Joseph-Balsura TURGEON
First Francophone Mayor of Bytown
(Ottawa, Canada)

April 13, 2006:

Good morning
I have been consulting your website frequently and have found it enlightening. 
However, I believe there is an error regarding the first francophone mayor in Ottawa. 
Your site identified Eugene Martineau as being Ottawa's first 
francophone mayor. However, according to the website Les monuments de la francophponie 
d'Ottawa, Joseph-Balsura Turgeon was Ottawa's (and Ontario's) first mayor. He 
served from 1853 to 1854. Here is the blurb that can  be found on the website :
Le 1er janvier 1810 nait le premier maire francophone de l'Ontario, 
Joseph-Balsura Turgeon.   Probablement né à Lachenaye (Québec), J.B. Turgeon 
arrive à Bytown (Ottawa) vers 1840 pour y exercer le métier de forgeron.  

Devenu conseiller municipal quatre ans plus tard, il est impliqué dans un affrontement 
violent entre les Tories et les Reformers, connu sous le nom de Stony Monday (1849).  
Président-fondateur de l'Institut canadien-francais, Turgeon est successivement 
échevin, puis maire d'Ottawa de 1853 à 1854. 

Turgeon promeut une série de réformes et propose que la désignation de Bytown 
soit remplacée par Ottawa.  

Nommé syndic des écoles en 1855, il obtient, six ans plus tard, un système d'écoles 
séparées.  Figure dominante de la communauté canadiennne-francaise d'Ottawa, 
Joseph-Balsura Turgeon représente bien les secteurs stratégiques privilégies 
par les élites au milieu du XIXe siecle. 

Il meurt à Hull (Québec) le 17 septembre 1897.
Monique Brule
Bibliothécaire en chef
Conseil des écoles catholiques de langue francaise du Centre-est

Good morning Monique,
Thanks for your note. I know that it may seem a small technicality but Martineau 
was the first francophone to be mayor after Bytown became Ottawa. Turgeon was mayor 
of Bytown at the time you mention. So both have a claim to being first.  I am sure 
both families are equally proud of their ancestor's contributions and while I would 
not wish to diminish in any way M. Turgeon's it seems to me that to cede the first 
to him would be the equivalent of ceding  H.J. Friel's claim to being the first mayor 
of Ottawa to John Scott who was the first mayor of Bytown.
Allen Craig 

Yes it would be an interesting addition to your website. Here is the link to the 
Monuments de la francophonie website :
You might also want to add a link to the Centre de recherche en civilisation canadienne-francaise : They hold an abundance of research 
material on French Canada, namely the archives for the Institut canadien-francais d'Ottawa, 
a literary organisation founded by Joseph-Balzura Turgeon in 1852.

