MEET MR. HABITANT!
T. M. FRASER
IN undertaking to introduce Mr. Habitant to the Dominion of Canada, and to the other dominions beyond the seas, wherever MACLEAN’S MAGAZINE circulates—including the Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland—I am aware that it is a somewhat delicate task. There are some places where they do not wish to meet him.
In seeking accurate information regarding the people of Quebec, I approached one of the departments of the Provincial Government and was told that Mr. Ernest Myrand, Provincial Librarian, could give me a great deal of information, and direct me to a great deal more ; “butjperhaps it would be as well not to teil him you are from Ontario,” my guide added. “He is apt to be a little impatient because of the vast amount of mis-information some people in your province have published and circulated regarding the people of Que bec!”
“I presume he has no preconceived dislike to the Maritime Provinces, has he?” I inquired.
“No. They stand all right with Quebec. Tell him you hail from Nova Scotia or New Brunswick, and that will break the ice for you. I am an Ontario man myself; but I must confess I am sometimes ashamed at the estimate the people of my native province have put on these people, among whom I have lived now for a great many years; because the more I know of them, the better I appreciate their really unique qualities of head and heart—and hands.”
It took me some little time to reach Mi*. Myrand, because my way to him led through the magnificent home for books w*hich the province has created. Public libraries sometimes remind one of catacombs, where the literary remains of dead and forgotten authors are interred, peacefully w*aiting for the resurrection; and, walking through the gloomy corridors, you sigh, solemnly: “Ashes to ashes! Dust to dust!”
In the Quebec library, there is “a welcome on the door-mat,” so to speak. It is the word “Bibliothèque.” Libraries and librarians, I know. The latter are often fussy persons, in charge of works which are perpetually “out”; and w*ho regard with impatience inquiries for authors unknown to them, when Mary Jane Holmes is bulging from the shelves in profusion, and trying to elbow Ralph Connor out of the limelight. I tried three separate Canadian libraries in vain this summer to verify a simple quotation, and then had to give it from a bad memory; incidentally incurring a kindly chiding from one who I am sure would know it: “Reader,” the delightful literary causeur of the
Manitoba Free Press. Here, je fais connaissance avec un Bibliothèque—et avec lin Bibliothécaire ! An adventure in knowledge.
A magnificent symbolical stained glass w'indow, a true work of art, floods the place with its soft lights, and is reflected through the glass entrance doors on the outside wall of the opposite wing of the building. The walls are decorated with historical pictures of great interest; draped together are the original battleflags of the two races, which they carried when they marched to hurl back invaders of the province a century ago; reaching from the beautiful inlaid stone floors towards the ceiling are serried ranks of mahogany-colored steel bookcases, containing everything worth while in French and English. Patience, reader; we are approaching the habitant; but I must set the stage properly. We must find out what those who have written about him, fairly voluminously, have said; both those who know Quebec from within, and those, like myself, who came as seekers after knowdedge.
Why Montreal Has No Library
THE desire of the Canadien that the world should know him for what he really is, has something almost pathetic about it. In this keeper of the storehouse of knowledge, whose occupation has necessarily brought constantly to his knowledge what he knows to be unfair and false pictures of his compatriots, I found an impatience which one could easily forgive; but also a great courtesy and helpfulness.
It is surprising to read in Mr. Beckles Willson’s book on the Province (“Quebec: The Laurentian Province”) that Montreal does not possess a grçat public library— and the reason for it! “One of the arguments I heard gravely used against the establishment of a public library,” Mr. Willson says, “was that there were ‘too many races and religions.’ ” There must surely be some reason other than that; for in the Quebec library I think one might find all that he might reasonably require, with something for the taste, both Catholic and catholic. Mr. Myrand not only led me to his
shelves; but searched the literary highways and byw*ay3 of the city for the Fliegende Blatter of the pamphleteers in both languages. And after ten days’ reading, and talking, and “rubbering,” I do not know that I found anywhere a better introduction to Mr. Habitant than in a little pamphlet written by an English advertising man, Mr. C. E. A. Holmes, entitled: “Meeting the French-Canadian Half-Way.” I was after facts; and Mr. Holmes had them.
To understand and appreciate the real genius of the habitant, you must, of course, meet him in his proper environment—on the land, amid his natural surroundings. If you cannot do that—and most of us cannot— it is at least fair to take the evidence as to his characteristics from those who do dwell close to him, rather than accept the disordered ravings of an insensate and hostile faction in another province. One fact may be unpleasant, but it is indisputable: a large part of all
the enmity and prejudice created against Quebec and its people in Canada has had its origin in Ontario, and is still mainly confined to that province. It is very largely sectarian, but partly political.
