Fr. Joseph Michaud


Fr. Joseph Michaud designed and built the first Cathedral in British Columbia, which John Teague later incorporated into St. Ann's Academy, in 1858. Michaud also designed the 1871 wing of the academy in absentia, and his plans provided the basis for the 1886 addition to the academy.


Joseph Michaud was born in Saint-Louis de Kamouraska, Lower Canada (Quebec), on 1 April 1822. He studied classics at St. Anne College in Pocatiere, and he entered Les-Clercs-de-Saint-Viateur seminary in 1848.1 Upon the request of Bishop Modeste Demers
Bishop Modeste Demers
, he traveled with the first four Sisters of St. Anne to British Columbia in 1858 (the same year as the Fraser River Gold Rush and the official creation of a British colony in mainland British Columbia).

Bishop Modeste Demers
immediately tasked Michaud with the construction of British Columbia's first Catholic cathedral on Humboldt Street. Michaud designed and built St. Andrew's in an informal French Recollet style typical for rural churches in Quebec.2 Michaud was not a formally trained architect, and it was normal practice at the time for architects in Canada to copy existing models. Since he had not even been on the West Coast for a year yet, Michaud simply built St. Andrew's in the style he was familiar with. Inadvertently, Michaud started an important trend that would result in the construction of a French-Canadian space in Victoria.

St. Andrew's simple exterior was totally outdone by its extravagant interior. A journalist for the British Colonist newspaper (23 November 1860) believed that St. Andrew's was "built without much regard to the niceties of architectural design," but the writer still promised that the church would become "one of the most highly ornamented structures in the city" by the time Michaud was through.3 Michaud hand carved the wood of the interior with such skill, according to the reporter, that it could be mistaken for plaster. Michaud built St. Andrew's with California Redwood, and unbeknownst to the British Colonist he carefully structured the church within Catholic symbolism and numerology. The eight bi-sectioned windows represented the eight beatitudes of Christ and the two scriptures of the Christian Bible, and he carved five roundels into the ceiling with various Catholic devices.4

Bishop Modeste Demers
ordained Michaud in the new cathedral in 1860 making Michaud the first Catholic priest ordained in British Columbia. Nonetheless, Michaud wanted to return home, which he did in 1862. Michaud, like so many of the transient people who built British Columia's infrastructure, was a sojourner, who left strong ties to Quebec when he left for the West Coast.5 Migration patterns to BC were also migration patterns outward, and Michaud stayed in Victoria and the Fraser Valley for only four years. However, he also established a permanent connection to British Columbia, and it is possible that Michaud's own travels in BC prompted his nephew, also named Joseph Michaud, to move to the Fraser Valley around 1877. Michaud returned to BC three more times, twice to visit his nephew.6

Once back in Canada East, Fr. Michaud began teaching at the college in Joliette, and he pioneered Quebecois post-secondary education in Physics.7 Meanwhile, the ultramontaneUltramontanism was a French-Canadian nationalist movement, which argued for a strong Catholic influence in culture and politics. bishop of Montreal, Ignace Bourget
Bishop Ignace Bourget
, had convinced himself that the Catholic Church of Montreal needed to build a reduced-scale replica of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City
St. Peter's, Rome
. In 1857, Bourget
Bishop Ignace Bourget
sent Victor Bourgeault, the leading French Canadian architect at the time, to Rome to study Michelangelo's Late Renaissance Baroque masterpiece, but Bourgeault returned with the opinion that it was inappropriate, not to mention impossible.8 Bourget
Bishop Ignace Bourget
resurrected his plan in 1868, and at that point with the Papal states threatened by Victor Emmanuelle II's
Victor Emmanuelle II
Italian unification mission, Bourget cast the project as a gesture of support for Rome.9 Bourget
Bishop Ignace Bourget
sent Joseph Michaud to Rome with the Papal Zouaves, a volunteer army of Canadian Catholics traveling to Italy to protect the Papal states, and Michaud served in Rome as chaplain to an Algerian Army detachment.10 Michaud's real purpose in Rome was to study St. Peter's
St. Peter's, Rome
, and he returned to Joliette in 1896 being shipwrecked along the way.11