July 24, 2006: Joseph Balzora Turgeon was my great grandfather. I believe I have the correct spelling of his middle name as it also was the first name of my uncle "Bal" who was named after his grandfather who was living at the time of Bal's birth. Balzora was Joseph's mother's name. She was a Basque. My mother was born in the early 1890's and in her memoirs of that time recounted many personal memories of her grandfather who, I was told, was mayor of Bytown when it was renamed Ottawa and who was the first mayor of Ottawa. Joseph and his older brother, Jerome, emigrated from France to New Orleans, USA, as orphans, young boys only, in the 1820's under the auspices and under the care of the Jesuits. Joseph thereafter moved to Ottawa where he had some relatives. Jerome remained in New Orleans but visited Ottawa several times. All contact was lost with him during the time of the American Civil War. One interesting story which my mother recounted was that Joseph as a young man took part in a failed rebellion against the English and was banned from Canada. He returned under a false name and entered politics and was elected mayor of Bytown under his false name. Of course everyone knew who he was! Queen Victoria then granted a general amnesty and Joseph took back his family name.I have not been able to verify this story. I have a written memoire of my mother's describing her early days in Ottawa. If you are interested in more I can be reached at ... E. Anthony Newton
August 23, 2007: Hello Al I have been corresponding with Mr. E.Anthony Newton, a descendant of J.B. Turgeon, who wrote in a comment in Bytown or Bust on July 24, 2006 concerning his mother's memoirs on our pioneer statesman. Consequently, I wrote up an historical summary on J.B. Turgeon based on my personal research and whatever I gleaned here and there in my readings. and I sent it to Mr. Newton. I am providing you with a copy of my summary. Hope that you find it useful. If you want to add this to Bytown or Bust site, it's OK. (the following is Jean-Claude's work ... Al) Joseph Balzara Turgeon, the second son of Pierre Turgeon and Ursule Robichaud, was born in the town of L'Assomption, north-east of Montreal, in the Lanaudiere region of Quebec, on April 22, 1816. He was the sixth generation of a lineage descended from Charles Turgeon, from Mortagne-au-Perche in Lower Normandy, France, who came to New France (i.e. Canada) in 1662. We do not yet know when Joseph Balzara Turgeon came to Bytown (Ottawa). However, he married Mary Ann Donaher in the St.Jacques le Mineur chapel in Bytown on Oct. 27, 1841. This chapel later became the Notre Dame Cathedral of Ottawa. A blacksmith by trade, he quickly became a leader of his catholic francophone community and was involved in the many facets of the political, social, business, educational and military happenings of the small nascent town of Bytown which was later named Ottawa and then became the Capital of Canada some 20 years after his arrival. He played in the local band Les Musiciens de Bytown. When the local social and reading club Mechanic's Institute forbade the elections of francophones on its Board, Joseph Balzara walked out with other French-speaking members and founded the Institut Canadien-francais social club, which still exists in Ottawa. As mayor of Bytown in 1853, he supported the Temperance movement by greatly reducing the number of taverns that were catering to the lumberjacks and other employees of the flourishing lumber industry. He also supported separate catholic schools within the provincial public school system. He also helped to approve funds for the catholic General Hospital (now the public state-controlled Ottawa Hospital). This may be why he was honoured with the title Knight of the Order of Gregory the Great by Pope Pius IX in 1853. That year, Turgeon also moved a motion to petition Queen Victoria to name Bytown the Capital city of Canada. This happened in 1857, after Bytown became Ottawa in 1855. It is said that Turgeon favoured the name Ottawa because it was the 200th anniversary of the return of the Odawa (Ottawa) Indians down the trade route of the Grand River of the Algonquins ( now called Ottawa River) after having been chased away from their homelands by the Iroquois Indians during the French-English skirmishes in the 17th century colonial times. Joseph Balzara Turgeon kept his middle name probably because the single name Joseph was quite common in his family. His grand-father, Joseph Turgeon, a master-carpenter and a member of the Quebec Legislative Assembly, had been a Major in the Elite Volunteer Militia (MEI), Terrebonne Division in the war of 1812 against the United States. In the town of Bytown, before J.B.Turgeon arrived, there was already a lumber mill owner by the name of Joseph Turgeon, spouse of Marguerite Gaboury, which some history authors have mistakenly taken to be the same person. His middle name, Balzara, is the baptismal inscription in the church records of L'Assomption-de-la- Sainte-Vierge. However, over the years, the name has been spelled many ways: Balzara, Balzora, Balsura, and Balsara. Joseph Balzara Turgeon was Commander of the Bytown no.2 Rifle Company to defend the City of Ottawa against the United States-based Fenians, an Irish independence group who tried to invade Canada in 1866. After his term as mayor in 1853, Joseph Balzara Turgeon stayed on City Council as a councilor. He was also a School Board trustee. He also exchanged his anvil and blacksmith shop for a desk and an office to become a license inspector and general agent. His business most certainly involved the lumber industry such as the buying and selling of rafts of squared timber and the burgeoning sawmill lumber industry. His first wife, Mary Ann Donaher (Donagher) was very much involved in charitable organizations. She may possibly have passed away on Dec.8, 1866. The church record of St.Joseph parish in Ottawa has a burial on Dec.9, 1866 for a Mrs. Turgeon, without giving her first name nor her maiden name. The civil entry for marriages in the town of Pembroke, in the county of Renfrew, Ontario has a record of Joseph B. Turgeon, widower, age 70, son of Pierre Turgeon and Ursule Turgeon, residing in Pembroke, Ont and employed as a bush ranger, marrying Mary Elizabeth Menard, age 21, daughter of Gabriel Menard and Josephine Menard, of Petawawa, Ont, on the 10th of July, 1881. The age entry is obviously wrong since Joseph Balzara was born in 1816. It is not yet known if any children came out of that marriage. One researcher stated that Mary Elizabeth Menard was living in a convent in Montreal in 1926 because her daughter had joined the religious order. I have found a Mrs. J.B. Turgeon living in a downtown location in Montreal in the 1926 Montreal City Directory. Joseph Balzara Turgeon died of heart failure on July 17, 1897, in his music store in Hull, Quebec (across the river from Ottawa, Ont.). He was buried in Notre Dame Cemetery in Ottawa, after an impressive service in the chapel of the University of Ottawa. Charles Edward Turgeon, age 30, son of Joseph Balzara Turgeon, married Maud Higginson, age 22, in Ottawa on Sept.7, 1880. She was the daughter of Thomas S. and Martha Higginson and of the Church of England faith (Episcopalian). Charles Edward passed away at the home of his daughter, Mrs. George L. McCurdy, at Neuilly-Sur-Seine, France, on Oct. 27 (year unknown). He was retired from the Finance Department of the Government of Canada, in Ottawa. He was a specialist in calligraphy and drawing and was an expert examiner in forgery trials in Ottawa and later in Chicago, Illinois, USA. He passed his later years with his daughters in London and Paris. Mary Ann Turgeon, daughter of Joseph Balzara, married a Mr. Washburn, of Hull, Quebec on April 16th, 1877. She was Roman Catholic and he, an Episcopalian. Nearly all of this information was found in Fonds Francois Joseph Audet in the Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa and in the ( website. ... Jean-Claude Dubé

