The officer is obviously dressed in the uniform of a French Zouave. The uniform was worn by French troops who had adopted it from the Berbers they encountered in their colony of Algeria in North Africa.
The most famous Zouaves were the Papal Zouaves under Pope Benedict IX in the 1860s. And there might be the Quebec connection.
In the 1850s the tide of revolution was sweeping Italy, as Garibaldi was leading democratically minded soldiers against the petty princess and kings of Italy. He hoped to sweep them aside and unite all Italians under one king.
One of the petty tyrants was the Roman Catholic Pope who owned considerable territories and ruled them like a King. After sweeping aside the King of the Two Sicilies Garibaldi's armies were threatening the Papal territories around Rome.
Catholics around the world grew alarmed. In Canada strong Catholics felt something had to be done. Young men in groups decided to go to Italy to fight for the pope.
There they were organized into an army that came to be called the Papal Zouaves and wore the distinctive uniform right.
It is the same one our officer wears.
So he is an officer in the papal zouaves.
In fact he was Captain Athanase de Charette, a French officer who decided to serve in the Papal armies to defend the pope and his territories. He commanded the first company of the Papal Zouaves.
He very likely had French-Canadians in his company. So probably one of his men, who outlived the wars, and returned to Quebec kept the picture of his commanding officer as a tribute.
Left a photograph of Captain de Charette which shows the obvious resemblance to our picture. Right a full portrait.
One French-Canadian who might have owned this picture is Louis-Philippe Hébert below. He was a young Quebecker who traveled to Italy as a young man, to serve in the Papal Zouaves.
Louis-Philippe Hébert became Canada's most famous sculptor at the end of the 19th century. Today his works dominate major public spaces in Canada.
In fact de Charette became a hero to many Catholic Canadians. So much so that the St. Johns Stone Chinaware Co. of Quebec, struck a parian-type bust of the colonel.
The curator of the Canadian Museum of Civilization says this was done about 1882, when he had been a general for eleven years already. But the bust is clearly labelled Col. de Charette.
So the colonel was made a general by the French Government in 1871. A decade later, would a ceramic bust maker, downgrade the rank of a celebrity figure it hopes to sell. Somebody goofed... who?
de Charette was an enthusiastic, if not very successful, military officer.
He joined the papal armies in May 1860 and his zouaves were defeated, and he was wounded, at the Battle of Castelfidardo in September.
The Sardinian army took the last of the pope's territories, leaving him only the Vatican.
In 1870 the Germans attacked France and de Charette brought his Papal Zouaves to France to defend his motherland at the head of the "Volunteers of the West." Our picture, is in fact, a painting by Lionel Royer, and shows de Charette leading the charge at the Battle of Loigny in December 1870.
The French, and the ever enthusiastic de Charette were defeated. de Charette was wounded and taken prisoner. He escaped and the Provisional Government of France made him a general.
When the French sued for peace with Germany de Charette's zouaves were mustered out of the French army. The Quebeckers went home and de Charette retired.
He would live another 30 years, before dying in 1911.