No concerted effort to combat this feeling has been made. There occasionally have come dignified and calmly-worded protests from some Canadians; but their defence has been left as a rule to those of the Anglo-Saxon race, who have lived beside them for centuries in the same province; and should, presumably, be the best qualified to speak concerning them.
French-Canadian Stability An Asset
FOR this purpose I desire to quote at some length from a recent editorial article in a paper whose influence and authority will not be questioned anywhere.
I refer to the Montreal Gazette, published ip. Quebec pi-ovince for w*ell on toward a century and a half. After this considerable acquaintance with its Frenchspeaking fellow* citizens, the Gazette says:
“Quebec is sometimes scornfully referred to as the reactionary, the unprogressive, the ultra-conservative province of Canada; terms, how*ever, that many people do not resent, but rejoice in, having regard to their source. There is such a thing as movement without progress; and in the stability of the French-Canadian race Quebec possesses an asset of immense value. The stigma of inertia cast upon this province can be borne with patience by a people happy in their homes, reverential in their religion, content with their condition, nor need they shrink from comparison w*ith other provinces in material welfare. The farming class is prospei*ous. It makes money and saves, marketing its products in nearby industrial centres at very profitable prices, even though the methods of agriculture be often those of the fathers. The industrial life of the people is not greatly ruffled by agitators and strikes, when the element racially foreign to the French-Canadian is absent. In Quebec is the most populous city of the Dominion,.the foremost in manufactures, in shipping, in the arts, in finance, and in education at least the peer of any. The temperament of the people is conservative by nature and training, thei*eby insuring progression upon sound lines; it is unreceptive of all fallacies revived, as of new fads formulated; and moves along the even tenor of its way when other peoples madly chase w'ill-o’-the-wisps, and burn down houses to roast a supper .... And so it happens that in the sometimes derided province of Quebec are found industrial communities living in harmony and contentment, where “the rich man helps the poor man, and the poor man loves the great.” The influence of the Roman Catholic church has produced this happy state, making for permanence of employment, fair wages, and a cordial co-operation between capital and labor. It is a fine asset for the province.”
It is this sort of first-hand evidence which the openminded man must of necessity accept in preference to the guerilla attacks of the propagandist and the bigot.
For the first century and a half of the three centuries and more of Quebec’s history, the only inhabitants Were of French birth or extraction; so the habitant distinguishes the families of the original founders of the country from the immigrants of a later date, and from other countries. When Canada was ceded to Great Britain by the King of France, the habitant was left in undisturbed possession of his land and other property. His natural increase has been remarkable. From the sixty thousand dwelling here at the end of the French regime, there have sprung more than two millions. The fecundity of the race is extraordinary; and it is a proof, if one be wanting, of the bravery of the French-Canadian. It takes courage to face the battle of life w*it.h fifteen, twenty, or even thirty children (such numbers are not unknown). There are many men wearing war decorations to-day who would think twice before engaging in the battle of the boots, with this number of hostages to fortune to be shod and clad. It is a very valuable, and very genuine sacrifice for the welfare of one’s country, that the habitant is making when hi* undertakes by his own unaided exertions to launch ten or fifteen children equipped for the battle of life. All honor to the French-Canadian father. He deserves the Order of Many. The finest decoration of all should be reserved for that Canadien who is on record as having adopted another child, after having reared twenty-five of his own! And honor to La Belle Canadienne, the good, attractive, strong, religious, frugal and industrious Canadienne mother.
“The habitant is prouder of his big family than of any of his possessions. The poorer he is, the more he cherishes them. The brightest and best of his flock is selected to be given to the church; and the height of
their pride is when they receive from this son the first mass he serves.”
French-Canadians the Real Landed Gentry 'T'HE original tillers of the soil in Lower Canada who held their land under feudal tenure would not accept the name of “censitaire.” which carried with it some sense of the servile status of the feudal vassal in France, but preferred to be called “habitants” or Inhabitants of the country, i.e., free men. The designation obtained official recognition. Now they would rather be called Canadiens. This attachment to the land is one of the most striking characteristics of the French in Canada. If there is any class in Canada which we could call the “landed gentry” it would be these French people of Quebec. Many of the farms are still held by the lineal descendants of those to whom the land was first granted by the King of France or his representatives in the earliest days. A few years ago a committtee on the old families of Quebec set out to get accurate information, and discovered more than 270 of such families. They were given medals and diplomas of honor, which testified that they still owned the family homesteads which had been granted to their ancestors 250 years ago. In every case proof of the genuineness of the claim had to be established by the production of official notarial deeds.