Michaud constructed an impressive model over the next year for the new Cathedral in Montreal based on St. Peter's. It was 4.6m long, 2.8m wide, and 3m high.12 The bishop still commissioned Bourgeault to build the Cathedral, but Michaud's model was responsible for the overall direction of the project and proving that it was even possible.13

Fr. Joseph Michaud returned to teaching again, but he was not finished with architecture. In 1871 the Sisters of St. Ann in Victoria decided to build a new convent and school house, and Michaud designed it in absentia.14 Once again, Michaud was removed from trends in West Coast architecture, and he drew up plans for a building with a decidedly Quebecois flavour even though they did not conform specifically to any school of architecture.15 Charles Verheyden built the 1871 wing from Michaud's directions. Throughout the 1870s Michaud continued to practice architecture and teach at Joliette.

In 1880, the Church transferred Michaud to L'Institut des Sourds-Muets (Deaf and Mute Institute) in Montreal, which was directed by Michaud's order, Les-Clercs-de-Saint-Viateur.16 Construction on the Montreal basilica had started in 1875 and was well under way, but now Michaud was re-assigned to the team with Bourgeault and Alcibade Leprohon. After Bourgeault's death in 1888, Michaud became the principle architect on the project until the Cathedrale Saint-Jacques-le-Majeur was consecrated in 1894 (later renamed Cathedrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde).17

Michaud was a diligent, hard worker, and he designed many Churches along the St. Lawrence in Quebec as well as St. Joseph's in Vermont (1883), most of which he constructed in the Baroque style he pioneered.18 Michaud was an old man by the time he went to work on the Cathedral, but he still walked to work each day, since he carried some distaste for the tram.19 Fr. Michaud died in 1902, and he left behind the structures of a long architectural career. He was most remembered for the Cathedrale Saint-Jacques-le-Majeur and his coin collection, but Michaud had left a strong influence on nineteenth-century culture as far away as British Columbia.20


Fr. Joseph Michaud was never formally trained, but he was a mature, influential architect by the end of his career. As illustrated in his initial work for the Catholic Church in British Columbia, Michaud started out as a carpenter, who modeled his buildings after existing examples without much consideration for the intricacies and subtleties of style and form. At the time architecture was still based on a long tradition of copying buildings, and it was later that Canadian architects started to visualize ways to adapt major architectural trends into the Canadian landscape. Architects, as they came to be understood, did not really exist in colonial British Columbia. The 1860 Victoria Directory listed Michaud simply as a frere, and he probably considered building as a small part of his work as a Catholic brother.21

In the nineteenth century the Catholic Church had started a Gothic Revival in French Canada, and many major churches reflected this French medieval style.22 Michaud returned to Quebec from British Columbia just as the Church was growing dissatisfied with the Gothic for several reasons, and Bishop Bourget decided that Counter-Reformation flavour of Baroque was decidedly more Catholic. The Cathedrale Saint-Jacques-le-Majeur was the model for the subsequent explosion of Baroque architecture in Quebec, and Fr. Michaud was possibly the single most important figure in proving the viability of adapting Baroque to the Quebec landscape.23

Baroque Revival was a contested style in Quebecois architecture, but Michaud continued to build Baroque churches until his death.24 Michaud has been underappreciated, but he was one of the most indirectly influential figures in the changing nature of ecclesiastical architecture in the late nineteenth century.

In British Columbia, Michaud set the stage for the development of a French-Canadian architecture somewhat disassociated with Quebec, since he designed the principle embodiment of La Francophonie on the West Coast before he became a professional architect. Michaud had just as much influence on French Catholic Architecture on the West Coast as in the East, but to a very different end, since his contributions came at very different stages in his career.

Take a Tour of Joseph Michaud's North America

If your are going to be in Montreal or Burlington, Vermont, here are just three of many extant builings designed by Joseph Michaud, which you may want to visit. Click the images to learn more.

Or if you cannot make it to New England or Quebec, try exploring a full panoramic photograph of the Cathedrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde.


