A CHALLENGING NEW CONCEPT OF FRENCH CANADA
For two centuries most Canadians have regarded Quebec as an unchanging peasant society, slow to accept new ideas and wholly obedient to the parish priest. Now a brilliant young social scientist and teacher named Philippe Garigue has stirred up a lively and heated controversy by claiming it just isn’t so
Every country seems to have its Deep South; Quebec is Canada's South.” This was the comment of a young French Canadian passionately condemning the politics, economics, education and social conditions of his native province. Other Canadians—English-speaking as well as French—-can become equally fervent in praise of Canada’s largest province, its people and their ways. Whether regarded as “backward Quebec” or La belle province, Quebec's one unquestionable resemblance to the American secessionist states lies in the way legend has replaced fact in shaping people's attitudes toward it, inside the province and out.
“Mythological thinking is the worst possible thinking about French Canada, and English Canadians have the worst possible myths about French Canadians.” says Philippe Garigue. a social scientist who came from the London School of Economics to McGill. Quebec's senior English-language university, in 1954. The Conservative landslide in “Liberal Quebec" last year removed one nearly universal illusion; and some French Canadians are wondering just how well they understand themselves. If Professor Garigue's studies of rural and urban Quebec are valid, not only popular opinion but the conclusions of most experts on French Canada are founded on myths.
Professor Garigue is well cast in the role of Man from Mars in C anada. The bi-cultural product of a family that has spanned the English Channel for generations, he was born in England of an English mother and French father, has a French sister and English brother FI is three children, by an Italian w ife, w ere born in Austria, England and Canada. Originally High Anglican, he has made a calm conversion to the Roman Catholic church since coming here.
In July. 1957, he was named Dean ol the Faculty of Social Sciences at the French-language University of Montreal—the only nonFrench-Canadian faculty head there, and, at forty, the youngest. The appointment aroused
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In his inside look at St. Justin, Garigue found new schools, new industries and new ideas in an old setting
such a commotion as is hard to imagine an academic action causing anywhere else on this continent. Quebec teachers, politicians, priests, labor leaders, writers and businessmen are stilt applauding, criticizing or speculating about it. There seems to be a general expectation that new ideas about French Canada, developed in a key centre like the university, will bring concrete changes through the whole community.
Dr. Garigue’s ideas first clashed with those of his colleagues while he was still teaching at McGill. Most leading authorities on social trends in Quebec had described French Canada's fixed and archaic way of life as crumbling under the impact of commerce and technology from the dynamic English-speaking world. But Garigue asserted that French Canada never had the kind of rigid “folk-culture” that sociologists claimed, and that the contrast they had made between two incompatible sorts of culture in North America was invalid.
Garigue believes that French Canada is progressing through the twentieth century in its own way, and is not going through the crisis sp many experts have perceived. FI is findings in fact suggest that there are resources in the French-C'anadian tradition that help individuals meet the stresses of metropolitan and industrial life more successfully than most North Americans.
C'lear support for his views has come from another outsider to the North American scene. An anthropologist at University College of Auckland. New Zealand, Professor Ralph Piddington. has recently made a study, on a Carnegie grant, of French Canada. His findings, in French Manitoba as well as Quebec communities. parallel Garigue’s. The Montreal dean’s hottest opposition comes from near at hand, from Frenchand English-speaking sociologists and from French Canadians who are embroiled in the bew ilderingly complex
The village priest’s authority has
social debates about the Quebec of today.
Those opposing him say that when he de* dares there is no serious social breakdown in Quebec, what he really means is that the traditionalist groups—conservative clergy and reactionary politicians—have still got control and he approves. But this isn’t so. Traditionalist leaders point continually to an ideal "French-C'anadian Way of Life” which must be defended against "The Anglo-Saxon Peril”; Garigue says that the way of life they hold up so often on platforms and in the press a^ truly French Canadian does not and never did exist.
Although Garigue’s view of French Canada
Eager to forge ahead, villagers!
en far from absolute. A second school board was organized when a dispute flared up within the parish
flatly contradicts an array of other views he says he does not relish controversy and the role of controversial figure does not appeal to him.
The Garigue name is best known in the world of fashion. Queen Elizabeth has opened the British House of Commons in brocades from his family’s firm. Garigues have long supplied top dressmakers of London and Paris with English woolens and French silks.
Both fabrics are represented in his personality. Someone first meeting him sees a man of medium height, with the brown complexion, fine, curved nose and curly mouth of France's southern Languedoc province, which he says
is full of Garigues. With a broad forehead and wearing thin-rimmed glasses, rather meticulous in his appearance and gestures, he is not hard to place as a professor—on the formal, European model, rather than the hearty American. His adventurous side is expressed only in his actions.