Those old people gloried in the name of “habitant”; but it has become so much flung about on familiar and ignorant lips, particularly in connection with those poems of Drummond (so delightful, but so misrepresentative), that a good many of the younger generation rather fight shy of the name now; and the Nationalists encourage the use of the term Canadien.
Although the introduction was, so to speak, under an alias, there is no doubt that Drummond, with what are usually called his “habitant poems,” made the name of the natives of Quebec better known to the world than any other man or agency. After his poems became popular, we had (and still have) a flood of amateur elocutionists who prided themselves on their ability to speak what they commonly called “the French-Canadian dialect, ’ and we had a long and distressing siege from young men who spoke through the nose and grimaced like monkeys, while they misrepresented the language and habits of our Quebec fellowcitizens. Mr. Holmes, in his little booklet, gives the following history of Drummond and his work:
Strange as it may seem, the man who is to a great extent responsible for the prevailing opinion that French-Canadians speak a “patois” is one who greatly loved the Fi'ench-Canadian race, Dr. Henry Drummond, who little dreamt that his “Habitant” poems would be taken to be written in French-Canadian dialect. When Drummond came to Canada as a boy, from his native country of Leitrim, Ireland, he studied telegraphy and was given work as an operator at 1 Abord-a-Plouffe, a little village near Montreal. It was there he came in contact with the amiable FrenchCanadian lumberjacks, whose native language he could not speak. The affability of the French-Canadian is proverbial. Seeing that young Drummond could not converse with them in French, they endeavored to make themselves understood by speaking a gibberish
of French and English. He was greatly impressed by the picturesque way in which these people he was living with told their quaint tales of backwoods life, and it is the way they spoke to him (and by no means the way they spoke among themselves), which he endeavored to weave into his writings.
“Drummond’s first tale, “The Wreck of the Julie Plante” had no sooner been published than it was widely reproduced and made its way throughout the length and breath of the American continent. The old law of supply and demand govei-ned—Drummond had found a new style which had taken the reader’s fancy; publishers demanded more and so the author continued to produce poems in the same vein, taking his themes wherever he found them, and rendering them in the Anglo-French gibberish that the public wanted.”
Speech in Quebec is Not Patois rpHE idea that the French spoken in Quebec is a patois, is common enough among those who have not taken the trouble to inform themselves to the contrary. William Wood (who has written so much and so entertainingly on the Province of Quebec, and probably is better' versed in the subject than any other English writer), says, (“In The Heart of Old Canada”) :
“The habitant speech is a very genuine old French— not a patois, much less a degenerate form of any standard tongue. It is ,indeed, the next of kin to Moliêre’s own, carried overseas two centuries ago by the most conservative of emigrants, and still living in unconscious fidelity to the “Grand Monarque.” Its important variants are generally of Norman origin, or nautical and military terms applied to every-day life; a very natural transference in a colony founded by seamen, and maintained by force of arms. New conditions soon called for new expressions. Some Indian words were adopted; and anglicisms have since crept in at different times. But the natural gi’owth of new Canadian terms out of pure old French has always been the truest form of development; and such terms have now acquired a legitimate technical precision in their New World acceptations.”
It is more exact to say that American is a patois of English. Leading French public men who have visited Canada have repeatedly remarked on the purity of the French spoken here, though it has an exotic charm of its own, and undoubtedly it has been diluted to some extent with some of “the wine of the country.” But what language has not? And a language is usually the better for it. It is so a language grows.
An American educationist makes the interesting suggestion that “the attempt to make Canadian French seem like a different language from French, has been chiefly due to French teachers from F’rance who hope thereby to be better able to feather their own nests.” We know that in Canada it is also due largely to those who have been fighting against any recognition of the French language in the Dominion.
A prominent Canadian Nationalist summed it up for me in this way: “Drummond’s intentions were all
right, but he created a false impression. The Canadians who speak the dialect he used are chiefly those who have come back from long residence in the United States.”
“There is no Parisian French,” said Mr. Meyrand. “Here we have a Canadian and Provincial pronunciation; but not a patois. Frechette and others have had their work crowned by the French Academy. Do you think they would do that to a patois?
Nationalist Engine is High Speed
TN Quebec I met some of the young men who have -*■ made the Nationalist name known—and, incidentally, the name is about all that is known with accuracy outside of Quebec. It is a dangerous subject; but I must confess that the nerve, the eloquence, the wide knowledge, and the camaraderie of Armand Lavergne and his circle rather charmed me. It is a high-speed engine which perhaps needs a “governor”; but no one can impugn the Canadianism of these men.
