John Le Boutillier

John Le Boutillier was born into one of the Channel Islands’ oldest families in Saint-Jean, Jersey, on April 23, 1797

In 1824, John was managing the Robin Company fishing station in Percé when he married the owner’s illegitimate daughter, Elizabeth Robin. Philip Robin recorded what he really thought of his son-in-law: He is a young man of steady habits, and in a respectable situation of trust, which he has filled to our satisfaction, and, consequently, is likely to continue therein. This family connection between Elizabeth and her father Philip Robin led John Le Boutillier to hope that he might one day gain control of the Robin empire.

The father

John and Elizabeth were a very united couple. They also had a fairly strong sense of family and built close relationships with their children from a very early age. During a pastoral visit to the Gaspé coast, the Anglican bishop noticed, and took the trouble to record in his journal, how “This young couple seem never tired of playing with their boy, & the father seems to forget all the world & its business while he has him in his arms & talks nonsense to him; watches his droll faces & enters into his means of entertainment”.

They would have eight children: seven boys and a girl. As JLB stayed in Québec City while parliament was in session, Elizabeth kept an eye on the company and even toured its fishing stations. He had absolute confidence in her. They maintained close ties with their children even after they left the family home.

The public man

His public career encompassed two areas of activity: the administration of justice and politics.

He served as justice of the peace beginning in the early 1820s and also chaired the Grand Jury of the Court of Sessions of the Peace. John Le Boutillier, like all his peers, took a stand on more than merely issues of a judicial nature; he denounced mismanagement and even went so far as to enforce international agreements in place of the government. For instance, he led of group of fishermen as they repelled an American schooner and kept it from fishing in Canadian waters.

In a petition he presented in 1824 as chairman of the Percé Grand Jury, he recommended that a new prison be built in Percé and pointed out the need to build roads between the different places where people had settled in the District of Gaspé.

In 1842, in response to these repeated complaints, the government decided to set up a commission of inquiry that would shed light on the administration of justice in the region and propose solutions.

John Le Boutillier’s public career, inspired by a combination of social conscience and opportunism, lasted some forty years.

With his French last name and English first name, married to a French-Canadian woman – who was Roman Catholic no less – and personally a member of the Anglican church and the Anglophone business class, John Le Boutillier was equally acceptable to the Patriots and the Tories.

His achievements show that he took adequate care of his riding. Going by the amount of money invested in road building in the Gaspé, he was well able to make himself heard. His personal journal also reveals that government officials consulted him of matters pertaining to the fisheries and on the legislative steps that needed to be taken when the time came to adopt a law.

As David Lee noted in his study of the Gaspé Peninsula, by becoming a member of parliament, John Le Boutillier intended to look out for his own business in contrast to Robin who preferred to control elections and the men in place.

In the end, Le Boutillier’s actions as a politician served the interests of people living on the Gaspé Peninsula as much as they did those of the large companies.

In August 1864, a delegation boarded the S.S. Queen Victoria in Québec City. On the way to Charlottetown, the ship landed its illustrious passengers two days later on the wharf in Gaspé Bay, just across from Fort Ramsay, the main residence of the member of parliament for Gaspé. For a few hours, the Fathers of Confederation joined John Le Boutillier for a short walk along the shore. The next day, the delegation continued on its way to the Maritimes, where they took part in the Charlottetown Conference.

Few politicians can boast of having experienced so many milestones in Canadian constitutional history and of having rubbed shoulders with such prominent political figures (Jean-Thomas Taschereau, Louis-Joseph Papineau, Georges-Étienne Cartier, John A. Macdonald, Georges Brown, Alexander T. Galt, …).

The businessman

John Le Boutillier and Company was an enterprise of some stature. It provided work for the heads of more than 130 families and Gaspé fishermen year after year.

In terms of assets, it operated a network of seven cod trading posts and landing stations and some fifteen ships sailing under its flag. The family had a sumptuous residence in Gaspé and a trading post in L’Anse-au-Griffon (Manoir Le Boutillier) as well as second homes in Percé, Sainte-Anne-des-Monts and Québec City. John Le Boutillier did very well in the cod trade and left his sons a healthy legacy.

John Le Boutillier was so successful in business that he became one of the greatest men of his time. The timber industry of the day had its barons and the cod fishery its king – Robin – but it also had its princes… John Le Boutillier was one of them. He built a commercial enterprise of far-reaching importance at home and on the world stage.

He played a role in the development of Canada’s fishing industry. It was because of men like him that the Gaspé was not as isolated as one might have thought. His ships connected the region with the ports of Québec City and Montréal, with South America and the United States, and with northern Europe and the Mediterranean basin. He was the kind of man that today is sometimes called a self-made man and throughout his life, he had only one rule: work.

One descendant, John LeBoutillier, has perpetuated the family’s entrepreneurial spirit.

Excerpt from La Grande Époque de la Gaspésie, John Le Boutillier 1797-1872. Mario Mimeault

Come discover more about an exceptional individual, John Le Boutillier at Manoir le Boutillier in L’Anse-au-Griffon.