1 Martin Segger, "Father Joseph Michaud: 1822-1902," Building the West: the Early Architects of British Columbia, Donald Luxton, ed. (Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2003), 35. And BCA, Verticle Files, Joseph Michaud, Joseph E. Michaud, "Joseph Michaud, 1822-1902," Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, [c.1966]. And Francois Lanque, "Michaud, Joseph," Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, 2000, , (5 December 2009).
2 Hallmark, "835 Humbolt [sic] Street, St. Anne's [sic] Academy," Note. And Martin Segger and Douglas Franklin, Victoria: A Primer for Regional History in Architecture (Watkins Glen, NY: Pilgrim Guide to Historic Architecture, 1979), 211. And l'abbe Francois Lanoue, "Joseph Michaud: Biographie en resume," L'Actualite Joiliettaine, 1977, Available Online, L'Encyclopedie de l'Agora, 25 May 2006, , (5 December 2009).
3 BCA, " Verticle Files, Joseph Michaud, Architectural Embellishments," British Colonist, 23 November 1860, 2.
4 Segger, 35. And "Chapel: St. Andrew's," St. Ann's Academy: National Historic Site, 2008. . (5 December 2009).
5 For an excellent examination of sojourners as temporary extensions of their original community see Robert Harney's examination of Italian migrants to Eastern Canada. Robert F. Harney, "Men Without Women: Italian Migrants in Canada, 1885-1930," A Nation of Immigrants: Women Workers and Communities in Canadian History 1840s-1960s, Franca Iacovetta et al. eds. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998), 208.
6 Michaud, "Joseph Michaud, 1822-1902."
7 Michaud, "Joseph Michaud, 1822-1902."
8 "Historique: Le Reve d'une Cathedrale Grandiose," Cathedrale-Marie-Reine-du-Monde, 28 August 2007, , (5 December 2009). And Alan Gowans, "The Baroque Revival in Quebec," Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 14 No.3. (1955), 11.
9 Gowans, 13.
10 Michaud, "Joseph Michaud, 1822-1902." And Lanque.
11 "Historique: Le Reve d'une Cathedrale Grandiose." And Lanoue.
12 Phyllis Lambert, "The Use of Models: Nineteenth-Century Church Architecture in Quebec," Serge Joyal P.C., O.C. Senator, 1994, , (5 December 2009).
13 "Historique: Le Reve d'une Cathedrale Grandiose."
14 Segger, 35.
15"Interpretive Centre: East Block, 1886"St. Ann's Academy: National Historic Site, 2008, (5 December 2009).
16 Lanque. And "D'Abord des Oeuvres..." Fondation Surdite et Communication de l'Institut Raymond-Dewar, n.d. , (5 December 2009).
17 Lanque. And "Historique: Le Reve d'une Cathedrale Grandiose."
18 "St. Joseph Co-Cathedral History," St. Joseph Co-Cathedral, n.d. , (5 December 2009). And Marilyn J. Chiat, "St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church: 29 Allen Street, Burlington," America's Religious Architecture: Sacred Places for Every Community (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1997), 35. And Lanque. And Serge Joyal, "Church Treasures in the Diocese of Joliette," Vie Des Arts, 23 No. 91 (Summer 1978), Available Online, Serge Joyal P.C., O.C. Senator, n.d. , (5 December 2009). And Gowans, 14.
19 Michaud, "Joseph Michaud, 1822-1902."
20 Lanque.
21 BCA, Victoria City Directory, 1860.
22 Mathilde Brosseau, Gothic Revival in Canadian Architecture, Canadian Historic Sites, Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History, No 25 (Hull, Quebec: Canadian Government Publishing Centre, Supply and Services Canada, 1980), 7.
23 "Historique: Le Reve d'une Cathedrale Grandiose."
24 Gowans, 11, 14.
BCA, "Victoria from Church Hill," A-03419.
BCA, "Chapel of St. Ann's Academy, Victoria," A-07673.
BCA, "St. Ann's Academy, Victoria," A-07670.
"St. Joseph Co-Cathedral History," St. Joseph Co-Cathedral, n.d. , (5 December 2009).
l'abbe Francois Lanoue, "Joseph Michaud: Biographie en resume," L'Actualite Joiliettaine, 1977, Available Online, L'Encyclopedie de l'Agora, 25 May 2006, , (5 December 2009).
Cathedrale-Marie-Reine-du-Monde, 28 August 2007, , (5 December 2009).