At the start of the Second Work! War he interrupted his studies in metallurgy to train as an officer in the British paratroopers. Later he was a liaison officer with the Fifth Canadian Division in its violent progress northward past Monte Cassino; then, being fluent in Italian from Mediterranean holidays as a boy. he was sent behind the enemy lines to establish con-
tact with Italian partisans. The Committee of Liberation leader in a region of the Lower Alps had beautiful twin daughters, and Garigue married one.
After nine years in the army he returned to London to study sociology and anthropology. When he graduated from the London School of Economics, he went for research into West Africa, where booming industry ami the withdrawal of European power were speeding the collapse of the old tribal systems. The political and social turmoil made it stimulating for a social scientist. Garigue’s enemies remark, "He went to Africa and they didn’t make him a witch doctor;
ubscribed $100,000 to attract a new furniture factory that now employs one hundred St. Justin workers
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“St. Justin looked nothing like a peasant community of France”
he came to Canada and they did.”
When he had completed his F’hD thesis on West Africa, Garigue looked for another country where he might see in a different form a similar clash between the old and the new. He says, “1 had heard that there existed along the shores of the St. Lawrence a people called ‘simple, primitive, traditionalist,’ who were being transformed by industrialization. I already knew the language: that would mean a saving of time on a project.” He accepted a two-year teaching fellowship from McGill.
In September, 1954, soon after reaching Montreal, he started visiting Frenchspeaking families in their home-., asking individual members questions about themselves and their families. By late winter, he had an uneasy feeling that the theories he had been taught about French Canada, which had made him compare family patterns in Africa and Quebec, were not connecting with the facts.
But it is often asserted that Montreal is not the real Quebec. In search of genuine French Canadians, Garigue went at the end of his school term to spend the summer of 1955 about seventy miles up the north shore of the St. Lawrence, in the parish of St. Justin.
St. Justin has a special significance in Quebec. The first professional sociologist to study the region, Léon Gérin. had scrutinized the parish and its inhabitants between 1895 and 1897 and fixed on it as a typical Quebec community. His study of St. Justin was adopted by later sociologists as the definitive account of rural French Canada at that time. Garigue decided that the best place to assess recent change was in a community that had been so thoroughly described in the past.
He needed detailed information from sources like parish records (the Quebec parish is both a religious district and a governmental unit like a township), family histories and genealogies—and most of all he had to get people to talk. He went there cold, with no recommendation from anybody. Recalling the wary, uncommunicative peasants of France, he expected a slow and grinding campaign.
His first impressions were surprising. ■St. Justin looked nothing like the selfcontained peasant communities of France.
Except for the high Quebec steeple in the centre, and the statue of Christ with Sacred Heart, the village, which at the time of Garigue’s survey held 317 of the 1.577 people in the parish, looks pretty much like any thriving small Canadian settlement on flat, open land. There are large frame houses widely separated by neat lawns. The stores are stocked not only with manufactured goods from all over but with fresh vegetables and imported fruit. A bread truck drives through the village and out to the farms. The village has garages, banks, two goodsized senior schools (one for boys, one for girls), two mineral-water bottling plants, a printing press, a furniture factory employing about one hundred, a baseball field and lighted tennis courts.
But there is no hotel, theatre, bar or restaurant. When Garigue stepped off the local bus he could see nothing that invited a stranger to stay. He located a place to board for the summer by asking at the first store.
Just being unknown gave him celebrity, heightened when St. Justin heard his business. His landlady took him to the man she thought could tell him most. He was a retired farmer of seventy-two who had moved in from an outlying property and had. with his new leisure, started a business importing linen from the city for sale to local booths that offered “native handicrafts” to tourists. This resourceful septuagenarian took up Garigue's project with delight, and promised, “I’m going to show you St. Justin!”
For three full days the old man drove Garigue up and down the rangs-—what are called concession roads in other parts of Canada—which in Quebec have the farmhouses lined along them, the long, narrow fields extending back. Not all the families had their own farms. At the edge of the parish, where the Laurentian Hills begin, day-laborers have lived from earliest times, the men hiring out to farmers during the busy seasons and then striking out for the bush to cut wood during the winter. Garigue found some of their isolated shacks worth photographing for the significant detail of car-garages beside them and the thirtyfoot TV aerials towering above. His energetic guide introduced him everywhere they went.
