John P. Leger (1865 - 1952)

Best known in Bathurst as John Leger, baptized Jean P. Léger, he was born in Bouctouche on April 20, 1865. He was the son of Pierre "Peter" à Etienne and Ursule LeBlanc. Ursule is the sister of Frédéric LeBlanc, grandfather of Bishop Albini LeBlanc, former Bishop of Hearst. John Léger and Monsignor Albini LeBlanc were cousins.

John Léger (1865 - 1952)
John Léger (1865 - 1952)
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Bathurst, New Brunswick - Genealogy and old photos

John P. Leger’s father died before December 26, 1877. John’s mother, Ursule, remarried on this day, Marcel Daigle, son of Olivier Daigle and Rosalie Mius. The 1881 census lists John with Marcel and Ursule, he was 15 years old.

November 4th, 1884, he married in Bouctouche, Marie LeBlanc, daughter of Maximin LeBlanc and Julie Richard. Two children were born from this marriage: Pierre “Peter” Léger and Ursule Léger.

April 9th, 1888, he married in Bouctouche, Osithe Cormier, daughter of Olivier Cormier and Geneviève LeBlanc. Eight children were born from this marriage: Hector, Régina, Léo, Marie Eugénie Démerise, Arthur, Alice, Edmond and Elie.

In 1898, John sold his Hotel Queen in Bouctouche to Robert Gallant, to settle in Bathurst, where in March 1898, he bought Aimé Gallant's hotel near the InterColonial Railway station (ICR), at the foot of the College's coast, and he gave it the name of Hotel Leger.

An enterprising man, he endowed his hotel with the latest facilities. Thus, the Moniteur Acadien of June 20, 1899 announced: “(translation) Mr. John P. Léger has just introduced into his hotel an instrument by which all money received during the day is automatically recorded. It is the only instrument of this kind used in the county.” He was the pioneer of cash registers in Gloucester County.

Although his success in the hotel business was exceptional, it was not his greatest distinction.

His first achievement of a community nature took place shortly after his arrival here. The Bathurst trotting park had fallen into disuse and even the fences were about to be removed, when Mr. Leger took hold and after a few hours' work secured the assistance of leading citizens and directed the grading of a race course that for many years after was the scene of notable horse races.

Leger Hotel - Bathurst, picture taken before 1908
The Leger Hotel ca 1905.
Found at the Bathurst Heritage Museum.

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Bathurst, New Brunswick - Genealogy and old photos

Always a lover of the drama, his next venture was to provide a playhouse suitable for many traveling companies of the time. The only public hall which the town boasted at that time was neither large enough nor properly arranged to accommodate the better class of entertainments. Consequently, Mr. Leger proceeded to erect the commodious and ornate structure called the Opera House, which for many years was the amusement centre of the community.

Then came the enterprise that will make his name secure in Bathurst's history. His fertile mind, always looking for progress, conceived the idea of installing electric light in the town where he was so firmly established. Encouraged and assisted by his intimate friend of many years, the late Hon. P.J. Veniot, he finally decided that the Tetagouche River would provide ample hydro power for the greater part of each year. Some people discouraged him, some scoffed at the proposal and others were willing to let him try if it cost them nothing. So, he proceeded with his dream, gambling all his resources on the first hydro development in this province, if not in the Maritimes. In 1904, the project was completed, and electric current made its appearance in Bathurst, generated from a small plant near Tetagouche Falls. It was some years before Mr. Leger's optimism was fully justified and the enterprise became profitable. Bathurst and its vicinity reaped the greatest advantage of electric light and power and the first real step in the town's modern progress became a reality.

The great achievement did not by any means complete his progressive activities. When motion pictures rose to favor as public entertainment, it was he who equipped and operated the Opera House as Bathurst's first movie theatre, and his son, Peter J. Leger, who managed that enterprise, now the Capitol Theatre, has ever since been one of the leading theatre men of the province. In 1920, Mr. Leger disposed of his interest in Bathurst Electric and Water Power Co. Ltd., to Bathurst Power and Paper Co. Ltd., and a short time later established the Gloucester Hotel.

Always on the lookout for investment in new businesses, the Moniteur Acadien, August 11, 1904, said:

"(translation) Mr. John P. Léger ... is aiming for a new industry for his place of adoption (Bathurst) ... He would be thinking of providing the Village of Bathurst with an improved flour mill and a carding mill that would be driven by the electricity provided by the installed electricity plant for Bathurst lighting. It is said that he is negotiating with Mr. S (ydney) Desbrisay for the purchase of the Petit Rocher flour mill machines he would be transporting to Bathurst ... "

The great success of the electric dam has in no way completed its progressive activities.

