The return of French Canada

The return of French Canada
The return of French Canada

For two generations, this is a first. From June 12 to 17, all the militant Francophonie of Quebec and Canada will be invited to the Summit on the rapprochement of Canadian Francophonies, under the aegis of the Government of Quebec and the Federation of Francophone and Acadian Communities. Between the opening ceremony in Quebec City and the show’s closing show Belle and Bum which will bring together a range of artists such as Luc De Larochellière and Mimi O’Bonsawin, representatives of associations and activists will discuss virtually for three whole days their common future, and more particularly questions of immigration, language, early childhood education, health and services.

This is the perfect opportunity to recall the richness of relations between Quebeckers and Francophones in other provinces, links that have evolved a lot over the years. In fact, this summit is part of the tradition of the great French-Canadian congresses, the first of which was held, curiously, in the United States in 1865.

Until 1970, French Canada was thought of as one big, tightly knitted family. There was no identity difference between a French Canadian from Lévis and another from Sudbury, Rivière-la-Paix or Manchester. The French-Canadian identity was the same everywhere. The same flag – Carillon, fleurdelisé – flew over all the French-speaking schools in the parishes of Montreal or Manitoba. And when Louis Riel was hanged in 1885, all French Canadians felt a noose around their neck.

With hindsight, we can clearly see that the next summit – which will be virtual, but which should initially be face-to-face, in June 2020 – is relaunching the tradition of the great French-Canadian congresses which were held every 15 or 20 years. This is what emerges from my rereading of the book People of Resolution: The Transition from “French Canada” to “French Ontario”, published in 2003, by Ontario historian Gaétan Gervais – who died in 2018. Although this book aims to explain the birth of the Franco-Ontarian identity, two-thirds chronicle these conferences.

A big deal

The idea for these patriotic gatherings originated in the United States with the first General National Convention in 1865. These meetings were held occasionally until 1901. They debated faith, schools, language, journalism and religion. naturalization.

In 1874, Montrealers organized a first large gathering, the General Convention of French Canadians, a monumental circus which saw the disembarkation of 18,000 Franco-Americans from 250 wagons, in addition to notables and representatives of almost all the “Canayan” parishes who had come. in tank. In addition to the banquet which brought together 1,200 guests, the highlight was a three-hour parade which stretched over four kilometers and which included 12 allegorical floats, 31 marching bands as well as representatives of 91 associations and several trades, such as the doctors, stonemasons, butchers and tinsmiths. At the head, Prime Minister Charles-Eugène Boucher de Boucherville and his council of ministers, then the clergy, preceded by papal Zouaves and firefighters Zouaves.

Six years later, the people of Quebec organized their own version of the event. It was also at this congress that what would become the great militant hymn of French Canadians was sung for the first time: theO Canada. This hymn, composed by Basile Routhier to music by Calixa Lavallée, was first written to the glory of French Canadians, a long time before being translated into English. Moreover, this is not the only case of cultural appropriation of the genre, since two other French-Canadian symbols, the beaver and the maple leaf, have known a similar fate.

The following year, in 1881, it was the Acadians’ turn to hold their convention: 5,000 of them met in Memramcook, New Brunswick. On this occasion, they gave themselves a series of attributes distinguishing them from French Canadians: a hymn (Ave Maris Stella), an Acadian flag and a patron saint, Notre-Dame de l’Assomption. It is this gathering that consecrated the two great branches of the Canadian Francophonie, the Acadian trunk and the French-Canadian trunk.

In 1912, then in 1937 and in 1952, Quebec was the hostess of the three great Congresses of the French language in Canada organized by the Society of the French Speaking. For the first event, marked by a speech by Henri Bourassa, delegates came from everywhere, including France and Haiti. The chronicle does not say anything about their number, but there was such a crowd that the Zouaves were asked to ensure order and security. However, at the second congress, there were 8,000 registered participants. They were 4,000 for the third, in 1952, this time with representatives from Mauritius – but more Zouaves, apparently.

The 1969 rupture

The Estates General of French Canada, which took place in three meetings, from 1966 to 1969, marked a rupture. The rise of Quebec nationalism had a lot to do with it, but Gaétan Gervais, with whom I have already had the opportunity to discuss it, was of the opinion that French Canada might have died of its beautiful death of anyway. The provincial governments, which had taken charge of education and health in all the provinces, were in the process of breaking the kind of Catholic monopoly that had settled in these areas. And the modernization of the economy tended to accelerate the assimilation of Francophone elements almost everywhere in the absence of policies on official languages ​​and services in French.

For their part, the French Canadians of Quebec had begun to refer to themselves as “Québécois” and demanded for Quebec the status of a nation entitled to self-determination. It was at this time that we began to say that French Canadians from other provinces were ” dead ducks (René Lévesque had used the expression in an interview with CBC in 1968 to justify Quebec nationalism, by asserting that francophones in other provinces had no future). Be that as it may, the result of the last meeting, in 1969, was the break-up.

Since that time, we no longer speak of the great French-Canadian family, but of 12 provincial identities dominated by the largest group, Quebeckers. With French-Canadian music and food being renamed “Québécoises”, Francophones in other provinces had to reinvent themselves as Franco-Ontarians, Franco-Manitobans, Fransaskois, and so on. With the notable exception of the Acadians, who have retained a unified identity.

On this last point, the Minister responsible for Canadian Relations and the Canadian Francophonie, Sonia LeBel, who is herself an Acadian from Tracadie on the maternal side, told me that she had been repeatedly surprised by the unity of the Acadian identity from one province to another, something that is not found among francophones elsewhere in the country. “If we could reinstall a movement in this direction, it would already be good,” she said.

Back to the future

While remaining in the tradition, the Summit on the rapprochement of Canadian Francophonies is very different from its precursors. First, because it will be virtual and more modest, with less than 600 participants. But also because it is part of an official consultation of Quebec with a view to its policy with regard to the Canadian Francophonie.

It must be said that, despite the break-up of French Canada, Quebec made considerable and patient efforts to rebuild the bridges. In 1975, he supported the creation of the Federation of Francophones outside Quebec, which in 1991 became the Federation of Francophone and Acadian Communities (FCFA), which brings together the 12 provincial and territorial associations (such as the Société de la francophonie manitobaine) and eight organizations. national (such as the Fédération de la jeunesse canadienne-française). In 2006, Minister Benoît Pelletier formulated a first major policy for the Canadian Francophonie, one of the highlights of which was the creation of the Center de la francophonie des Amériques, to animate the continental Francophonie (including that of Canada).

Jean Johnson, president of the FCFA and co-organizer of the upcoming summit, emphasizes that this meeting coincides with the pivotal period that the Canadian Francophonie is going through at present, when the federal government and the government of Quebec are modernizing their respective language policies. “The federal government wants to strengthen French throughout Canada, including Quebec,” he said. Great strides have been made in awareness and planning. ”

For the first time in generations, the Government of Quebec is therefore officially consulting the Canadian Francophonie on its policy towards it. The organizers wanted a very studious summit – it’s a big point of resemblance to the old congresses. The heart of the event will be three days of consultation workshops in small groups to discuss in depth half a dozen topics ranging from education and business to culture and health.

In a future column, I will tell you more about what came out of my interviews with the two organizers, Sonia LeBel and Jean Johnson. law

But the main thing is therefore a return, that of the old Catholic French-Canadian caterpillar transformed into a fundamentally multiculturalist and secular Canadian Francophonie. And it is this butterfly that wants to take advantage of the favorable winds to fly away.

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