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Le Marché de la Haute-Ville, la Basilique et le Séminaire en hiver [The Upper Town Market, the Basilica and the Seminary in Winter] (Quebec City). BAC. (Claude Corbo)



  • Canadiens (French-speaking Canadians) did not own businesses…
  • options: colonisation & émigration

As depicted in Louis Hémon‘s Maria Chapdelaine, a novel written in the winter of 1912-1913, landless or unemployed French Canadians, called Canadiens, could be “colonisateurs” or emigrate. Colonisation, making land, was the patriotic choice but tens of thousands, nearly a million by 1890, chose to work in the United States. It is unlikely that Maria Chapdelaine’s Lorenzo Surprenant, one of her three suitors, is affluent but he is employed. Matters would change after 1929, during the Great Depression. My grandfather left Quebec’s Eastern Townships (les Cantons de l’Est) in approximately 1926, and found work. When my mother located him, in the mid-to-late 1940s, he owned a large farm in Massachusetts and lived in a well-built Colonial house. I do not know how he escaped the Great Depression of 1929.

As an émigré to the United States, my grandfather was a loss to Canada. He had to leave because he could not earn a living in his country. If I use the 1900 American statistics,[1] most Canadians lived in Massachusetts and Michigan. The people who left Ontario settled in Michigan. My research has led me to unsuspected destinations: English-speaking Canadians were also leaving Canada. This matter I will not discuss, except to say that many worked part of the year in the United States and then returned to Ontario, where they spent their money. These were not “good” émigrés (MacLean) because they were not naturalised Americans.[2] My grandfather was a naturalised American. He may have missed his family, four children, but when we met him, he had bought land and he lived simply but comfortably with Nanny, the woman who became our finest grandmother. They had seven cats, a Border Collie, hens, a cow, four vegetable gardens, and a beautiful flower garden, the fifth garden. However, he still went to work at a factory.

Les P’tits Canadas

  • French communities in the United States
  • Alexis de Tocqueville visits Lower Canada (1831)

Other émigrés to Massachusetts were not as happy as my grandfather who was an Anglophone French Canadian. His mother was Irish. Others, however, were Francophone émigrés. They missed Canada and created P’tits Canadas, communities where they had a church, a school, and a newspaper. I remember that during our visits to Massachusetts, we attended Mass and the priest spoke French. As a member of le Conseil de la Vie française en Amérique, my father was in touch with several émigrés groups in New England and elsewhere in the United States. Many voyageurs retired in Minnesota. They had first lived in Canada, but when the border between Canada and the United States was traced, after the War of 1812, formerly Canadian fur-trading posts were situated in Minnesota and were not moved north.

Laurent-Olivier David[3] quotes an émigré, a priest, who writes in L’Étendard national (Worcester, Mass, le 21 mars 1872, p. 1), that émigration was due to a lack of railroads, land, and factories in Quebec.

Ce n’est ni le drapeau rouge ni le drapeau bleu qu’il nous faut, c’est du progrès, des chemins de fer, des terres et des manufactures.

Laurent-Olivier David in Textes de l’exode.

[We need neither the red flag nor the blue flag, we need progress: railroads, land, and factories.]

Alexis-Charles-Henri Cléral de Tocqueville by Théodore Chassériau,1850 (Claude Corbo)

Alexis de Tocqueville

In 1831, when Alexis de Tocqueville visited Lower Canada, he noticed that French-speaking Canadians lived in relative prosperity, but that money, la grande richesse, was in the hands of English or American merchants. Canadiens were farmers, called “habitants,” not businessmen. Moreover, the only professions were law, medicine or the priesthood. Families expected one son to become a priest and one daughter to enter a convent. Sons who went to work in factories were never promoted and their priests looked upon their meagre salary as a good sign. They were on the road to salvation. The citizens of New France and their descendants were Jansenists. Moreover, their well-educated priests, many of whom had fled the French Revolution, sided with the boss.

Si les paysans sont prospères, la grande richesse, elle, appartient aux Anglais du pays. Tant les frères Mondelet, rencontrés à Montréal le 24 août, que le marchand anglais anonyme de Québec, le 26 août, indiquent à Tocqueville que « presque toute la richesse et le commerce est dans les mains des Anglais. » ( Claude Corbo & others)

Alexis de Tocqueville[4]

[Even though the peasants are prosperous, the real wealth is in the hands of the country’s Englishmen. The Mondelet brothers, whom Tocqueville met in Montreal on August 24th, as well as the anonymous English merchant he met on August 26th, reveal to Tocqueville that, “almost all the wealth and commerce is under English control.”]

Claude Corbo : Articles | Encyclopédie du patrimoine culturel de l’Amérique française – histoire, culture, religion, héritage (ameriquefrancaise.org)

In other words, the French-speaking Canadians Tocqueville met had not entered and could not enter “modern times.” They were “nés pour un p’tit pain” (born for a tiny loaf).

Édouard Montpetit

  • l’École des Hautes Études commerciales
  • la Révolution tranquille

Quebec’s businesses and factories were owned by the United States and England. Moreover, Quebec had not acquired a business class. Montreal’s École des Hautes Études commerciales was founded in 1907. Édouard Montpetit was perhaps the first French-Canadian economist. He studied law and then attended Paris’ l’École libre des sciences politiques and the Collège des sciences sociales. In 1910, he started teaching at Montreal’s l’École des Hautes Études commerciales, a trilingual institution: French, English, Spanish.

However, it was not until la Révolution tranquille (the Quiet Revolution), in the 1960s, that French-speaking Canadians started owning their province. The 1960s (1963-1969) are also the years when the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism conducted its enquiry.


Sources and Resources

Document2 (ameriquefrancaise.org) (Tocqueville interviews Mr Neilson) FR (on the “habitants”)
Wikipedia (most links)
Britannica (link to “modern times,” Charlie Chaplin)

[1] Annie Marion MacLean, “Significance of the Canadian Migration,” American Journal of Sociology (X, 6, mai 1905, pp. 814-823), in Maurice Poteet, responsable, Textes de l’Exode (Montréal : Guérin Littérature, collection Francophonie, 1987), pp. 62-73.
[2] Loc. cit.
[3] Laurent-Olivier David, « L’Émigration », in Maurice Poteet, responsable, Textes de l’Exode (Montréal : Guérin Littérature, collection Francophonie, 1987), pp. 39-41.
[4] Claude Corbo, Articles | Encyclopédie du patrimoine culturel de l’Amérique française – histoire, culture, religion, héritage (ameriquefrancaise.org) FR & EN


Love to everyone 💕

Fred Pellerin chante “Amène-toi chez nous” (Come home), composition de Jacques Michel
Unknown Artist, Indien et Habitant avec Traîneau [Indian and Inhabitant with a Tobogan] (Quebec City) around 1840. BAC (Claude Corbo)

© Micheline Walker
6 May 2021