Hector Berthelot was a French-Canadian journalist, humorist, satirist, publisher, caricaturist and lawyer. He is regarded as one of the most notable journalists of his time, and was the founder of satirical magazines like Le Canard and Le Vrai Canard. He was also a pioneer of Canadian cartooning, with the creation of his character 'Le Père Ladébauche'.
He was born in Trois-Rivières, Québec on 4 March 1842, but he spent most of his life in Montreal. After finishing his elementary schooling, he was articled to the law offices of George-Étienne Cartier and François-Pierre Pominville. He was called to the bar in January 1865. He was then commissioned a lieutenant at the Québec military school, and made translations for several works on the art of war for Major Louis-Timothée Suzor in 1863-1864.
He found his calling in journalism, and made his debut as a columnist in the Montreal paper Le Pays in 1861, and he subsequently made his appearance in La Guêpe. In Québec, he appeared in the bilingual humor magazine La Scie from 1863, and he served as parliamentary correspondent for Le Courrier de Saint-Hyacinthe. He then spent a period in Ottawa, where he worked irregularly as a lawyer, teacher, photographer and columnist for L'Ordre.
From 1874, he wrote for publications like Bien Public (1874-1876) and La Minerve (1876-1878), but he became most notable for the periodicals he founded himself. The first and best-known was the satirical weekly Le Canard (French slang for newspaper, meaning The Duck), in which he established himself as a satirist and caricaturist. Launched on 6 October 1877, the paper was a huge succes, and the print run had grown from 500 to 10.000 copies in two months. Le Canard was one of the first papers to print color illustrations, and was also known for its cartoons and comic strips, that sometimes feature text balloons.
Berthelot used 'Le Père Ladébauche' ('Old Ladébauche') as his pen name for most of his articles, named after the title of a French-Canadian folk song. Throughout the years, the character was featured in several caricatures drawn by Berthelot himself, but also by other artists, like Albert Samuel Brodeur, Arthur Racey and Henri Julien. 'Le Père Ladébauche' was eventually featured in a series of comic strips in La Presse by Joseph Charlebois and Albéric Bourgeois. Berthelot himself is thought to be behind the pen name Nemo, the author of a comics serial called 'La Vie d'Étudiant', that ran in Le Charivari in 1868.
Berthelot handed over Le Canard to Honoré Beaugrand in August 1879 however, and founded Le Vrai Canard (The True Duck). He changed its title to Le Grognard in November 1881 to avoid confusion with Le Canard. The final issue of Le Grognard appeared in March 1884. Berthelot continued to write for Montreal newspapers like Le Monde, Le Courrier de Montréal, L'Étendard, the Montreal Star, La Patrie and La Presse, and also for the literary magazine La Vie Illustrée. He also continued to found new short-lived provocative and satirical magazines, such as Le Bourru (1885), Le Violon (1886-1888) and L'Iroquois (1890).
In his articles and caricatures, Berthelot ridiculed politicians, rival newspapers and the customs of his time. Among his main targets were alderman Charles Thibault, whom he always drew with extremely large feet, journalist François-Xavier-Anselme Trudel of Le Nouveau Monde and Jules-Paul Tardival of the Québec paper La Vérité.
His writings were not without risk, and he was sentenced to pay a fine at least on one occasion in 1889. One of his most spectacular stunts was the February 1885 announcement in Le Canard of his own death. In his will, he asked pardon of all the people he had offended, and he even left the editorship of his paper to Trudel, one of his main antagonists. In several countries, a hoax in a newspaper article is still referred to as a "canard" (or a translation of that term). It is however not known if Berthelot's paper was the origin of this phrase, but one could at least credit him for being the creator of one of the first, although intentional, "canards".
Hector Berthelot passed away in Montreal in 1895. His biography was written by Henriette Tassé in 1934, while the journalist Léon Trépanier has also written about his life.