Moreover, in March 1903, he acquired a piece of land "where he had to build a 100-by-40-storey, three-storey building, including a public hall of modern architecture, a sample lounge, offices, and so on. ". This is arguably the big building called Opera House on Water Street (now Main Street), Bathurst's main street at the time, which will accommodate a busy modern movie theater near the W J Kent store. When the cinema became a public entertainment, it was he who equipped and operated the Opera as the first Bathurst movie theater, and his son, Peter J. Leger, who ran the company, now the Capitol Theater, was always of the principal theater men of the province.

John P. Leger family
John P. Leger family (ca 1910)
front (left to right): Osithe, Edmond, Peter, John
back (left to right): Régina, Arthur, Hector, Leo and Marie-Ursule

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On March 8, 1911, the Evangeline reported that John P Léger "(translation) must build a new lock on the Tetagouche River for the installation of his new power." The city's population was becoming accustomed to electric lighting and was becoming more and more demanding, so that the low power generated by the first installation no longer met the growing demands for electrical energy. People said that light bulbs did not light up more than old candles.

By the end of December 1912, James Hill's cement lock at Chatham, 270 feet long by 30 feet high with a 62-foot drop, had been completed. The flow valve blasted into the solid rock overlooked a passage between the rocks, which had been opened by the owner of an old mill at the foot of the falls. In 1919, he sold his electric power, which operated under the name of Bathurst Electric and Water Power Co to the Bathurst Mill Company, "(translation) a new company doing gigantic work in the mine village: it is said that the powers will be enough strong enough to send power to Quebec City.

On Monday, May 25, 1908, sparks from the locomotives had set fire to the Intercolonial's freight sheds and coal shed in Bathurst to spread to the Léger Hotel where John was living, causing $ 10,000 in losses.

The case came to court. Mr. Léger demanded $ 7,000 in damages to his house and buildings, while Intercolonial allowed only $ 5,000. The case was appealed and this time the lawyers were more demanding so that in November 1910, he obtained a total compensation of $ 17,000.

Meanwhile the rebuilt hotel was sold to Azade Landry of Moncton who took possession of it on Monday, May 16, 1910. The Leger Hotel was still to be burnt down on February 3, 1915, forcing the occupants to flee running, including the priests Dutour of Paquetville and Jean Doucet of Bathurst who deplored the loss of "(translation) his beautiful fur coat". By launching into the production of an electricity-producing plant, John Léger wanted to be able to supply his businesses: his hotels, his movie theater and a modern bakery where everything is done by means of electricity and for which he had hired at the beginning of December 1920 a baker with 19 years of experience. Its bakery, Leger's Bakery, was in the basement of the Opera House, a novelty at the time. The bakery had its own truck to ensure the delivery of fresh bread throughout the region.

In 1920, Mr. Leger sold his interest in Bathurst Electric and Water Power Co. Ltd. at Bathurst Power and Paper Co. Ltd. and established shortly after the Gloucester Hotel.

This is a brief overview of the many public services that this man, John P. Leger, initiated in and for Bathurst. For his entrepreneurial spirit, John Léger was certainly one of the great promoters of the development of the city of Bathurst at the beginning of the century. He was called "King of Commerce in Bathurst". John died in Bathurst on April 12, 1952 at age 90, with a funeral in the cathedral by Bishop Dosithé Robichaud.

SOURCES

Evariste Léger:- Histoire de Saint-Antoine, p 22.
The Gloucester Northern Light: 1915-02-10 p 4; 1938-04-07; 1943-12-30.
L'Evangéline: 1889-06-02 p 3; 1911-03-08; 1915-02-10; 1919-12-15 p 4; 1920-12-09; 1920-12-15 p 3; 1930-06-26 p 5.
Le Courrier des Provinces Maritimes: 1898-03-31; 1903-06-25.
Le Moniteur Acadien: 1898-06-20; 1903-03-30 p 7; 1904-02-04 p 7; 1904-08-11 p 5; 1908-05-28; 1909-06-17; 1910-05-19; 1910-12-01 p 3.
The World, Chatham, 1913-01-08 p 2 c 3; 1911-02-22.
Moncton Daily Times, 1952-04-17, pg 2
The Busy East (1920), p 68.
Registre paroissial: Bouctouche.

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