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The Baillairgé Family

The Baillairgé Family

An Architectural Dynasty

Architect François Baillairgé had his home and workshop built at 20-22 rue Ferland in 1805. François learned the basic skills of his trade from his father and passed them down to his son Thomas, who in turn taught them to his younger cousin Charles Baillairgé and a number of students who made their careers in Québec City. The brilliant talent of four generations of the Baillairgé family can still be seen in Québec City’s architectural heritage.

Jean, the patriarch

Jean Baillairgé was born into a family of masons and carpenters in France in 1726. He left for New France at the age of 15 and settled in Québec, where he apprenticed with a master carpenter. Throughout his life, he would remain faithful to the traditional training he had received, which can be seen in the houses he built and the church decors he sculpted.

In 1787 Jean Baillairgé began work on his masterpiece. With his son François, he designed and created the interior of the Notre-Dame-de-Québec Basilica-Cathedral. The original work was destroyed in a fire, but the church still features an accurate reconstruction of his handiwork.

François, the prodigy

Born in 1759, François Baillairgé apprenticed with his father, who saw the boy possessed a rare talent. With financial help from the Séminaire de Québec, Jean sent his son to Paris to pursue his studies at the prestigious Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture (Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture). François became highly skilled in design and received in-depth training in neoclassical architecture, which was very popular at the time.

Upon returning to Québec, François pursued a career as a painter, sculptor, and architect. His original sculptures began drawing attention as they appeared in churches in and around Québec. His work includes the large golden canopy over the altar in the Notre-Dame-de-Québec Basilica-Cathedral. His reputation earned him major commissions, such as the design of the Québec Jail, which now houses the Morrin Centre.

Thomas, master of religious architecture

François Baillairgé passed his skills down to his son Thomas, born in 1791. As the appointed architect of the diocese of Québec, Thomas worked on the construction of all churches and religious buildings in the Québec area between 1820 and 1850.

Like his father before him, Thomas followed the principles of neoclassical architecture inspired by Antiquity, which valued sparseness, symmetry, and integrated columns and pediments. Thomas drew plans for a distinct type of church with two symmetrical steeples and presented his model as a suggestion for an extension of the Notre-Dame-de-Québec Basilica-Cathedral. As a visit to the cathedral will reveal, his plans were only partly executed. However, Thomas used the same style for the façade of the Saint-Roch Church. His design was also used in many other places across the province until the late 19th century.

Thomas Baillairgé also drew the plans for many of the city’s residences and public buildings, including a wing of the Séminaire de Québec, the Episcopal Palace, and three buildings of the Ursulines Convent.

Charles, the inspired genius

Charles Baillairgé was born in 1826, and his inventive mind was obvious from a young age. At 17 he built a steam-powered vehicle, which he drove through the streets of Québec City, terrifying local horses. He continued to be a trailblazer throughout his long career as an architect and municipal engineer.

Charles was trained by his father’s cousin, Thomas, but quickly abandoned neoclassical architecture to experiment with various styles. His churches, residences, and public buildings abound with Gothic and Egyptian features. He introduced the modern American style. He was a pioneer in his use of steel frameworks in the two buildings he designed for Laval University. He explored the full potential of wrought iron in the square in front of the Notre-Dame-de-Québec Basilica-Cathedral, the staircases of Québec City, and along the Dufferin Terrace, which he designed.

As a municipal engineer, Charles Baillairgé also played an important role in the modernization of Québec City in the second half of the 19th century.

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