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Sir George-Étienne Cartier Fonds (P197)

Letter written by William Markland Molson to George-Étienne Cartier (1814-1873) (detail), 1872. George-Étienne Cartier Fonds P197, P197/B2,1.1.1-2 © McCord Museum

A relentless worker

"My dear Sir George,

I have a request to make of you, & that is that you will not continue to work as hard in the future as you have in the past.

Few of your friends know better than I do the amount of severe labor you have gone through, and I believe with care you will return to us almost restored to health, but then I fear you will only rush back again to work, with the persistency that the moth returns to the lighted candle."

Officially, George-Étienne Cartier died of chronic renal failure, sometimes called "Bright's disease." However, in this touching letter to Cartier, William Markland Molson, a businessman and member of the illustrious Montreal brewing family, suggests that the health problems of the lawyer, politician and Father of Confederation could be due to his frenetic work pace. Criticizing his friend's tendency to push himself too hard, Molson begs him to adopt a more moderate lifestyle, believing it is the only way he can get better.

In late September 1872, George-Étienne Cartier knew he was terminally ill and was about to sail for London, where he hoped to receive a final medical treatment. He died there eight months later, without having seen his native land again.

P197 George-Étienne Cartier Fonds. - [1753-1984]. - 74 cm of textual records. - 4 photographs.

Biographical Sketch

The Cartier family moved to Saint-Antoine-sur-Richelieu some time in the late 18th century. Merchants and landowners, the Cartiers were also involved in local politics and many members belonged to the militia.

George-Étienne Cartier was born September 6, 1814. First educated by the Sulpicians, he went on to study law and became a clerk in the law firm of Édouard-Étienne Rodier. Called to the Bar of Lower Canada in 1835, he went into practice with his older brother François-Damien (1813-1865). Throughout his career as a lawyer in Montreal, he represented prominent clients like the Sulpicians and the Grand Trunk Railway, which was formed in 1852 after Cartier introduced a bill to this effect in the Parliament of the Province of Canada.

A member of the Fils de la Liberté (Sons of Liberty), George-Étienne Cartier took part in the 1837 Rebellion, which forced him into exile in the United States for several months. He was also involved in the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society, notably as secretary (1843).

In 1846, George-Étienne Cartier married Hortense Fabre (1828-1898), with whom he had three daughters. A well-established member of Montreal's business class, he owned numerous properties in the city, including some on St. Paul and Notre Dame streets. He also served on several boards of directors and held shares in various companies.

He moved towards conservative politics during the 1840s, having worked with Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine, whose moderate conservatism he supported. George-Étienne Cartier was first elected to the Legislative Assembly of United Canada in 1848, to represent the riding of Verchères. He was re-elected several times until 1867, as the member for Verchères and then as the member for Montreal East. His influence within the conservative political movement expanded considerably during this period. For example, he was attorney general for Canada East (1856-1862, then 1864-1867) and inspector general (1858), in addition to acting as co-Prime Minister with John A. Macdonald in the Parliament of the Province of Canada in 1857-1858 and 1858-1862. He also played a crucial role in the selection of Ottawa as the capital of the Province of Canada (United Canada), and then the capital of the new Dominion of Canada in 1867.

George-Étienne Cartier was behind several reforms aimed at modernizing Quebec society (Canada East), such as establishing a public school system that observed the principle of religious duality, reorganizing municipalities and eliminating the seigneurial regime. In addition, he was the author of reforms affecting laws and the administration of justice, such as a decentralized judiciary and the creation of a Civil Code for Lower Canada.

He was, moreover, a key player in the process that led to Canadian Confederation (1867). He subsequently remained a major influence, serving as Minister of Militia and Defence (1867-1873) and even as Prime Minister when John A. Macdonald was unable to perform his duties. He introduced important bills like the one for the creation of the militia (1868) and, more controversially, the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway (1872). From 1867 to his death, George-Étienne Cartier held the dual roles of MLA in the Quebec Legislative Assembly and MP in the Ottawa House of Commons.

He first experienced symptoms of Bright's disease in 1871, and finally succumbed to it in London on May 20, 1873.

Scope and Content

The fonds chronicles the multiple professional and personal activities of George-Étienne Cartier, focussing primarily on the period 1863 to 1872. Various chapters of his political career are recounted in correspondence, notes and official documents about the projects he worked on, such as the decentralization of the judiciary and the remuneration of judicial officers. Several governing and administrative documents record his involvement in the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society.

Various legal and financial documents, notes and publications document his activities as a lawyer, notably with respect to some of the cases he worked on, like those involving the Grand Trunk.