“Tell me something about the character of the Canadien,” I asked them. “Well,” said one, “I would describe it with the word ‘simpliste.’ He minds his own business. You might call it selfishness, perhaps; but we think it is just minding his own business. You may take away his neighbor’s land, or his chair, or his cow, and he will have regret; but he will not fight for that cause. But take his own, and he will. He would not go to help Lloyd George out of his troubles; but if anyone came to fight Sir Wilfrid Laurier, that person would, as you say, get it in the neck. It may be a fault that we cannot see any farther than our nose; but then, it is long enough for us.
“For myself, I think the enlistment situation here has been misrepresented; but back of all that is the fact that he did not want to go away to fight. They were not encouraged to enlist, that is true.
“Then there was only a comparatively small number
of them came under the conscription law. They marry at twenty, as a rule. Out of 400 farmers examined, 350 were not subject to enlistment. And remember that in the other Provinces, your politicians lead you. The Canadien leads his politicians. As for the influence of the priests we hear so much about, it is decreasing in politics, but not in religion.”
“Well,” I said, “here are some of the reasons one of your Quebec university professors gives why voluntary enlistment failed in Quebec: the race-hatred between Ontario and Quebec over the school question; too much loose talk about imperialism—that is, that Canada’s interests must be sacrificed for those of the Empire. What about them?”
“The Canadien is not against British connection (this from a Nationalist!) ; on the contrary, he is very strongly in favor of it; but he wants his imperialism straight, not via Toronto. There is no element in the population more loyal to Canada, because the habitant has no longer any racial affiliation, in a political sense, with any Old World power. Canada is son pays et ses amours—the object of his affection and his pride. He loves France in an impersonal way, as the land of his origin and his early ancestors, but his real love is reserved for Canada. Can you hear ‘O Canada’ sung, and doubt that? Remember, that song is French-Canadian; and perhaps you might compare it as a work of art, with the Ontario production, ‘The May-pull Leaf Forever!’
“In Quebec the voter dictates to his representative. The politicians were in favor of conscription; the voters were against it.
“The French perform a great service to Canada in preventing American penetration, by their language end their papers. F^oi.i a Canadian point of view, the greatest asset of this country is the French language. And if you Anglicize us, you make us American, not English. Ontario is permeated with United States slang, newspapers—and nose. We are not PJnglish. Certainly we are not French; when some of the habitants saw the tricolor, they asked: ‘What flag is that? We are Canadians.’ ”
“Yes,” interrupted another, “and it begins to look almost as though Canada were steering for bankruptcy. The ‘illiterate habitant’—Quebec’s savings— will save this country yet.”
A Law-Abiding Province
44DUT I am given to understand that you are immoral and lawless?” “The foundation of morality in this Province is the Ten Commandments. We do not keep them all at once, but we compare pretty favorably, I think. The trouble with you people in Ontario is that you do not know anything about Quebec, except what a few trouble-breeders tell you. Outside of Montreal and Quebec, where we have criminal assizes twice a year, it has not been necessary to open the courts for the past three years. In all the other districts—Sherbrooke, Three Rivers, Rimouski, Chicoutimi, Montmagny, etc., we have not had criminal assizes for about ten years. This is with more than a million people. Earl Grey said all the wickedness we Continued on Page 82
Meet Mr. Habitant!
Continued from Page 18
have in Quebec is “a few kisses.” In 800 municipalities, there are more than six hundred which had not a single police officer, and do not need one. The Canadien is a man who minds his own business. There are more laughs in this Province in one day than in Ontario in a year. A good laugh and a drink goes a long way in Quebec. We are the happiest people in Canada.
“We have no trouble between the two races here in Quebec. All educated French people here know English and many of the English know French; but outside of this Province, how many English people can speak French? Take the children in St. Ursula street here. You may hear them—of both races— talking back and forth to each other in both languages. I heard a little boy of five—it was a son of “Chubby” Power, M.P., by the way—speaking French and English the other day.
“Well, what happens in Ontario? Let me tell you. Two young men of Quebec met on the streets of Toronto one day, not so very long ago, and greeted each other in French. A policeman heard them and came up, tout de suite.
“ ‘None of that,’ he commanded sternly. ‘There is only one language spoken in this búrg.’ That is true.”
