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Saint Matthew by Guido Reno

La Revanche des berceaux

One wonders how Québécois would survive after the arrival of United Empire Loyalists and the loss of deported Acadians. The English-speaking population of Canada constituted a majority. How would French-speaking Canadians survive? During a period of the history of Quebec, a high birth rate provided hope. Families could number from 18 to 24 children, most of whom survived childhood. It was said of women, that they had to have their “nombre.” his high birth rate was called la revanche des berceaux, the revenge of the cradle.

In short, women toiled against odds. They were pregnant for years while husbands made land, faire de la terre. The land did not always yield good crops. As well, people lived away from their village. They attended Mass every Sunday and socialized a little after mass, on the perron. Louis Hémon told this story in his novel entitled Maria Chapdelaine. After sending his manuscript to France, in 1913, he started to walk West, but he was hit by a train, at Chapleau, Ontario. He may have been trying to meet the French Counts of Saint-Hubert, Saskatchewan.

French aristocrats tried to move to Canada. It was not a very successful endeavour, but several members of the French-speaking population of Western Canada are not descendants of Quebecers. I met many of this branch of French-speaking Canadians. Some retired in Victoria and had a good relationship with the descendants of Québécois. I nearly married a descendant of this population, but he committed suicide. They bought a large number of houses that are now too expensive. We socialized considerably and we owned a tiny church and a hall. I play the organ, so every Sunday, I went to the 11 o’clock Mass and performed.

La Revanche des berceaux was successful.

It suggested that although Anglo-Canadians dominated Canada in the 19th century, the higher birth rate in Quebec promised that French-Canadians would resist British immigration and discrimination.

(See La Revanche des berceaux, wiki2.org.)

The irony is that these children had to leave Quebec because they could not earn a living.

The Ultramontane ideology encouraged poverty. Quebecers would start to live happily once they entered eternal life. Suffering now was seen as a sign of salvation. One paid for the original sin on earth, which was comforting. All human beings have to atone for the original sin: better on earth than after death. This view can also be called Jansenism.


Ultramontanism lessened the suffering of women who bore children incessantly. God would let them enter Paradise. However, when I was a child, women had a hysterectomy. It made them sterile. My mother did not undergo a hysterectomy until we moved away from Quebec. The dead children were used as guinea pigs. A cure was found for the family’s congenital blood disease. My mother’s legs had been ruined by varicose veins. However, she believed that not having children was sinful.

Refus global and the Asbestos Strike

A manifesto, Refus global, written in 1948, and a strike, the Asbestos Strike of 1949, would end the plight of workers. Maurice Duplessis tried every aberration to end the strike. Ultramontanism had died, but Maurice Duplessis feared socialism and, possibly, communism. Workers were not killed, but the repression caught the attention of Pierre Elliot Trudeau and colleagues. One of my uncles was shot at. His brother, also my uncle, was Quebec’s top civil servant. When Maurice Duplessis died, Quebec had long been ready for its Quiet Revolution which started in 1960. The Asbestos Strike made a famous victim, the bishop of Montreal. He opposed Duplessis and had to leave for Victoria, British Columbia. Monseigneur Joseph Charbonneau was a very good person.


In Maria Chapdelaine, Louis Hémon writes that Québec will carry on forever. That may not be.

© Micheline Walker
24 August 2020