Eleven Generations in the Making

We have survived and persevered. Despite Canada. Not because of it.

Vers une crise annoncée - Québec 2008 - dossier linguistique - canadianisation outrancière - déconstruction du "modèle québécois"

The 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City is not without controversy. If anything, this "celebration" has been nothing but controversy. Between politicians of all stripes and backgrounds a war of words and history is flaring up, much to the chagrin of those who, like me, understand that history cannot be manipulated to suit one's modern perspectives.
Replying to a question from Parti québécois leader Pauline Marois in the National Assembly yesterday, Jean Charest said that he was very proud that "Quebec founded Canada". In Ottawa, Prime Minister Stephen Harper calls the founding of Quebec the founding of the Canadian state, and even went so far as to say that Michaëlle Jean, currently in France to mark the anniversary, is the modern successor of Samuel de Champlain, the first governor of New France.
As someone who has studied history his entire life, this sort of talk is frustrating and discouraging. The level of historical understanding we see today has been fuelled by the history textbooks thrust upon Canadian students from elementary school, equating the British, the French, and the natives as equal and friendly partners in the founding of this 'great' nation.
The truth of the matter is that the founding of Quebec in 1608 was the founding of a French colony that became the Canadien nation, which subsequently became the homeland of French Canadians and which is now today a Quebecois nation. Technically, Canada itself was formed in 1867 but spiritually we must go back to 1763, not 1608, to find the roots of what is today called Canada. The year 1763 saw the signing of the Treaty of Paris, granting New France to the British. Canada is Canada because of its British heritage, not because of the original French colony. Without the Conquest, it is impossible to imagine that New France would have evolved into what we have today. Yet what in English Canada we see branded as the "Canadian identity" has little, if anything, to do with French heritage. Canada would have been possible without the French. Canada is, and forever will be, an English nation.
Equally, it cannot be said that Quebec founded Canada. Canada West (which became Ontario), New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia were the true founders of Canada. For Canada East (which became Quebec), confederation was merely the best way to rid ourselves of the Union of the Canadas, an arrangement that ensured our marginalisation within our own society. The creation of the province of Quebec gave us the ability to control our own internal affairs, and ensured that French Canadians (as we were then known) would form the majority in our own political infrastructure. However, had it been put to a vote at the time, it is arguable that a majority would not have supported the new Canadian nation. But, anything was better than the situation in which we found ourselves in 1867, and so it was decided that taking direction from Ottawa was better than London, if it meant no longer being a minority in our own legislative assembly.
Quebec was, and is, a conquered nation. Saying we founded Canada is like saying the natives founded Canada when they crossed the Bering Strait. English Canadians today are the descendants of those conquerors, and it is a bizarre situation to have them claim that we Quebecers founded their country. It would be impossible to find English Canadians in the late 1700s and early 1800s who would agree. In fact, many of them would have found the idea insulting. In that, we Quebecers and those 19th Century British colonists have something in common.
Michel David, writing in Le Devoir today, puts it best with a healthy dose of sarcasm: "...the Conquest, the Durham Report and the rest were nothing but unfortunate minor events, which should not get in the way of the joy we can draw from this great success. Imagine all that we would have missed out on if Montcalm had won on the Plains of Abraham!"
As the Governor General tours France, giving interviews to every major French media outlet, she is being treated like royalty. And why not? She is the appointed and unelected symbol of an antiquated and anachronistic monarchy, spending her time speaking to French journalists and pretending she is anything but an expensive and powerless figure-head annointed by a Prime Minister from Windsor, Ontario. How full of pride we Quebecers are to have this representative of Queen Elizabeth II speak for us and celebrate our 400th anniversary overseas.
The Governor General isn't, however, speaking for us. She told French President Nicolas Sarkozy to look beyond Quebec and to consider all of the francophone communities throughout Canada. These dying communities who are being increasingly assimilated and who willingly turned themselves into a mere minority and peculiar regionaly cultural community with no more influence or importance than first generation immigrants. Michaëlle Jean is doing a great disservice to Quebecers by suggesting that France instead seek ties with a francophone community that has no government or administrative body with which ties can be made.
On this 400th anniversary of our founding, Quebecers should be proud. But what they should be proud of is that we have managed to survive conquest, domination, and assimilation. With all of the obstacles we have faced, we have managed to hold on to our culture, our language, and our homes. We should not be happy that countless thousands of Quebecers left their lands in the 19th century and moved to the United States to seek a better life because they could not find happiness in their tiny part of the British Empire. What could those hundreds of thousands and the generations they would have spawned have accomplished and how much further would Quebec be today? Is this something to celebrate?
Quebecers should also be proud of what we have accomplished. No Quebecer would want to go back to the pre-Quiet Revolution days. What we Quebecers have today is because of that national awakening. We earned what we have through our tenacity and perseverance, and yes even our threat of independence, not through co-operation and partnership with English Canada. The powers that Quebec has today were taken, not granted, and when we have demanded the respect that a "founding" people undoubtedly deserves, we have been re-buffed by our "friends" and "partners", re-buffed by Canada.
The 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec is a celebration of our own survival as a people. We should proclaim loud and clear that we are still here. We have survived and persevered. Despite Canada. Not because of it.

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