But Quebec is ready to meet and wel-
come any sign of rapprochement. Witness W. H. Moore’s “The Clash.” When Macaulay’s New Zealander has finished brooding o’er the ruins of London, he may, perhaps make a trip to Canada, which will then have long become the centre of the Empire; and, travelling through Quebec, he will hear the aerial brakesmen call: “St. Billimoore!” Even now he is beginning to be looked on as a f^t subject for canonization. Let us trust the investigation into the claims preferred will not be so long and searching as that into saints in general! “The Clash” is being translated into Fx-ench by an able Canadian journalist, Mr. Billodeau.
Life and Character of Habitant
THE habitant is the real “handy man.”
Give him an axe, axxd he can fend for himself anywhere. Wood notes the readiness with which he makes his phrases and their suitability: “Nor
could people whose axes are worth a half a chest of tools describe a pexxniless bxxt capable man better than by calling him un homme ala hache." “Give a French-Canadian an axe,” said Sir Douglas Haig, “and he can build a telegraph line, shoe a horse, and fix your watch.” The product of three centuries of woodsmen, he is the finest pioneer
we have; and the most useful type of settler in a new country.
The habitant is open-minded. Counties composed almost altogether of Canadiens have repeatedly elected English representatives. When Baldwin was rejected in his old Upper Canadian constituency, Rimouski took him in. He is happy and light-hearted. He is a born raconteur; and practically all the store Canada has of folk-lore and folk-songs is to be found in Quebec, some of which were brought from France in the verylong ago, and others of which are due to his brilliant fancy. At birthdays and other celebrations, the old country dances are enjoyed to the music of the concertina or fiddle—sometimes, now, to the organ or piano. In Quebec, the habitant makes a real celebration of a wedding, when the festivities sometimes last for days. In fact, whenever he sets out to enjoy himself—and he sets pretty often—he does it with all his might.
Some readers of MACLEAN’S MAGAZINE will recall an address once delivered in Ontario by Sir Lomer Gouin, in which he depicted the life and character of the habitant very skillfully and sympathetically. He described the festivities on New Year’s Day, when la Benediction Paternelle was given to his children. Sometimes this is done after Mass. Many French historians give interesting examples of this custom. Some of the old customs have passed away, but family affection and respect for authority fortunately survive still.
There is no reason why we should be ignorant regarding Quebec; and a sr.udy of its history on the spot where those stirring scenes of our national infancy were enacted would be a good vacation school for every Canadian. But too many people know it only from the catch-phrases of religious bigotry. Take, for example, the words “Jesuit,” and “Jesuitical.” They are common expressions among certain classes of Protestants. The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke in the Anglican Cathedral at Quebec a few years ago, and he had this to say about the Jesuits in Canada:
“They set the whole world an example of missionary enthusiasm and a steadfastness cf persevering faith in the face of persecution and suffering Which, while the world stands, will encircle with
a halo of glory the memory of the Jesuit missionaries of 250 years ago.”
FOR long years even Quebec seems to have forgotten those brave and devoted souls. Then, when they began to tear down the old Jesuits’ College, erected in 1635, to build the present city hall, the remains of some of these Knights of the Holy Sacrament -were discovered. The heroic stories of their sufferings and services were recalled ; and, as a sort of belated recompense, a bill was inj troduced in the legislature to compenj sate the Jesuit order for the loss of propi erty, including this post-office sitd, taken from them at different times. Readers will remember the commotion caused by the incident in Canadian politics at the time. The Dominion authorities and the Governor-General both refused to lend a hand in perpetuating a wrong; and the measure went through, as every principle of British justice and equity demanded it should.
Yes, a vacation school in early Canadian history, established at Quebec, would be an effective way of combatting bigotry. One night this summer, I read Wood’s “An Ursuline Epic,” which tells the heroic story of “La Mere Marie de l’Incarnation”; and Frechette’s “Christmas in French Canada”—the old and the new; the heroic and the prosaic ages. When I had finished, the Angelus, which Champlain caused to be rung three times a day—a custom that is still kept up—was sounding; and I thought to myself: “The best way for a Presbyterian bigot to finish this 'debauch’ is to attend early Mass at the Basilica.” There were a good many worshippers, beginning the day aright before going to work; or, from the other point of view, “heathen, in their blindness, bowing down to wood and stone” ; but it seemed to me that the former conception was the more Christ-like. The hard seats, the bare walls, the plain pulpit, the Calvinism of my youth, is á far cry from this; but perhaps each form of worship is best adapted for the race w-hich practises it. Anyway, “We’ll all gae hame taegither.”
And see how I was rewarded for my morning’s devotion î As I was leaving the church a kindly French-Canadian member of Parliament came out behind me, tapped me on the shoulder and said : “Come to breakfast with me?”