, but withdrew owing to the opposition of Sir Charles Theophilus Metcalfe (afterwards Baron Metcalfe) [q. v.] However, when in 1843 the liberals resigned, Viger, who appreciated the statesmanship of Metcalfe's policy and had supported him in his quarrel with the ministry, was sworn in as president of the council (12 Dec. 1843), and was virtually prime minister up to 2 Sept. 1844. The French Canadians, however, failed to understand his motives; a cry arose that he had become English, and owing to the general dissatisfaction, and especially to the opposition of the clergy, he was forced to resign in June 1846. On his withdrawal from the ministry he was called to the upper house; in 1855 he retired altogether from public life, and on 13 Feb. 1861 died at Montreal.

On 21 Nov. 1808 Viger married Marie Amable, daughter of Pierre Foretier. He received the honorary degree of LL.D. from the jesuit university of St. Jean at Fordham, New York, in 1855. There is a portrait of Viger in Sulte's ‘Histoire des Canadiens Français’ (iv. 104). Viger Square and Viger Garden in Montreal are named after him.

Besides the pamphlet already mentioned, Viger was the author of:

  1. ‘Analyse d'un Entretien sur la Conservation des Etablissements du Bas-Canada,’ Montreal, 1826.
  2. ‘Considérations relatives à la dernière Révolution de la Belgique,’ Montreal, 1831.
  3. ‘La Crise Ministérielle et M. D. B. Viger,’ Kingston, 1844.

[Quebec Mercury, 14 Feb. 1861; Bibaud's Panthéon Canadien, 1891; Tanguay's Dictionnaire Généalogique des Familles Canadiennes, vii. 466; Sulte's Histoire des Canadiens Français, 1884, vol. viii. passim; Morgan's Sketches of Celebrated Canadians, p. 373; Reminiscences of the Public Life of Sir Francis Hincks, pp. 123 and 133–7, 152 sqq.; Appleton's Cyclopædia of American Biography.]

C. A. H.