Born in what is St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec today, he was the son of Gabriel Marchand and Mary McNider, a woman of the Anglican faith and of Scottish ancestry. As a child, he attended English schools and was taught in French at the age of 11. Fluently bilingual, Marchand became a journalist and writer. He became a notary and practised this profession for 45 years, but continued journalism and writing as well.
He was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Quebec in the 1867 Quebec provincial election for the district of Saint-Jean and retained his seat for 33 years until his death. He was Leader of the Opposition from 1892 to 1897, and then won the 1897 election as leader of the Liberal Party.
As premier, Marchand attempted to create a Ministry of Education in 1898. At the time, education was entirely in the hands of the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church in the province. His legislation was passed by the Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber of Quebec's legislature), but was defeated in the Legislative Council (the upper house). It was not until 1964 that a Ministry of Education was finally created in Quebec.
He won the 1897 election and died in office in 1900.