First Francophone Mayor of Bytown
April 13, 2006:
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.
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.
Yes it would be an interesting addition to your website. Here is the link to the
Monuments de la francophonie website : http://mondrapeaufranco.ca/fr/
You might also want to add a link to the Centre de recherche en civilisation canadienne-francaise :
http://www.uottawa.ca/academic/crccf/index.html. 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:
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
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
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-
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
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
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 Ancestry.ca (Ancestry.com) 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.
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".
Councillors supporting the motion: Laporte, Leamy and Sparks.
E-mail Monique Brûlé, Allen Craig, E. Anthony Newton, Jean-Claude Dubé, Liz MacKenzie, Jean Yves Pelletier and Al Lewis
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