Characters > Historical

Henri Bourassa

Photo of Henri Bourassa

“To his enemies, who became many and whom he made more than welcome in his enmity, he had the dark and glinting look to Mephistopheles. To his friends, who also were many and wholly welcome, he bore the unflinching iron aspect of a Jesuit martyr.”
(Ordeal by Fire
, Ralph Allen)

While you never meet Henri Bourassa in my novel, various characters do talk about him such as: 

I did have a scene written where he gave a speech at St. Anne’s church in Ottawa in support of the Guiges School’s fight against the Ontario Government’s Regulation 17, which required English be taught in French schools.

Unfortunately, I had to delete the scene because when I was editing the book I discovered that I had Count Jaggi travelling back and forth between Ottawa and New York City three times in the same week. This, in the days of train travel, was highly unlikely.

I had to make the difficult choice, which I really didn’t want to, of deleting the scene, since the events in New York City took precedence.


Like Sir Wilfrid Laurier, he was an exceptional public speaker. It was common for him to give speeches to crowds of 15,000 and keep them entertained for two hours. A direct comparison between Laurier's and Bourassa’s oratory is difficult, but it is said that Laurier was famous for his soft cadences while Bourassa was more robust and fiery in his speaking style.

As the grandson of the celebrated leader of the Lower Canada Rebellion of 1837, Louis-Joseph Papineau, Henri Bourassa took an early interest in politics.

By the age of 22, he had been elected mayor of the small town of Montebello, Quebec. He was at first an ally of Sir Wilfrid Laurier and was first elected as the Liberal member for Labelle when Laurier became prime minister in 1896.

While in Ottawa for the next 11 years he strongly defended the rights of French Canadians in opposition to many who saw Canada primarily as part of the British Empire.

Bourassa’s nationalism was based on three principles:

In 1899, he would break with Laurier by stalking out of the House of Commons in a protest against Canada’s entry into the Boer War. Bourassa would leave federal politics in 1907 for Quebec provincial politics. He was elected to the Quebec Legislative Assembly in 1908. In the Assembly, he attacked the policies of Premier Jean-Lomer Gouin’s government. He quit the Assembly in 1912.

Initially, Bourassa threw his support behind Canada's war effort but as the war progressed he become more and more disillusioned. In 1917, he joined Laurier in fighting Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden on the conscription issue. 

Sources and further reading


BOURASSA, Joseph Henri Napoléon, Parliament of Canada, Parliamentarian File

Bourassa, Henri - The Canadian Encyclopedia

Henri Bourassa - Assemblée Nationalé du Quebec (en français)


Allen, Ralph. Ordeal by Fire, Canada, 1910-1945. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1961