Thursday, 26 April 2012

Two Men & A Canal

The election of the second Canadian Parliament took place in 1872 and began its session in March 1873, controlled by Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald.  Among the members of the ruling Conservative Party brought together as colleagues were two particular politicians, one a rookie Member of Parliament, the other a veteran and Father of Confederation; one a Francophone from Quebec, the other an Anglophone from Nova Scotia; one the first cousin four times removed of Jennifer Lanthier, the other the first cousin five times removed of the man she would marry 115 years later (that would be me, Steve Rogers).

Jacques Lantier
Jacques Philippe Lantier (or Lanthier) was born July 21, 1814 to Antoine Lantier and Marie Reine Rancourt. Antoine was the brother of Jean Baptiste Lantier (1792-1844), the father of Gaspard Lantier (Jennifer’s Great Great Grandfather, featured in the first article in this series).

Jacques, like his cousin Gaspard, was born in Sainte-Polycarpe and returned there to operate a store after completing his studies in Montreal. The two families had to be close. Jacques’ brother Olivier was registered as an official witness at the 1936 wedding of Gaspard’s parents, Jean Baptiste and Catherine Lalonde. Jacques himself wouldn’t marry until relatively later in life, taking brother Olivier’s widow Julienne Bonneville as his wife in 1865.

Jacques first ventured into politics as a member of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Lower Canada, elected from Vaudreuil in 1844.  The 1872 federal election sent him to the House of Commons as the member from Soulanges, the riding he represented until his death in 1882. 

Sainte-Polycarpe lies on the Riviere Delisle, just north of town of Soulanges which sits on the north shore of the Saint Lawrence River across from Valleyfield, Quebec. At the junction of the Delisle and Saint Lawrence Rivers lies the village of Coteau-du-Lac, overlooking a stretch of the river called Lake Saint Francis.  The rapids at Coteau-du-Lac were the most difficult to get past for supplies shipping upstream and westward and thus digging a canal was a high priority in the 18th century. Work on the Coteau-do-Lac Canal began in 1779 and was completed in 1781 making it the first canal lock system in North America.

For many decades the canal was the only significant economic infrastructure in the otherwise mostly agricultural Soulanges district. However it fell largely into disuse after the opening of the Beauharnois Canal on the south side of the river in 1843. It seems natural, then, that Jacques as a politician would take a keen interest in the canal and Saint Lawrence shipping. While a Member of Parliament Lantier published a series of pamphlets; Canal des Cèdres (1873), The Harbours of Coteau Landing and Cascades Bay (1874), and The Question of the Cascades and Coteau Landing Canal (1874).
Sir Charles Tupper

Charles Tupper was Premier of Nova Scotia from 1864 to 1867 and in that position led the province into the union of 1867 and is thus remembered as a Father of Confederation. Tupper was born in Amherst, Nova Scotia July 2, 1821 to Charles Tupper (Sr.) and Miriam Marjorie Knowlton Lockhart. Charles Sr. was the brother of Thomas Tupper, 4th Great Grandfather of Steve Rogers.

Sir Charles began his career in federal politics immediately following the passage of the British North America Act in 1867.  He resigned as Premier to run for the federal seat of Cumberland, which he won, but he found himself the only pro-confederation member elected in the province and spent much of the first session fighting anti-confederation opposition groups who were trying to get Nova Scotia to secede. After re-election in 1872 he held a number of cabinet positions under Sir John A. including Minister of Inland Revenue, Minister of Customs, Minister of Public Works, and finally Minister of Railways and Canals. 

In this latter post, which he occupied from 1879-1884, he oversaw the widening of the Welland Canal and the deepening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway. This must have had him working closely with Lantier, given Lantier’s special interest in these matters.
When the original Beauharnois Canal became obsolete, its replacement was once again on the north side of the river, perhaps in part due to Lantier’s efforts. However the new “Soulanges Canal” did not open until 1899, long after Lantier’s death.

One can only imagine how Tupper and Lantier must have got along. In 1869 Tupper had to rush to the Northwest Territory to secure the release of Donald Roderick Cameron, a captain of the Royal Artillery and his daughter Emma’s husband, who had been taken hostage by Louis Riel and the rebels in the Red River Rebellion (some accounts, including that of the Manitoba Historical Society, say it was Cameron’s luggage that Tupper went to rescue, Cameron having already returned to Canada). A short time later Lantier was introducing a motion in Parliament calling for a pardon for all crimes committed in Manitoba before its entry into the union.

Tupper would later go on to act as Canadian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Minister of Finance, and eventually the 6th Prime Minister of Canada in 1896.

The Soulanges Canal was the first canal in the world to be lit its entire length, allowing for 24-hour operation. It was superceded by a newer Beauharnois Canal again on the south side, constructed initially as part of the Beauharnois hydroelectric development and having locks added in 1950 as part of the Saint Lawrence Seaway project. Today a popular cycle path follows the Soulanges Canal route and local government plans to re-open it to pleasure boats. The Coteau-du-Lac Canal is now a National Historic Site.

Jacques Lantier’s 4x removed cousin Jennifer Lanthier and Charles Tupper’s 5x removed cousin Stephen Rogers first met as student politicians at the University of Toronto.

Births, Deaths and Marriages

Quebec Vital and Church Records – Drouin Collection (1621-1967),  Institut Généalogique Drouin, Montreal, Quebec (database on-line at

Canadian Censuses of 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901, Library and Archives Canada
(Indexed on-line at and Public Member Trees
Photo of Jacques Philippe Lantier

By William James Topley, Ottawa, 1875, public domain,
Library and Archives Canada Ref. No. PA-033387
via Wikipedia                  
Photo of Sir Charles Tupper

By George Grantham Bain,
Library of Congress
via Wikipedia                  
J. Lantier Biographical Information

Website of Assemblée Nationale du Québec
C. Tupper Biographical Information

Coteau-du-Lac Canal, including Image

Parks Canada Website:

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