Making provisions for the foundation of a university in Montreal in 1790
SANGUINET, Simon, 1733-1790, merchant, notary, lawyer, and judge of the Court of Common Pleas. D.s. (contemporary Manuscript copy signed by notary Louis Chaboillez), Montreal, 14 March 1790. 5 p. folio. Preserved in a half-leather conservation folder with binder’s title: “Simon Sanguinet. Testament. 1790.” (Binding by Pierre Ouvrard).
On 14 March 1790, Simon Sanguinet dictated his last will to notary Chaboillez, and he died two days later. Not having any direct descendants (two children of his first marriage died at a young age), Sanguinet bequeathed 400 shillings a year for eternity to the Grey Nuns, for the education of two poor to be chosen by his family; to the nuns of Hôtel-Dieu, he left 300 shillings per year for eternity for the celebration of a mass for the tranquillity of his soul and also for the treatment of the poor. Moreover, to his brother, Joseph Sanguinet, he bequeathed a pension of 1200 shillings annually, to be paid to the descendants of Joseph, as well as a number of lesser bequests.
The most important clause of the last will is the following: (10). “Wishes and orders that his seignory of La Salle, water and flour and saw mill, with his house in the city on St. Joseph Street and its site, will be and belong by charity to the University which must be established in this province for the education of youth; on condition that his relatives will receive a free education there; and until the said University be built the executors of his will will be in charge of the revenues of the said seignory and house in the city and that those revenues will be applied for the use of the said University, and once it will be founded the administration will be turned over to the directors of the said University, as soon as they will be appointed.”
In 1787, the Legislative Council appointed a committee to study means for promoting education. Beyond any doubt its report inspired Sanguinet to add the above clause, since he had had the chance to read the report, and his enthusiasm did not wane because of the letter of Mgr. Hubert, published at the time, in which the bishop explained the dangers of an institution supposedly mixed (protestant and catholic), which, according to Hubert, would have put the education of French-Canadians into the hands of Protestants.
Two days after Sanguinet’s death, the newspaper wrote an obituary for him worthy of a benefactor of humanity, reporting that his will comprised a bequest evaluated at £11 000, composed of his house in Montreal and his seignory of La Salle, important portion of a fortune of about £15 000, for the creation of a university. Hope builds up in the province. On 31 October, a petition of 175 signatures of Canadians and British, among which those of Charles-François Bailly de Messein and David-François de Montmollin, asks Carleton, who has become lord Dorchester, that Sanguinet’s last will be respected. Dorchester himself, in a letter to the minister of interior, responsible for the colonies, concerning questions of education, declares himself in favour of the project.
When the will was opened, vivid objections arose. Even before the burial, the will was already being contested. In 1791 appeared the imprint ‘Mémoire en cassation’ by Joseph-François Perrault, published by Mesplet. That Mémoire is extremely rare: Lionel Groulx writes in his book L’enseignement Français au Canada (p. 118, in translation) “For two months we have searched for the last will of Sanguinet, or for the Mémoire en cassation thereof. We have even contacted the archivists of Montreal, Quebec and Ottawa. Our research remained fruitless.”
In the month of August 1790 a long and costly trial had started to annul the last will. Throughout the procedure, the heirs, led by Christophe Sanguinet (one of Simon’s brothers, a fur trader), basing themselves upon the memoir prepared by Perreault, insisted on the feeble and troubled mind of Simon in his last days, on the incoherence of certain dispositions of the will and on the fact that some words would have been erased after the signatures were made. The judgment in favour of the plaintiffs was rendered in November 1792.
It should however not be believed that the project of the creation of a university failed because of the invalidation of the last will of Simon Sanguinet. The conclusions of the study of 1787 on education as well as the opposition of Mgr. Hubert were more important than the decision rendered in favour of the heirs of Sanguinet. Still remains that, nearly a quarter century before James McGill, an important Canadian bequeathed a portion of his fortune for the creation of a university in the province of Quebec.
Francis-J. Audet, in the Mémoires de la S.R.C., Section I, 1936 (p. 53-70), on p. 62 mentions: “The last will itself, taken from the minutes of notary Chaboillez to be deposited in Court, disappeared mysteriously and could not be found again. An important Quebec collector [Daviault, who later sold his collection to the National Library of Canada, excluding the Mémoire] pretended to have a copy but did not want to sell it unless at a very high price. He wanted, it seems, five-thousand dollars [in italics in the text]. ($5,000). Like children, that breed of collectors is pitiless. Do not talk to them about history, they answer: big money [in italics in the text.]”
A footnote reads: “La Patrie of 10 May 1936. – Article of M.A. Fauteux. According to Mr. Fauteux, the collector mentioned here, did not have an authentic copy of the will, but a copy of the pamphlet of Perrault published in 1791, which contains the complete reproduction of the will. That pamphlet appears to have been sold at a reasonable price [to whom?]. Since then we have obtained a photocopy of that pamphlet which Mr. Fauteux has kindly transmitted to us.”
In spite of the judgment of 1792, this cause célèbre continued to drag in the Courts for another twenty years.