I am writing posts on Quebec’s Language Laws, but I am stepping in gently. French Canadian nationalism begins with Pierre-Stanislas Bédard. (See also Pierre-Stanislas Bédard, fr Wikipedia.) French Canadian nationalism also dates to the Rebellions of 1837-1838, a painful memory.
Although Bill 96 was passed in May and came into effect in June 2022, it has already led to the creation of a new political party in Quebec. The new party’s name is Le Parti canadien du Québec. It is the name, or nearly so, Pierre-Stanislas Bédard gave to his nationalist party in the early 1800s. Bédard was elected to the Assembly of Lower Canada in 1792, a year after the Constitutional Act was passed, and he created his Parti canadien, the very first Canadian party, at the turn of the 19th century. In 1806, Bédard also started a newspaper, Le Canadien.
The Constitutional Act of 1791 responded to the arrival of United Empire Loyalists in Sir Guy Carleton‘s Province of Quebec. (See The Quebec Act, Wikipedia.) The Quebec Act had perturbed the citizens of the Thirteen Colonies before the American Revolution and also disturbed United Empire Loyalists. The Rights of Englishmen was a popular concept which gained ground as the British Empire was nearing its apex.
The motivation to secede was informed by the “Rights of Englishmen,” but it also justified leaving the independent United States, no longer ruled by Britain. After the fall of Nouvelle-France, citizens of the Thirteen Colonies could move north to Britain’s new colony, the former New France. These individuals did not differ substantially from secessionists. Canadiens were not equal to Englishmen. They spoke French, the language of Britain’s main rival, France, and France had lost the Seven Years’ War. Moreover, the French in North America were Catholics.
The Constitutional Act of 1791 divided the vast Province of Quebec into Upper and Lower Canada. Upper Canada would be home to English-speaking Canadians, but United Empire Loyalists settled the Eastern Townships of Quebec, where I was born. The Eastern Townships is a bilingual area of Quebec, within limits. Bill 96 further narrows the limits determined by Bill 101, passed in 1977. Bill 96 also restricts access to English-language Cégeps. Many Québécois attend English-language Cégeps, a two-year pre-University programme, to learn English. English is the current lingua franca, the language of success.
The above image is Henri Julien‘s depiction of a French Canadian patriote. Le Vieux de ’37, was created to illustrate Louis-Honoré Fréchette‘s « Le Vieux Patriote », a poem Fréchette published in La Légende d’un peuple, an internet publication at ebooks.gratuits.com. Le Vieux Patriote can also be read in French, at Un Jour Un Poème (click on title). The poem’s theme is exile, a theme expressed in Antoine Gérin-Lajoie‘s poem and song, Un Canadien errant. Un Canadien errant and its translation are a Wikisource publication.
In Fréchette’s poem, we sense a solid will to remember the Rebellions of 1837-1838. (Les Rébellions de 37). The Rebellions took place in both Canadas, where patriots sought responsible government. They attacked the state: Britain. The rebellion was more intense in Lower Canada than in Upper Canada, and repression was more severe. Most convicted patriots were hanged or exiled to Australia, and some, to Bermuda.
Exile is an essential theme in 19th-century French-Canadian literature. In the mind of Quécébois, the Rebellions of 1837-1838 may be a more traumatic event than the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, the last battle of the French and Indian War (the Seven Years’ War).
After Canadiens read Lord Durham’s Report on the Rebellions of 1837-1838, they founded two literary schools, one in Quebec City and, the other, in Montréal. Louis-Honoré Fréchette (1839-1908) was a prominent member of l’École littéraire de Montréal. I have found an ebook edition of Jean Charbonneau‘s L’École littéraire de Montréal. Louis-Honoré Fréchette was in favour of annexation with the United States.
The Atlantic Revolutions
I have already mentioned the Atlantic Revolutions. The Rebellions of 1837-1838 are currently considered one of several attempts to create republics. A Patriot War was waged within the Rebellions of 1837-1838. It took place between December 1837 and December 1838. The Patriot War was an ideological war mostly. It promoted republicanism. William Lyon Mackenzie proclaimed the Republic of Canada on December 5, 1837, but the Patriot War started in Vermont, and the Patriots were defeated.
I believe the survival of the French language in Canada is threatened. Confederation led to the creation of “uniform” schools in every province of Canada, except Quebec. When immigrants arrived, they attended “uniform” schools. This policy originated in Macaulayism. Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) was a fine gentleman, but the sun never set on the British Empire which could lead people astray. The English Education system would be used in Britain’s colonies. Moreover, English would be the language of instruction in higher education in India and in post-Confederation Canada. The French could not be educated in French outside. They had to stay in Quebec. Immigrants who arrived in Canada were educated in “uniform” schools. It created an imbalance, that cannot be redressed easily and it should not demand that every Canadian learn French and English. That would be unrealistic. However, it should be possible to learn a second language in schools. Following the passage of the Official Languages Act of 1969, French immersion schools were established.
Ottawa has a Commissioner of Official Languages, and Pomquet is not the only Acadian village to boast une école acadienne. I taught Second Language Didactics at McMaster University and served as President of l’Apfucc, l’Association des Professeurs de Français des Universités et Collègues canadiens or Canadian Association of University and College Teachers of French. I also served on the board of directors and the executive of the Fédération canadienne des Études humaines, now renamed Fédération canadienne des Sciences humaines. These were my better days. I have investigated second-language teaching/learning.
I will close by saying that language policies protecting the French language in Canada should not lead to chicaneries and threaten Canadian unity. (to be continued)
- From Cats to l’École acadienne de Pomquet (25 July 2022)
- On Quebec’s Language Laws: Bill 96 (21 June 2022)
- On Quebec’s Language Laws (18 November 2021)
- Canadiana, 1 (page) ⬅️
Sources and Resources
- La Légende d’un peuple is an internet publication at ebooks.gratuits.com
- Un Jour Un Poème is an excellent and helpful website. It publishes one poem per day. It could be a WordPress site.
- Jean Charbonneau’s L’École littéraire de Montreal is an internet publication.
- Michel Ducharme’s Closing the Last Chapter of the Atlantic Revolution: The 1837-38 Rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada is also an internet publication, but I may not use it without the author’s permission. It can be found under the Rebellions of 1837-1838.
- Linus Wilson Miller wrote Notes of an exile to Van Dieman’s Land (see Rebellions of 1837-1838)
- Fred Landon, “MILLER, LINUS WILSON,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed August 16, 2022. http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/miller_linus_wilson_10E.html
Kind regards to everyone 💕
Paul Robeson sings Un Canadian errant. His interpretation is the finest I have heard.
© Micheline Walker
16 August 2022