The year 2008 marks the 400th anniversary of French explorer Samuel de Champlain's arrival on the shores of what would become Quebec City. Celebratory plans abound. Predictably, although festive blue and white buntings have yet to be draped in place, sovereigntists are already singing their all-historical-occasions theme song (ironically celebrating its quarter-century in 2008): It's My Party and I'll Cry if I want To.
Last week, Le Devoir published a hyperbolic and hyperventilatory opinion article entitled ["A Symbol of Our Minority Status,"->9168] by Francine Lavoie and Jacques Beaumier, respectively chair and vice-chair of the Conseil de la Souverainete de la Capitale Nationale. The focus of the writers' wrath is a 500 square metre mural, sponsored by the "Bank of Montreal" (in the article, the name of the bank was deliberately and insultingly presented by its English name, not its official French name), to be painted on the walls of the public service building housing Quebec's education department.
While the writers deplore the "Sovietique" aesthetics of the mural, their principal grievance is that the mural depicts Quebec as "nothing more" than " one of ten Canadian provinces" (my emphasis). Lavoie and Beaumier insist that the 400th should celebrate only the first francophone settlement in North America, not the founding of Canada.
When in 2020 the United States commemorates the 400th anniversary of the landing of the pilgrims on Plymouth Rock, will the events fete only the original Thirteen Colonies? Of course not. Champlain's arrival may have marked Quebec's birth, but Confederation, desired and effected by French-Canadians, its constitution largely negotiated at the Quebec Conference of 1864, was its historical destiny. Yes, Quebec is one of 10 provinces, but francophone Quebecers have always been acknowledged as one of our two founding peoples; there is no contradiction between the two facts.
It is moreover historically fictitious and intellectually dishonest of the writers to accuse Canada of wishing "to destroy the French-Canadian people, starting with their language and identity," and to imply the Bank of Montreal (often known these days as BMO) is "seeking to remind us of its historical role in ensuring French-speaking Canadians were economically inferior."
The editorial's blustery obsession with Quebec City's mythic (pre-anglo) foundational years speaks to sovereigntists' primary goal: to capture the culture by rewriting Quebec's history. And removing every reminder from the public face of the 400th of anglophone influence on Quebec would seem to be at the heart of this article's rallying cry.
Distaste for acknowledgment of the British contribution to Quebec isn't limited to sovereigntists. In truth, the revisionist impulse has long been so organically entrenched in Quebec's nationalist institutions, notably the education system, that a mural suggesting Brits played their part in the city and the province's maturation is a mere drop of factual truth in an ocean of denial.
Don't believe me, though. Everything you need to know about the message ethnic nationalists want to project -- Quebec is a nation, and in every way separate from Canada, with quebecois de souche alone responsible for its prosperity -- is contained in the story of a certain Anne "Fraser."
Anne's real last name, also of Scottish provenance, is too well known in Quebec and federal politics to divulge without identifying her. A seventh generation Quebecoise, Anne had one Scottish ancestor, who married a French Canadian woman, after which the family became " pure laine." Were her last name the maternal line's "Tremblay," she would be a "normal" quebecoise. But as a Fraser, she always stood out, continually mocked at school as " l'anglaise."
Anne was educated to adulthood in Quebec, which is also to say that her curiosity about her Scottish ancestry went unrewarded. However, attending a class on the history of Quebec while studying at a teacher's college in Ontario, she heard, for the first time in her life, an objective, admiring account of the enormous contribution the British, and in particular the Scots, had made to the economic and political life of Quebec. Never having been exposed to these historical truths in Quebec schools, she told me, the shock had tears running down her face. She had finally been offered permission to take pride in a part of her identity that had up to then been a source of mysterious shame.
Quebec finds itself in a fragile state these days. The Bouchard-Taylor commission on Reasonable Accommodation has evoked strong emotions and some troublesome undercurrents about attitudes toward immigrants. Identity is very much on the minds of even federalist Quebecers. Understood. There is room for criticism of the mural's design and prominence. But this article is a bridge too far. Repainting a more nuanced mural is debatable; painting out on ethnic grounds Quebecers who played a critical role in shaping Quebec's history is not. The 400th anniversary of Quebec City is a party for all Canadians, and nobody should be crying about it.
Erasing the British influence on modern Quebec
The 400th anniversary of Quebec City is a party for all Canadians, and nobody should be crying about it.