May 16, 2012: Thank you for your historical notes about JB Turgeon. He is said to have lived at 211 Clarence Street a house that will be demolished very soon. I feel there should be a plaque on the site with a biographical reference to J.B. Turgeon. In a National Capital Commission publication, Lower Town Ottawa, Volume 2, 1854-1900, Manuscript Report 106 the author states on page 890: ...only one such building remains at 211 Clarence Street in Lowertown. This building appears to go back to 1847, when Joseph B. Turgeon, the owner of this lot gave Joseph Aumond a mortage. He then had a one and a half storey frame cottage erected on the lot about the same dimesions as the present day house has. It was later sold to Andre Gravelle who, in 1881, gave a mortgage to Societe de Construction d'Ottawa which enabled him to convert the house to the two and a half storey tenement which stands there now. The property passed from him to Joseph and Hector Laperriere in 1897. I have traced links between Turgeon, Gravell and Laperriere - all directors of the Institute Canadien-francais at one time or another. If anyone has come across information linking Turgeon to this property, I would very much appreciate hearing from you. The Land Registry Office's first reference to this property (Parry Street North, Lot 2) is in 1868. I am searching for earlier records to confirming it as a residence of J.B. Turgeon. Thanks for any help you can provide. ... Liz MacKenzie ____________________________ May 17, 2012: (continued from yesterday's posting) Thanks to Jean Claude Dubé for the following interesting and detailed contribution! Hello Al, Ms MacKenzie and Anthony Newton, I'm cc'ing this message to my good friend Jean Yves Pelletier, an historian, author, and member of the Institut Canadien Francais. Jean Yves has already written a preliminary history of J.B. Turgeon because, not only was he a mayor of Ottawa in 1853 when it was called Bytown, he is also the founding president of l'Institut. This organisation started as a reading and social club in 1856? and quickly became a male mecca of french-speaking intellectuals of many professions from both Hull and Ottawa. New May 22, 2012: Here is a note from M. Jean Yves Pelletier, referring to the above sentence: FYI, the Institut was registered at the local clerk's office in 1856. It was officially incorporated in 1865 through an Act of Parliament of the Province of Canada. Interestingly, the Rideau Club was also incorpored by the same Act, the same day. J.B.Turgeon had one daughter and two sons. The daughter, Mary Ann, was married to the Registrar of Ottawa County which was on the Quebec side and included the then city of Hull, Her father-in-law had an axe manufacture (Washburn Axe Co) and they all lived together with other siblings. Her husband died young and Mary Ann had one daughter and never remarried. Her home (stately, I would think) along the Brewery Creek beside the axe entreprise burnt down in the Hull fire of 1888. Her second home, on Main St, where she lived as a widow and survived by teaching music and selling musical instruments, burnt down in the Ottawa-Hull great fire of 1900. Much memorabilia may have burnt at the same time because this was a very devastating fire. This is the home where J.B.Turgeon died in 1897, before the fire. J.B.Turgeon remarried in his 70's in 1881 to a 21 year old woman from the Pembroke, Ontario area (Petawawa). She may have been a single and possibly unwed mother. Her name was Marie Elisabeth Menard and the 1891 census has the 10 year old girl Bella Menard classified as "adopted daughter". At that time, J.B. Turgeon was a farmer and bush ranger and he owned rural property in the Pembroke, Ontario area in Renfrew County. Although I have not confirmed this, Marie Elisabeth paternal grandmother may have been a First Nation woman from Oka / Kanesatake and wed in Bourget, Quebec (in Eastern Ontario?). J.B. Turgeon's obituary in an Ottawa newspaper said that he left two sons and two daughters but no names are given. He only had one daughter from his first wife, Mary Ann Donaher. I have not found the Donaher lineage. However, at Turgeon's first wedding, the witnesses were Charles Aumond (his cousin) and Frances Donaher. I have found out who Frances Donaher was. Joseph Francis Audet, a genealogist and head of the Canadian Archives at one time, wrote that the daughter ("Bella" could have been an endearnment name) joined a religious order in Montreal and that Marie Elisabeth, her mother, joined the religious order as a benevolent woman. I have yet to find the order and death and place of burial of these two Menard women. Mr. Newton's mother said that her grandfather was blind when she saw him before his death. (she was quite young then). It's possible that because of his age and even possibly failing faculties and sight, he left his young wife behind in Pembroke and moved in with his now