Joseph Montferrand, dit Favre, was born in the St. Lawrence district of Montreal in The family men were known for their strength and powerful build. Although he was mild in manner and appearance, he could more than hold his own in a street fight. He successfully challenged several famed boxers during his youth. He came to fame as a result of a challenge issued at a boxing match in the Champ de Mars, Montreal.
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While he is closely associated with the Ottawa Valley, this lumberjack, log driver, foreman, raftsman and strongman was not born and raised there. He did, however, spend half of his life in the region, drawn by the forest industry that proved to be the economic force of the Ottawa Valley in the 20th century. It was also in this region that he became a character of legend; today, there is no way to distinguish his real exploits from those that are purely folklore.
His exceptional life and his exploits were recounted and exaggerated in homes, taverns and lumber camps. Oral tradition and written material distributed by some lumbering companies spread the legend through the forests from Newfoundland to British Columbia. The some , Quebecois who moved between and to live with our neighbours to the south also helped to make him famous, especially in New England after Official bodies have also paid homage to this hero of popular culture.
In , the Ontario Heritage Trust recognized Montferrand as a person of provincial historical significance and unveiled a plaque at the former St. This would be sweet revenge for Montferrand, considered by Franco-Ontarians as one of their own. The name Montferrand does not appear in many official place names. In , Montferrand was on the short list of possible names for the new almagamated city on the Ottawa River; however, it lost out to Gatineau. While no streets or arteries in the city where he accomplished his greatest feats bear his name NOTE 2 , an early childhood centre in downtown Gatineau was named for him.
There is also a Rue de Montferrand in Quebec City, and a downtown park in Montreal commemorates the name of one of its most illustrious native sons. Strangely, there does not seem to be any evidence of Montferrand in the place names used in the industrial cities of New England, where Francophones were very much present in the second half of the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century. This would be a interesting topic for further research. The Cock of Faubourg St. Laurent Joseph Montferrand was born into a modest family in Montreal on October 25, Recognized for their size and incredible strength, the Montferrands enjoyed a degree of fame in the working class districts of Montreal where strongmen were greatly admired.
Montferrand grew up in the cosmopolitan neighbourhood of St. Laurent, which boasted many boxing halls and taverns. It is not surprising, then, that he would later excel at English boxing, which at the time used both fists and feet.
His first exploits came at the age of sixteen when he trounced three bullies who were terrorizing his neighbourhood. Not long afterward, he accepted the challenge of an English boxer who had declared himself champion. In , Montferrand left Montreal for Kingston, where he worked as a teamster. Little is known of his years working for this company, which controlled a large part of the fur trade in North America.
He worked at various times as a log driver, a foreman, a raftsman, and as the trusted agent of his Anglophone employers. For thirty years, Montferrand was closely associated with the forest industry which dominated the economic development of the Ottawa Valley in the 19th century. The first raft, made up of about 50 cribs of white pine, red pine and oak, was floated out of the region toward the Port of Quebec in After a difficult start, due to market instability and a lack of capital in the mids, the Ottawa Valley became the North American hub for lumber exports.
As Chad Gaffield points out, three elements contributed to this development: increasing British demand for lumber, the development of an American market for construction timber, and a local market for sawn lumber. Lumber held the key to a promising future for the Ottawa Valley and, in contrast to the situation at the beginning of the century, an increasing number of investors, merchants, settlers and workers were attracted by the golden age of the forest industry.
From the time Montferrand arrived in the region until he left, its population had grown from 2, to about 40, His Exploits, Real and Imaginary Jos Montferrand enjoyed his roaming life, travelling to lumber camps, ports and taverns, where the strongest ruled and where the most intrepid members of each ethnic group had to defend the honour of their race.
But king though he was, he constantly had to defend his crown. On more than one occasion he had to take up a challenge or extricate himself from an ambush. Our hero was surrounded by a male culture closely associated with physical trials, harsh conditions, challenges and often violence, all of which emphasized strength, agility and courage.
In Bytown, he is reported to have left his footprint on the ceiling of a tavern on Sussex Drive. Montferrand performed this feat in many Quebec taverns and it became his hallmark. The only land link between Hull and Bytown, this bridge was the site of an ongoing conflict between Irish hooligans, the Shiners, and French-Canadians, the two groups fighting for control of jobs in the logging industry in the Ottawa Valley. This is where the undisputed leader of the French-Canadians was ambushed and where he routed more than Shiners.
As historian Benjamin Sulte tells the story, it was a horrible scene. Many of the attackers found themselves in the water and blood was flowing from the parapet into the Ottawa River. After , the number of Montferrand exploits diminished.
He no longer travelled to the lumber camps in winter but, in spring and summer, he continued to oversee the movement of rafts of square timber down the Ottawa River and the St. Lawrence all the way to Quebec. This was still demanding work since the rafts could reach lengths of meters, with crews of 80 raftsmen NOTE 3. He is thought to have been comfortable, financially, because as a foreman he had earned three times the salary of a lumberjack. At 55, his back was bent with rheumatism but, in spite of his weakened physical condition, he remained a hero.
The following October 4, he died in the city of his birth, at the age of With his nine children, Joseph-Louis had numerous descendants, the eldest of whom, Joseph, enjoyed some renown as a boxer at the beginning of the 20th century.
A Legend that Strengthened the French-Canadian Identity Over time, oral history and the many accounts of the legendary Montferrand made him into a larger-than-life figure, endowed with almost every quality possible. He was big, strong, handsome, good, pious, courteous, loving, devoted, warm, wise, kind, generous, trustworthy, fair, intelligent and responsible.
For Goyer and Hamelin, this phenomenon can be explained by the personality of hero, the place in which his exploits were performed and the period in which he lived. Endowed with a fine physique, Monferrand was also one of the most engaging figures of his day. His exploits took place in the Ottawa Valley where tension between the Irish and the French Canadians and between the English merchants and the Francophone settlers ran high.
It was in this context that he became a symbol of nationalist ideology based on faith and language.
Montferrand became the perfect character on whom an anxious people could project its dreams and fears. For us, his greatest achievement is in the fact that, two centuries after his birth, he remains very much alive in our memories!
Jos Montferrand, Legendary Figure of the Ottawa Valley
Jos Montferrand, figure légendaire de l’Outaouais