J.L. Cote

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J.L. Cote

Jean Leon Cote was born at Les Eboulements, Charlevoix County, on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, east of Quebec City, on May 6, 1867. He was the eldest son of seven children born to Cleophas Cote and Denise Boudreault. His father was the schoolmaster and postmaster of the upper village. His mother, also a school teacher, was of Acadian descent and came from I’Ile aux Coudres, across the straits from the lower village of Les Eboulements.

J. L. Cote was a direct descendant of Jean Cote – or Jehan Coste -a native of the Perche province of France, who sailed from Dieppe, Normandy in May, 1634, and landed at Quebec that summer. He tilled the land around what is now Quebec City, and his progeny eventually settled on the northshore of the St. Lawrence river, after having pioneered on the the d'Orleans, near Quebec City. Nowadays, the Cote surname is widespread through-out North America.

After attending the local school at Les Eboulements, Jean Leon Cote was sent to the Academie Commerciale in Montmagny, Quebec. He worked a summer or so on telegraph line construction in Charlevoix county. He may have got this work as his father was manager of the local telegraph office. Jean Leon was a big, strong youth. He was 6 feet, 2 inches tall and heavily built. He liked outdoor work, but not as a farm hand.

On completing his studies at l' Academie Commerciale at Montmagny, young Jean Leon heard that the Department of the Interior in Ottawa was hiring young men for land surveys in the distant and rapidly developing North-West Territories. These territories then included most of the present prairie provinces and parts of British Columbia. Such adventure appealed to him. With an introduction from the Member of Parliament from Charlevoix, he went to Ottawa and began his siege of the Department of the Interior offices, where survey parties were being hired and organized.

Finally, his patience was rewarded with a job as an axeman/chainman for a survey party heading West for what is now Alberta, in the Spring of 1886. He boarded a CPR transcontinental train at the Ottawa station, destined for Calgary in the North-West Territories. The other party members were mostly Scotsmen from Glengarry County, Ontario. It was with them that he had his first immersion in the English language. He thus became known as the Frenchman who spoke English with a Scottish burr!

From Calgary the survey party headed north by cart and horseback surveying homesteads and townships along the Edmonton Trail. This party was headed by George Roy, Dominion Land Surveyor (DLS). They surveyed as far as Strathcona. "J.L." (as he was also known) later said that he first saw Fort Edmonton in 1886. Probably at the end of their journey to Strathcona, when he and other party members crossed the North Saskatchewan River on the ferry to the fort's trading post for tobacco, clothing, etc. The fort of the Hudson Bay Company, established there in 1795, was named Fort Edmonton after the birthplace of the fort's clerk, a suburb of London, England.

Back in Ottawa in the fall of 1886, J.L. had decided on his career. He set about to improve his education, especially in mathematics and English during the lay-off winter months, in order to qualify eventually as a Dominion Land Surveyor. In March 1890, he passed the examinations as a land surveyor and was granted the certificate of Dominion Land Surveyor.

In 1899, J.L. Cote was sent by the Department of the Interior to the Klondike gold rush, arriving in Dawson City that summer. There had been so much claim jumping by opportunistic gold-rush miners during 1898 that the Department realized a shortage of surveyors in the Klondike spelled trouble.

Sometime after his arrival in Dawson City, J.L. joined the Cautley brothers in a surveying partnership that lasted several years. Richard Cautley was already there with his younger brother, Reginald.

As the original gold rush fever died down in the Klondike, so did the survey business. So surveyors Cautley and Cote decided it was time to pull up stakes and seek a more permanent location and steady source of income. As Edmonton was chosen as the capital of Alberta, the partners agreed that it would have a good future. They decided to upon a land surveyors’ office at 10034 107 Street.

One of J.L. Cote's surveys after his arrival in Edmonton, was the second part of the right-of-way for the Edmonton, Yukon and Pacific Railway from the bottom of 102nd Street in the Rossdale flats, southwest toward the North Saskatchewan River, south of the Legislative Building. The E. & P. track climbed above the Municipal Golf Links, West of the High Level Bridge toward the Groat Ravine, crossing 102nd Avenue, West of 125 Street. The track then crossed 124th Street into the C.N.R. yards in the West end.

In 1907, he married Cecile Gagnon in his hometown. After his return to Edmonton in 1907, J.L. Cote formed a partnership that lasted until 1910 with a mining engineer, Frank B. Smith. At that time, the firm acquired a new member, Albert Tremblay, his nephew.

In the spring of 1909, J.L. was induced to enter politics as a Liberal as he was well and favourably known in the Athabasca, Lesser Slave Lake, Peace River and Fort McMurray areas through his numerous surveying activities. He was elected in the new Grouard riding in 1913 and re-elected by acclamation in 1918 and again in 1921.

J.L. Cote was provincial secretary and was also appointed Minister of Mines, Railways and Telephones. As Minister, J.L. Cote promoted the issue and approval by the Government of Alberta of an Order in Council establishing what would become known as the Alberta Research Council.

In the Summer of 1923, J.L. Cote received word from Prime Minister MacKenzie King of his appointment to the Senate.

He died suddenly on September 24, 1924 at the age of 57 from peritonitis.

Source: Senator Jean Leon Cote, Pioneer Land Surveyor and Early Legislator by Jean G. Cote 1992, ISBN1-8958590-01-0