1897 – 2001 A man of many talents and uncommon energy, Fulgence Charpentier was described as a living encyclopedia of the 20th C.
Charpentier was born in 1897 in Sainte-Anne-de-Prescott, in eastern Ontario, and died in 2001 in Ottawa, his life spanning the entire 20thCentury. His long and varied career included being a journalist, an elected municipal politician, a playwright, the director of censorship during the Second World War, a diplomat on three continents and finally a newspaper columnist after his retirement from the civil service. He was still writing a weekly column for Le Droit at the age of 101. Throughout his life, he was an ardent defender of francophone rights and advocated successfully for the greater use of French in public life, including the municipal and federal civil service.
For the first 18 years of his career, Charpentier lived a nomadic life in Sandy Hill, renting houses or apartments at seven different addresses: 110 College Ave. (1923), 375 Chapel St. (1924-25), 139 Blackburn Ave. (1926–30), 500 Besserer St. (1931-1933), 209 Daly Ave. (1934), 170 Goulburn Ave. (1935) and finally 75 Blackburn Ave. (1936-1941). Earlier, he had worked in Sandy Hill at age 16 selling subscriptions to Le Droit door-to-door shortly after the paper was founded.
He was elected alderman for St George’s War in 1930 (which included Sandy Hill and Lower Town) and later to the Board of Control in 1931 where he was responsible for the City finances and welfare matters, among other things. He served on the Board for four years. His children recall unemployed men coming to their door at 500 Besserer at dinner time asking for hand-outs.
His extraordinary energy is exemplified by his activities in the 1930s. Not only did he and his family live at four different addresses, with all the implications associated with frequent moves, but his first wife Florence died from an accident in 1933, leaving him with four young children. He married Louise Dionne a year later, a marriage that endured over 60 years. Beside being an elected politician, he held three different jobs over the decade, working as a federal civil servant, as a journalist and for the House of Commons (responsible for French debates). In his “spare time”, he served on numerous boards (the Parliamentary Press Gallery, the Ottawa Football Club, le Conseil national sur l’éducation, l’Alliance française, l’Institut canadien-français d’Ottawa, le cercle de culture italienne, la Ligue de la Bonne Entente, la Société des conferences de l’Université d’Ottawa and the Club de las Americas). He wrote three plays (that were performed) and several short plays for children as well as contributing articles to various magazines and dramatized biographies of influential French authors for Radio-Canada. He lobbied unsuccessfully for the creation of a French public high school in Ottawa. He also was the first director of the journalism program at the University of Ottawa and taught its first course.
As a war-time censor, he was a member of the Canadian delegation at historical events, such as the Churchill-Roosevelt-King summits in Quebec City in 1943 and 1944. He also personally witnessed the formal German surrender at the end of the War and met most of the Canadian prime ministers of the 20th Century. He knew Mackenzie King best and recounts in a 1995 interview that
J’avais acquis une relation de confiance avec lui. Nous étions voisins dans la Côte-de-sable. Le matin, il aimait se rendre à pied au Parlement. Nous marchions souvent ensemble.
Honoured by Great Britain (Member of the British Empire), France (Légion d’honneur) and Canada (Order of Canada), Charpentier died in 2001 and is buried in Beechwood cemetery.