“It was the easiest possible place for a sociological study.” Garigue recalls. The people were candid, and interested. A few had read the report Gérin made on St. Justin in 1897. They tended to he gently critical of it—or of themselves, for not living up to it. They thought the folkways outlined for them were fine but regretted that in fact they had never lived that way.
In the St. Justin that Gérin depicted, each farm was practically self-sufficient,
and ruled by the father, with the eldest son ready to succeed him. The son also took over his father’s social attitudes and farming methods intact. The family would hope to place its brightest son. and unmarried daughters, in the church. Other sons, if they could, founded farms like the one they left. They were suspicious of the outside world and preferred not to go too far from home. The Roman Catholic priest, father to the parish, guided the St. Justin flock as each patriarch his family.
French-Canadian “nationalist” leaders took up this picture as an ideal, the natural way for their people to live. Sociologists also used Gérin’s St. Justin as a standard, and measured change in modern Quebec communities by comparing them with it. There was a sense among them all that the more isolated, the more eccentric the community, the more French Canadian—a piece of New France preserved under glass.
Léon Gérin had singled out as typical one family, the Casaubons, in this typi cal parish. Garigue discovered that the Casaubons Gérin chose had actuali; come from another parish, and had lef their farm in St. Justin the second gen eration after Gérin’s study. In France they would have been regarded as tran sients. For St. Justin, their pattern \va not abnormal. The parish records show cd a history of continual arrivals ani departures.
Of the one hundred and seventy-fou farm families in the two-hundred-yeaj old settlement, only eight were on lam their ancestors had cleared. Fewer thaï one in four had stayed on the same farm since Gérin’s survey. A farmer too ol to work his land might get old-age s( curity by holding it and being supporte
by his heir. But quite often the farmer would simply sell out to the highest bidder and move into town.
Garigue classified St. Justin as a farmini;, but not a peasant, community. He noted that while peasant songs of France are concerned mostly with events like sowing and harvesting, the French Canadians have traditional voyaging songs like “Youpi! Youpi! Out on the River!" patriotic songs like “Fong Five the Canadiens!" and many like “To have a Little Drink — That’s Nice!” but hardly any songs of the earth.
Nearly everyone in St. Justin had been to Montreal, and some had visited other provinces or the United States, located an ancestor’s birthplace in France or gone on pilgrimage to Rome. The main reason for all the travel was the number of kinfolk to visit. The retired farmer who introduced Garigue to the parish could, with his wife, identify 1,518 relations, living and dead, and remember Christian names for 1,110 of them. That feat was not unusual. Most of the inhabitants kept in touch with relations all over the continent.
Fathers, though official heads of families, did not have absolute authority. Their decisions followed community standards that the women had an important —perhaps the main—part in forming. Women also had their say in the family council. The children, many used to driving tractors and other farm machinery, were unusually self-reliant.
There was no single parish leader; different determined individuals often initiated actions for the community. Almost everyone was French Canadian and Roman Catholic, but the priest's authority was far from absolute. The reason there were two parish school boards was that when the priest of the day proposed opening a girls’ school for the village the people of the ratios objected to sending their children so far and organized a second school board for the parish. The separation was made without great upset.
The 305 families in this supposedly insular parish had 220 subscriptions to city papers and about 300 to the local one. They used the latest appliances and farm equipment they could afford. Garigue inspected the old Casaubon house—quaint, and still lived in because it was still good, but dwarfed by half a dozen newer buildings, including a dairy barn with concrete floor and electric milkers.
Garigue could see that St. Justin had changed drastically since 1897; but the changes had been cultivated by the inhabitants. not imposed from outside. He found no reason to believe that it had once been static and had lately grown mobile. Further research in other farming communities ansi a study of historical records dating from New France confirmed the opinion he had acquired in St. Justin—that French Canada has always been in transition.
Quoting recent historians. Garigue points out that New France and New England were much more alike than different. New France grew from missionary and trading posts, and the first settlers were mainly soldiers, mariners, civil administrators, merchants, traders and craftsmen. One in four colonists lived in Quebec City. Three Rivers or Montreal in 1754. and four thousand men. from a total 55.000 men. women and children, ranged abroad in the fur trade.
Bankruptcy, after France ceded Canada to England in 1763, and pressure from the incoming New England and English merchants, forced the Canadiens out of business. They turned to the land because there was nothing else to do.
Shut out from commerce, they gradually forced the English off the land from sheer pressure of population. This spontaneous development was eventually seized on as a deliberate policy. French Canadians who dreamed of regaining control discovered that this was one area where they w'ere winning.