middle-aged daughter to be closer to urban medical care. He was born in 1816 so he would have been 81 when he passed away in 1897. The official cause of death is "old age". Son George never married. He seems to have been a bachelor and a gentleman. He had been part of a military contingent in Egypt for some years, then lived with his widowed sister Mary Ann and her daughter who also never married and died young shortly after her mother. I assume that George lived with his sister on Main St. because he and his sister and niece were "boarders" in a Hull home in the 1901 Canadian census. He was employed by a lumber company in Hull (Edwards, I think) and died reasonably old in the 1920's. There are no known descendants. I wonder what happened to his papers? He is buried with his father in Notre Dame Cemetery in Ottawa. Mary Ann Washburn is supposed to be buried in Notre Dame Cemetery in Hull (Gatineau) but I have not found any burial records. Her daughter Agnes Washburn never married and died young. I am still to find out about her burial place. I have just recently found pictures of Mary Ann Washburn and daughter Agnes at Library and Archives Canada. I'll get some prints made some day. Charles Edward, son no.2, married into the wealthy Higginson family from Hawkesbury, Ontario and Buckingham, Quebec. He had one son, Balzora, and about seven daughters. Anthony Newton is the son of one of these daughters. He had a large home on the north side of the far end end of Rideau St in Ottawa, overlooking the Rideau River beside Cumming's Bridge going to Janeville on the east side. This is where the wake for J.B.Turgeon was held in July? 1897. His funeral was in the chapel of the University of Ottawa. Charles Edward then moved to 10 Wilton Crescent in the Glebe, close to Bank St and Lansdowne Park and also close to the Rideau Canal (very commercial in those days). The newspaper social pages of the first decade of the 20th century often mention one or other of the Turgeon girls, usually about events associated with the Anglican (Episcopalian) Trinity Church down the mostly rural road on Bank St near the Rideau River near the Billing's Bridge. There was a cluster of enterprises on both sides on the bridge at that time and both shores were referred to as Billings Bridge. Charles Edward, a respected civil servant (Clerk, 2nd Class) then moved to the Chicago area around 1911. Most of his daughters married well and two of them were living in France where then widower Charles Edward passed away in the 1920's. There are some male descendants through his son Balzora, who served in the Canadian Army during WWI although he was then residing in the USA. Charles Edward died in France. His personal papers could have been left with either one of his two daughters who were then living in France with their American husbands. Anthony Newton was left with historical notes written by his well-travelled mother and he has written his mother's and family history from them. He may possibly know if any of his cousins would also have other treasures. The University of Ottawa has a department known as the Centre de Recherches en Civilisation Canadienne Francaise (CRCCF) that, I would think, would be very interested in owning for posterity all documents relating to Joseph Balzora Turgeon and his first cousins, Joseph and Charles Aumond. They are all part of the early history of Ottawa. Joseph Aumond became relatively wealthy and partnered a lot with John Egan in the lumber industry. Both Aumond and Turgeon, as well as others, came from the town of L'Assomption, north-east of Montreal, along the St. Lawrence. One famous daughter of L'Assomption is Elisabeth Bruyere, the founder of the Grey Nuns (Sisters of Charity) in Ottawa. It so happens that Elisabeth Bruyere is a "half-cousin" to Aumond and Turgeon through the Robichaud family, an Acadian family living in St. Jacques de l'Achigan, a town just beside L'Assomption. In her many letters, Elisabeth Bruyere refers to Joseph Aumond as her guardian angel because he was the religious order's financial benefactor. Aumond was at least 10 years older than Elisabeth Bruyere. Joseph Balzora, who was born in 1816, was only a few years older than Elisabeth and they were both born in the same town. So they must have known each other before coming to Ottawa (Bytown). ... Jean-Claude Dubé
May 18, 2012: Thanks to Liz MacKenzie for the following excerpt from the Bytown Gazette. "Gazette Dec. 1852, regarding the broken front dispute with John Rochester. Turgeon moves to reserve some of the land for the municipal use. The Gazette is no friend of Turgeon or his fellow francophone councilmen". Broken Front, Lot 39, Bytown Councillors supporting the motion: Laporte, Leamy and Sparks.
E-mail Monique Brule;, Allen Craig, E. Anthony Newton, Jean-Claude Dubé, Liz MacKenzie, Jean Yves Pelletier and Al Lewis
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