||Handwritten on manuscript verso: “2d Prize of English / Competition / Wm Price / 7th / June 30th 1 / U.E. Archambault”
The Catholic Commercial Academy of Montreal, also known as the Plateau Academy, was established by the Roman Catholic School Commissioners of the City of Montreal. M. U. E. Archambault was the principal. It was built to serve the needs of Montreal’s large Catholic population by training male students in commercial or industrial pursuits. The Academy also developed a library and museum of objects related to commercial subjects.
George-Édouard-Amable Desbarats was born on April 5, 1838 to George-Paschal Desbarats and Henriette Dionne in Quebec. He married Lucianne (Lucie-Anne) Bossé on April 30, 1860 and the couple had two daughters and give sons.
He was also known as George Edward and came from a long-established printing family. George Edward’s grandfather, Pierre- Édouard, co-purchased the Nouvelle Imprimière in 1798, which printed the Lower Canadian Statutes and several newspapers and publications. George Edward’s father took over the business in 1828 and became the Queen’s Printer in 1841.
George Edward went to Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1846 and spent five years at the school. He then went to the Collège Sainte-Marie in Montreal in 1852 to study Rhetoric and Philosophy. Afterwards, he studied law at the Université Laval in Quebec City while clerking at his Uncle’s law firm. He attained a certificate of competence to practice law in 1858 and was called to the bar of Lower Canada on May 2, 1859. However, George Edward decided to work with his father instead of joining a law firm. His father’s printing firm was Desbarats et Derbishire, which George Edward inherited when his father died in 1864. Steward Derbishire died in 1863 and was replaced by Malcolm Cameron, who at the time became the queen’s printer. As such, Desbarat and Cameron moved to Ottawa, setting up a shop on Sparks Street to follow the government.
The business was quite successful, but on April 7, 1868 Desbarat’s friend and tenant, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, was assassinated in the doorway of the rooming-house on Sparks Street. Despite threats, Desbarats put up a plaque on the wall to honour McGee, but on January 20, 1869, the building was set on fire and it, plus all the printing equipment and materials, were destroyed. Desbarats was able to continue his work at a printer and press he had established in Quebec give years prior with engraver William Augustus Leggo Jr. On October 1, 1869 Sir John A. Macdonald made Desbarats the first official printer of Canada. Because of the demands of his business, Desbarats resigned in 1870 and moved his family to Montreal to pursue his printing and publishing work.
Working with Leggo, the two invented the leggotype, a method of photo-engraving. When Desbarats launched the Canadian Illustrated News, it featured Leggo’s full-page photo-mechanical engraving, which was the first of its kind. He then published L’Opinion publique. He would continue to print various publications with new photo techniques. Desbarats and Leggo are responsible for the use of leggotype, granulated photography, and photolithography in periodical printing.
Despite these successes, the small Canadian population prevented Desbarat from achieving profitable circulation. Leggo and Desbarat decided to move to New York to found the world’s first illustrated daily, the New York Daily Graphic, in March 1873. Desbarat was in charge for a few months before letting others take over, but it ran until 1889. Desbarat continued to produce publications and periodicals in Montreal, including the Canadian Patent office Record and Mechanics’ Magazine. Desbarat also started the Desbarats Lithographic and Publishing Company to support Canadian publishing, with a particular focus on printing and engraving in Montreal. In 1874 Desbarat and Leggo ended their partnership, with Leggo staying in New York.
The costs of these publications was quite burdensome. Desbarat had also founded the Burland-Desbarats Lithographic and Publishing Company with George Bull Burland in January 1874 for his Canadian periodicals. However, Desbarat had to file for personal bankruptcy on May 31, 1875 and had to settle his father’s estate to repay his debts.
In 1876, Desbarats retired from Burland-Desbarats Lithographic and Publishing Company. He opened an atelier and went into business with his second son, William-Amable in 1877 and a year later started the Desbarats Printing Company. He joined the Artotype Printing Company with photographers William Notman and Henry Sandham in 1879. He learned the new technique in New York and saw much business success. In 1884, he became a joint manager of the Canada Bank Note Engraving and Printing Company. Desbarat and his son returned to periodicals in 1888 when the two formed a partnership and began the Dominion Illustrated, the first weekly in Canada to use half-tone engraving in its illustrations. Throughout his life, Desbarats continued to experiment and invent printing techniques.
Desbarats was a social and political conservative with a reputation for treating his employees and colleagues extremely well. Outside of his professional life, he was the president of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste of Ottawa, a director of the Montreal Philharmonic Society, and captain in the Ottawa Civil Service Rifle Regiment. He also led a citizens’ committee to set up a temporary hospital during the smallpox epidemic in Montreal in 1885.
He died on February 18, 1893 in Montreal. In 1970, the Desbarats Printing Company still employed members of the seventh generation of Desbarats in Canada.
Other bookplates related to Bibliothèque de L’Académie Commerciale Catholique de Montreal: BP MUR CAN P R462, BP MUR CAN I L5373a, BP MUR CAN I L5373b, BP MUR CAN I L5373c.