Colonist carpetbaggers who followed the British armies, and loyalist refugees from the American Revolution, seem to have first formulated the myth that the Canadiens w'ere unprogressive peasants with horizons limited to their "thirty acres." It was hard to appeal to British tradition in demanding representative government without acquiring it also for the French Canadians who outnumbered them in Lower Canada. The AngloCanadians’ ultimate excuse for trying to deny the French Canadians what they demanded for themselves was that the habitants were so totally different that different standards must apply to them.
Faith thicker than blood
French-Canadian political leaders had barely grasped the implications of rural fertility when they noticed it being wasted in emigration to the United States. About half a million offspring of Quebec farmers left for the New England factories in the second half of the last century. Quebec nationalists called this desertion. Simple faith, religious leaders affirmed, was more than Norman blood. It was the duty of a Canadien to think and act like one. Publicists began to hold up the image of the good French Canadian who stayed true to his simple forefathers and to the sacred soil.
French Canadians who have accepted the peasant ideal, Garigue remarks, have not been able to be peasants. 'I hey don’t know how. The French-Canadian way of life, he points out. is a variation on total American culture. I he most remarkable thing about St. Justin is that most English-speaking Canadians, if they got to know the parish, would find it quite ordinary.
The proportion of the national wealth of Canada owned by French Canadians is about half their proportion of Canada’s population. Very few are high in finance or industry. This is sometimes taken as evidence that they are unfitted by heredity and culture to cope with modern traditions.
But at least part of their lack of success is traceable to that assumption itself. There is a saying in the ranks of Quebec industry: “A French Canadian has to be twice as good as an English Canadian to get the same job."
Parallel to the English fixed attitude and stemming from the same myth is a kind of French-Canadian defeatism and defensive pride. Some refer sadly to "our people" as schoolboys might to their baseball team that always loses. Their myth of the French induces as corollary a myth attributing to the English all the qualities opposed to the stereotype of themselves. They react with envy, distaste. reluctant admiration and a touch of horror at the slightly inhuman "Anglais."
The proposition that French Canada is best represented by what is most primitive is becoming hard to maintain. In 1956. 70 percent of Quebec’s population lived in cities and towns of over 1.000 (compared with 67 percent for the whole of Canada). In 1950. agriculture accounted for only 10.5 percent of the net total of goods produced in Quebec. and in the last national census only 16.6 percent of gainfully employed males in Quebec were listed as farmers. Only five percent of Quebec land is judged by agronomists to be arable.
A succession of French-Canadian leaders has warned, like one prominent priest in Montreal. "Our race must be agricultural or it will not grow, it will disappear." If they are right, French Canada is giving its death rattle.
Garigue found no signs of it in St Justin. Neither did the people display an exclusively rural mentality. They had invited the owner of a furniture factory in the province, who wanted to change his site, to relocate in their parish, and when he was found short of the capital they subscribed $100,000 for it. They took from the culture of the city whatever they could use, from ready-made clothing to television.
Comparing rural parishes with Montreal. Garigue discovered basically the same institutions. When he investigated the lives of fifty-two persons, most o! them city-bred, in forty-three Montreal households, he found them coping willcity routines while remaining in fundamentals as French Canadian as people in St. Justin, without signs of strain The most destructive feature that socia
Quebec politics are largely a family affair, “My cousin, right or wrong,” is the policy
scientists have observed in modern supercities comes from isolation and anonymity, producing a sense of being a cipher, in random conjunction with other people, and interchangeable—even, sometimes, in intimate associations like marriage. The Montreal French Canadians in Gangues survey seem to suffer less than most urban dwellers from this.
What gave them their strongest sense of identity was their kinship system. One fairly typical man of thirty-five had seen 115 blood relations and in-laws during the past year and heard from another fifty-seven. He met more than forty every month. The people in Garigue's survey saw most often the relatives they liked best, not necessarily the closest in relationship or geography. They met practically every week and counted on each other’s help in emergencies. “French Canadians are not joiners,” Garigue remarks. They don't need to be.
Extending his research in the summer of 1957, Garigue went north and lived ip a men's dormitory at Schefferville, a new company town of more than three thousand in the Ungava iron region. It was a town with no past, a collection of strangers brought together by the company for their special skills. It was geographically isolated, and its inhabitants were cut off in separate buildings by the cold and by storms, anti often. Garigue found, psychologically isolated—that is, bushed. About three fifths were French Canadians, another fifth English-speaking native North Americans, the other fifth immigrants from Europe.