Invitations, correspondence and financial records relate other aspects of his social life and the management of his financial affairs. Copies of his will, various legal documents and correspondence also document his estate.

Biographical and historic documents commemorating the life of George-Étienne Cartier, financial records involving certain family members, and several iconographic documents (such as postcards and a photograph of the family home) complete this collection of documents.

Source of title proper: Based on the creator of the fonds.

Language: The documents are in English and French.

Associated material:
BAnQ (Old Montreal): Collection George-Étienne Cartier (CLG17)

Documents relating to George-Étienne Cartier are also preserved in the fonds and archives of several politicians, located in various BAnQ archival centres.

LAC: Fonds George-Étienne Cartier (R6170-0-7-F)

Documents relating to George-Étienne Cartier are also preserved in the fonds and archives of several politicians.

Château Ramezay - Museum and Historic Site of Montréal: Fonds George-Étienne Cartier (P040)

Related groups of records: The McCord Museum's Textual Archives collection contains archives of individuals and families whose activities are associated with those of George-Étienne Cartier, including the Louis-Joseph Cartier Family Fonds (P660). A book by J.-L.K. Laflamme, entitled Le centenaire Cartier, 1814-1914 (M2007.122.6), is also preserved in the Museum's rare book collection.

General note: The Notman Photographic Archives collection includes several portraits of George-Étienne Cartier and his wife, Hortense Fabre.

The fonds is divided into the following series, sub-series and sub-sub-series:

  • P197/A Professional Activities
    • P197/A1 Politics
      • P197/A1.1 Projects and events
      • P197/A1.2 Correspondence. - [1845-1872]. - 3 cm of textual records.
      • Digitized documents
      • Scope and Content: This sub-sub-series contains correspondence that George-Étienne Cartier received regarding his various political offices. It chronicles his relationships with various influential political and religious figures such as vicar general Charles-Félix Cazeau, Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine, Charles Stanley Monck and Gédéon Ouimet. The letters primarily date from the third quarter of the 19th century and focus on topics like separate denominational schools, John A. Macdonald, Canadian Confederation and the elimination of the seigneurial regime.

        Source of title proper: Based on the contents of the sub-sub-series.

        Language: The documents are in French and English.

      • P197/A1.3 Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society
      • P197/A1.4 Notes, articles and documents about Canadian politics
      • P197/A1.5 Honors and tributes
    • P197/A2 Law practice
    • P197/A3 Military

  • P197/B Personal life
    • P197/B1 Social activities. - [1860-1867]. - 1 cm of textual records.
    • Digitized documents
    • Scope and Content: This sub-series documents dinners and other events attended by George-Étienne Cartier, as well as social clubs (like the Somerset and Athenaeum) that he belonged to in Canada, the United States and Great Britain. The bulk of these records are invitations and menus produced during the 1860s.

      Source of title proper: Based on the contents of the sub-series.

      Language: The documents are primarily in English, but several texts are in French.

    • P197/B2 Correspondence. - [1836-1872]. - 3 cm of textual records.
    • Digitized documents
    • Scope and Content: This sub-series documents George-Étienne Cartier's friendships and family relationships over a period of more than 35 years. Sent primarily by Sylvestre and Antoine-Côme Cartier (brothers of George-Étienne), Lady and Lord Carnarvon, Lady and Lord Dufferin, and William Markland Molson, these missives discuss politics, Cartier family properties, as well as George-Étienne's trips, health and gifts to friends and family. There are also numerous letters of friendship and courtesy notes.

      In addition, the sub-series contains examples of stationery and envelopes bearing George-Étienne Cartier's monogram and motto.

      Source of title proper: Based on the contents of the sub-series.

      Language: The documents are in English and French.

    • P197/B3 Finances and assets
    • P197/B4 Death and estate
      • P197/B4.1 Obituary
      • P197/B4.2 Will and line of inheritance. - [1942-1948]. - 1 cm of textual records.
      • Digitized documents
      • Scope and Content: This sub-sub-series concerns the estate of George-Étienne Cartier. It contains certified copies of his will, a line of inheritance, an article about the burial of Hortense Cartier (daughter of George-Étienne), a photocopy of the Cartier family tree and a copy of An Act respecting the estate of Sir George-Étienne Cartier.

        Source of title proper: Based on the contents of the sub-sub-series.

        Language: The documents are in English and French.

      • P197/B4.3 Liquidation by M.J. Auguste Desrosiers
      • P197/B4.4 Inheritance of Carmen Desrosiers-Aubry

  • P197/C History and commemoration

  • P197/D Other Cartier family members

  • P197/E Other documents

  • P197/F Photographs


Last update: March 11, 2018