Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry

Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry, military engineer (b at Toulon 3 Oct 1682; d at Québec City 23 Mar 1756).

Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry, military engineer (b at Toulon 3 Oct 1682; d at Québec City 23 Mar 1756). Introduced to army life by his father, a military engineer, Chaussegros de Léry joined the French army on several campaigns in order to learn the art of fortification. Despite having no academic training, two years before coming to New France Chaussegros de Léry tried to publish a "Treaty on Fortifications in Eight Books," a privilege denied him throughout his life by the Court. His manuscript resides in the National Archives of Canada in Ottawa.

Chaussegros de Léry became King's Engineer in New France in 1716. He was attaché to the Ministry of the Navy when sent to New France to replace the existing fortification plans and to recommend works needed to assure the colony's defence. As soon as he arrived in Québec, he cancelled projects and had prepared imposing relief maps of the state of the fortifications at Québec and Montréal, sending them to Paris in 1720 and 1721. His first mission over, he won a permanent commission as the colony's chief engineer. Chaussegros de Léry much enjoyed Québec where, on 13 October 1717, he married Marie-Renée Legardeur, with whom he had ten children.

Chaussegros de Léry's contribution to the development of New France was considerable. In the first place, he dedicated himself to fortifying the colony's towns, chiefly Québec and Montréal, whose walls he built. From 1716, he conceived the Québec Citadel , which the British erected much later between 1825 and 1830. Even though they were reworked after the Conquest, the fortifications at Québec remain the major achievement of this royal engineer. Unfortunately, the true evidence of his genius exists only on paper, for many of his productions have either not survived or have been completely altered.

Works which remain include the barracks at Fort Niagara, New York, (1726) and the New Barracks in the Park of the Artillery at Québec (1749, presently being restored). His works on paper have remained useful, the relief maps of Québec and Montréal which he built still being regarded as the most accurate models of these cities. Thus, at Québec, all the west portion of the Upper Town within the walls and the whole district of the Old Port have been divided into lots according to his plans, notably those of 1752.

Chaussegros de Léry's most enduring contribution remains his awareness of the need for adaptation. No one better saw that the socio-economic and climatic conditions of New France ruled out the importation from France of building techniques and architectural styles associated with metropolitan classicism. Over the years, he exploited new materials and substituted techniques. He researched and promoted local materials, designed plans for ease of construction, and had built prototypes which gave artisans experience in new techniques that were in harmony with the environment of New France.

In shaping the rules and regulations upheld by the colony's Intendants, he inscribed into the building trades conventions and techniques used in ancien régime cities (such as the obligation to cohabit in bourgeois houses and the denial of architectural orders to non-nobles). The urban house, which he created between 1725 and 1745, proved successful because it responded to the demands of the environment (especially as regards fire prevention) and confirmed the coherence of a society whose hierarchy and conventions originated in metropolitan France.

Chaussegros de Léry received the Cross of Saint-Louis in 1741 and won the right to have a military funeral in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame at Québec, of which he had been the architect. Architectural history recognizes him today as the father of the first truly Canadian architecture.


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Further Reading

  • André Charbonneau et al, Québec, ville fortifiée, du XVIIIe au XIXe siècle (1982); Luc Noppen and Marc Grignon, L'art de l'architecte: Trois siècles de dessin d'architecture à Québec (1983); Luc Noppen and Lucie K. Morisset, Québec de roc et de pierres: La capitale en architecture (1998); F.J. Thorpe, "Chaussegros de Léry, Gaspard-Joseph," pp. 124-128 in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol III, 1741-70 (1974).

  • André Charbonneau et al, Québec, ville fortifiée, du XVIIIe au XIXe siècle (1982); Luc Noppen and Marc Grignon, L'art de l'architecte: Trois siècles de dessin d'architecture à Québec (1983); Luc Noppen and Lucie K. Morisset, Québec de roc et de pierres: La capitale en architecture (1998); F.J. Thorpe, "Chaussegros de Léry, Gaspard-Joseph," pp. 124-128 in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol III, 1741-70 (1974).