Surprisingly, the traditionally homeloving French Canadians seemed to stand conditions best. Garigue found them adapting. to that strange context, the institutions he had observed in Montreal and St. Justin—they brought in their families when they could, went to church, formed work associations and soon were visiting relations. Even detached in space from the web of kinship, they had a sense of permanence in the continent that carried over into their isolation. Where often the English North Americans and the Europeans worked through their stretch up north in a kind of vacuum, French Canadians proceeded to make a home out of available materials.
Garigue has concluded that the forces of disintegration affecting French Canada are being countered by interior forces of re-integration. He finds it hard
to define just what those forces are. or exactly w'hat French Canadians are. But to clear away misconceptions, to establish what they are not, he believes is a beginning.
They are not a “race.” Virtually all have graftings of other stock on their French family trees. Many have Scottish. Irish, and even English, names. About one in four marries outside the group. Some know hardly enough French to ask for the pens of their aunts. About three percent of them in Quebec are resolute Protestants. Quebec is not synonymous with French Canada although about eighty-two percent of the more than four million Canadians who call French their mother tongue live there. Maritime and Manitoba French have their own distinct features. Many French-speaking descendants of New' France live in the United States. Garigue cuts through this tangle by defining as a French Canadian anyone who claims to be one.
The French Canadians are a group into which one can be either born or married; it is a mixture of blood-relationship and allegiance. Today, in French Canada, according to Garigue, “every institution has its kinship dimension."
Most French Canadians have some near relative in the Roman Catholic church. It permeates the community— and influences Mow both ways. Complexities within the church are related to complexities throughout French Canada.
Politics in Quebec are unpredictable partly because they are so much a family affair, with loyalty counting more than issues. "My cousin, right or wrong" is a continuing policy that does not always produce the best government but apparently has its own special satisfactions.
Maintaining the wide family ties is the women's business. Garigue notes. “While a woman's legal status is subordinate, her role as a mother or wife or sister make her the focus of most of the emotional life." Feminists outside Quebec, and a few inside, rage over their sex's legal position in that province; but most Quebec women seem to have the kind of power they want. The cohesion of French Canada since the Cession may be mainly an achievement of women.
The keystone of "nationalist" Quebec strategy for over a century has been “La revanche du berceau”—translatable
as rather “the return match” than “the revenge" of the cradle. This is certainly a female idea of a contest. The notion of “return match" in procreation and the related family size are estimated to have a profound effect on the French-Canadian emotional pattern.
Social workers and psychiatrists invoke “rejection by the mother" to explain much emotional disturbance in North America. The baby born to a household where "la revanche" adds a sporting interest to the event is likely to be met with enthusiasm, not only from its parents but from a goodly number of predecessors in that cradle. Besides that, the large family lightens the emotional load on its members. The mother who concentrates all her affection on one child or two will tend to expect comparable intensity in return. “Momism" is the nemesis of the small, planned family.
The ample French-Canadian family can be expected to make for easy social development; yet associated with the emotional security may be chronic economic and political frustration. The many children are an economic drawback in cities. And individuals may need an interior disturbance — something biting them — to develop a sustained drive for material success.
Sociologists are unready to predict what effect success in big business might have in French Canada. Anyone getting high in big business is inevitably involved in the financial complex of the whole continent—and English is the language of big business in Quebec as in Ontario or New York. From one third to a half of French Canadians already know English. Where English is a practical necessity and French a luxury, French could become redundant. Survival of a distinctly Canadien culture depends, finally, on the value that French Canadians place on it. They will have to want to be whatever they define as French Canadian.
Professor Garigue thinks French Canadians neither have to try to copy English-American industrial society nor to retreat from it. He sees at the University of Montreal one practical effort to shape their own future. The scientific, technical and commercial faculties, areas once left to the “Anglos," are booming—the engineering section already the largest in Canada. In the social-science faculty, the staff is being increased to anticipate a rise in enrolment to five hundred from the present two hundred. That he. with an outsider’s perspective, was called to direct it, he considers a sign that young French Canadians want to dispense with the familiar myths. A major aim of the Faculty is to help them develop a realistic view of themselves to build the future on without breaking with the past.
A significant group of “angry young men" in the province hold that French Canada must break with the past to share in the social and economic advances on this continent, and they assert that Garigue's emphasis cm the resources in their tradition only bolsters the creaking status quo. Garigue says he is not at the university to sell a new thesis about French Canada, or to change Quebec; only to help students organize their own enquiry, make their own changes. When he urges critical appraisal of other viewpoints he expects his own to get the same treatment. He has found plenty of disagreement; what he has not seen around him is inertia. “The University of Montreal is willingly and purposefully cultivating change.’’ Professor Garigue affirms, “and that is in the tradition—the real tradition-—of French Canada.” ★