The Honourable Joseph Royal was a prominent French-Canadian journalist and historian. As Lieutenant Governor of the Northwest Territories, he presided over its first elected Legislative Assembly in 1888. He was a noted spokesman for Native and Métis rights, and his appointment was seen as a conciliatory gesture following the execution of Louis Riel.
Joseph Royal was born at Repentigny, Lower Canada (Quebec), on May 7 1837, on the eve of the Lower Canada Rebellion. He was the son of Edouard Royal and Marceline Therrien. Joseph Royal was a Roman Catholic.
Educated at St. Mary's Jesuit College, Montreal, he began his career in journalism in 1857 when he became Editor of La Minerve in Montreal. He founded L'Ordre in that city in 1859, and in 1864, he helped establish La Revue Canadienne. During 1867, the year of Canadian confederation, he established Le Nouveau Monde which ceased publication in 1881. He was Editor of this publication for seven years.
In 1856, Joseph Royal married Agnes Bruyere. They had seven children: Josephine-Vitaline, Marie-Antoinette, Emma, Paul, Jules, Henri, and Alfred.
After articling under George-Étienne Cartier, Joseph Royal was called to the Canada East (Quebec) Bar in 1864. In 1871, a year after taking up residence in Winnipeg, he was called to the Manitoba Bar. During the course of his legal practice, Joseph Royal was involved in many important cases. Most notable among these was his work on behalf of The Honourable J.A. Chapleau as a Counsel for the Defence in the trials of Ambroise Lepin and Andre Nault. Their trial for the murder of Thomas Scott at the Manitoba Criminal Assizes in October, 1874, was the focus of a political crisis. Joseph Royal retired from legal practice in 1880.
In 1870, he founded Le Métis and the same year was elected the first Conservative Member of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba for the electoral district of St. Francois-Xavier West, and he served in that capacity until 1879. In 1871, he became the first Superintendent of Education for Manitoba, resigning in 1872 following his appointment to the Executive Council as Provincial Secretary. He also served as the first Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba from 1871 to 1872, Provincial Secretary and Minister of Public Works from 1874 to 1876, Attorney General from 1876 to 1878, and Minister of Public Works in 1878. He later served as the Member of Parliament for Provencher in the Canadian House of Commons from 1879 to 1888.
On the advice of Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, Joseph Royal was appointed Lieutenant Governor of the Northwest Territories effective July 1, 1888. This appointment was made by Lord Stanley of Preston, Governor General of Canada.
In spite of Joseph Royal's diplomatic manner, during his tenure as Lieutenant Governor of the Northwest Territories, there was a considerable amount of conflict between the Lieutenant Governor and the Legislative Assembly regarding the administration of federal grants to the Territories. As a consequence, the Assembly's Advisory Council was eventually abandoned and was replaced by an Executive Committee in 1891. At that point, Frederick W.A.G. Haultain, Chairman of the new Executive Committee, began negotiating directly with the federal government regarding supportive funding. Lieutenant Governor Joseph Royal also directed the construction of Government House in Regina, when it became the territorial capital, and fostered the development of the Legislative Library at the same location during his tenure as Lieutenant Governor.
After he completed his service as Lieutenant Governor effective October 31, 1893, Joseph Royal returned to Montreal to resume the editorship of La Minerve. He continued to write political pamphlets, as well as the book L'Histoire du Canada, 1841 a 1867, which was published posthumously in 1909. His earlier Vie Politique de Sir Louis H. Lafontaine, which was published in 1861, was considered a significant contribution to French-Canadian political literature.
Joseph Royal helped organize the Papal Zouaves, a military unit which was sent to the aid of the Vatican in 1868. In 1871, he commanded a troop of Native cavalry which had been assigned reconnaissance duties in southwestern Manitoba in response to the threat of a Fenian Raid. In 1877 and 1878, he was elected and served as the first Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manitoba. Joseph Royal was presented with the Confederation Medal by the Canadian federal government in 1885 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1894. He was a member of the Manitoba Club in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Joseph Royal died on August 23, 1902, at Montreal, Quebec, and was buried in the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery in that city.