Trent Frayne's book on B00KIES:

August 26 1961

Trent Frayne's book on B00KIES:

August 26 1961

the real promise of Quebec's revolution


The explosion of French-Canadian nationalism in this decade can and will create — not destroy — the bilingual nation we have only pretended to until now. An arresting statement on the prospects of Canadianism by a distinguished novelist


LAST MAY IN TORONTO, speaking to an acquaintance on the subject of the article I am now about to write — the state of mind of modern Quebec — I was frustrated to hear him say: "But of course, you’ve always been proFrench."

In any context which makes sense, this statement seemed to me unfortunate. My command of the French language still shames me. I have never sympathized with the self-pity of the oldstyle French-Canadian nationalism any more than with the arrogant narrowness of the oldstyle Orange Lodge. I have simply liked and admired most of my French-speaking compatriots and have believed, rightly or wrongly, that 1 understood how they felt. After all, I too come from a defeated minority race. But mostly 1 have admired the tenacity with which they have clung to the basic notion of the Canadian state, namely that if Canada is anything it is the home of two cultures which cannot identify for the simple reason that they don’t speak the same language.

But old attitudes, like old soldiers, never really die; they hang on in the subconscious long after we have believed we have discarded them. The friend who called me pro-French was himself not anti-French. He had merely retained the old idea, prevalent all over Canada for so many years, that the French Fact and the British Fact were in competition, with the purpose that in time one would dominate the other. That the extreme French-Canadian nationalists still think along these lines is beside the point. One stupidity does not make another stupidity right.

Now it is especially stupid for any Englishspeaking Canadian even to think of the British Fact as being real, in the sense that it was real to the original United Empire Loyalists who came up here determined that they’d never let the old flag fall. That original British Fact was never cultural; in the cultural sense, the Americans who shattered its hase were as thoroughly English as the generals in the British army they defeated. The British Fact in America in 1800 was a political fact pure and simple; more than that, it was colonial in spirit. Inevitably, therefore, it came into conflict with the French Fact in Quebec, and to such an extent that Lord Durham complained that in Canada he had found two nations warring within the hosom of a single state.

This old U. E. Loyalist attitude is self-evidently dead today, and the sole thing that could revive it would he evidence that the French Canadians seek to dominate the entire nation and run it on their own terms. Not long ago this was a dream of those French-Canadian nationalists who disliked the English and talked

Tw o nuns and tlte radical lines of a new skyscraper in downtown Montreal symbolize the internal conflict that torments today’s young French-Canadian. He calls himself both anticlerical and a good Catholic. To him, the Church is still a father — but a demanding, old-fashioned, irritating father.

of "By the revenge of the cradles.” But this has no more validity in modern Canadian politics than the Orange society of Toronto. Not only does modern Quebec reject this aim as unworthy and negative; the birth rate has finally condemned it. Since the war the percentage of French-speaking Canadians has been dropping steadily, and with prosperity it will drop further still.

But the survival and preservation of the French Fact in America—that is as alive as it ever was and much more positive and optimistic. Moreover it has immense bearing on the very problem which has been worrying English Canada — the preservation of the Canadian Identity from American pressures.

That is why I believe that the ferment in contemporary Quebec, or "the silent revolution” as it is often called, is the most important development to occur in Canada in many a year. French Canada, though the Englishspeaking provinces seem unaware of this, has entered a climacteric which is causing her to search her inmost soul, and at last she is translating some of her aspirations into positive, realistic action. Quite possibly Quebec holds the key to the salvation of the Canadian Identity about which the rest of us are concerned. That is one more reason why it has never heen more important for English Canada to understand the mind of Quebec than it is now.


English-Canadians know, of course, that Jean Baptiste has gone to town in more ways than one. They know that the basis of Quebec’s economy has shifted from the farms and forests to the cities. They know about the crime in modern Montreal, and even that the crime is to some extent the product of this social change. But in my experience — and I have done a great deal of coast-to-coast traveling in the past two years — not many of them know how this economic revolution has affected the French-Canadian character.

The young French-Canadian of today is a new kind of man in this country. His tradition may be old, and he may love it; his loyalties may be conservative. But he is not at home with them as his grandfather or even his father was. He is torn: his tradition no longer satisfies him, and many of his deepest loyalties frustrate him. He is neurotic—but let us never forget that neurosis is also creative. His mind is whipped by hundreds of new ideas. He has traveled as French Canadians in the past almost never did. Often he has visited Europe and studied there, recovered a sense of his ancient roots in the motherland, visited Rome and the old Latin countries. He has returned not only with an enlarged horizon and with political ideas beside


The blend that makes a young French-Canadian different from an older one or from other Canadians: above, Elvis and somebody named JeanClaude jockey for space on a bobby-soxer’s hat: below, a sculptor wrestles with an art-form that may belong more to the future titan the present.


continued from page 15

A proud province makes some painful admissions: “At last the dirty linen has been put on view”

which those of the United States seem to him stodgy and conservative; he has also acquired a new perspective of his own province. Even the Quebec farmer has lost the security of his old isolation. He has had a television set in his house for ten years, and if television has not introduced him to a better world, it has at least showed him a new one.

The young French-Canadian of today, especially if he has received a college education. is likely to describe himself as an anti-clerical, which means that he thinks of himself as a good Catholic but at the same time resents clerical interference in lay affairs. This is the sharpest point of his neurosis, for the Church is still in the position of a father to him — but of a father he feels is behind the times, excessively demanding and unwilling to allow the son to grow up. While he may long for the free-wheeling individualism of a modern young American, at the same time (for he is loyal) he feels an intense compulsion to advance the interests of the French-Canadian community. To seek success outside of that group amounts to a virtual self-exile, and more than one French-Canadian I know who has taken this course has admitted that he feels lost, deprived and guilty.

This means that when the young FrenchCanadian talks of the survival of FrenchCanadian culture, he is also talking of the survival of himself as an individual worthy of self-respect. And this brings him to another interior conflict. In the past, French-Canadian culture was virtually identified with the French - Canadian church. As Roger Lemelin said recently, a poor boy had the choice of securing a priest’s education through the favor of his curé, or of going to work in the shoe factory. Inevitably, therefore, this new young French-Canadian is forced, whether he wishes it or not, to oppose his Church on many issues. Recently even some prominent clerics have admitted that the time has come for laymen to play a much larger role in education than they have in the past.

If this description of the new young French-Canadian is accurate, then 1 believe that when French-Canadians tell us that Quebec is exploding, they are using exactly the right word. Certainly the explosion in the arts has been as sudden as it has been exciting.

Only yesterday Marin Chapdelaine was the sole French-Canadian "classic” novel, and significantly it was written by a native of France. Only two decades ago there was such a taboo against quality in fiction (it might shame the people and threaten the status quo) that even a novel like Ringuet’s Trente Arpents was considered daring. But look at the situation now!

Writers like Gabrielle Roy, Roger Lemelin. André Giroux, Yves Thériauft and Robert F.lie have won international markets. French poetry burgeons. French theatre, led by Gratiën Celinas and Jean Gascon, produces not only classic and modern works from France, but also native plays by such young men as the astonishingly prolific Marcel Dubé, and in addition sets a theatrical precedent by offering the same plays in English translations with the same casts. Musicians like Pierre Mercure, Michel Perrault and Jean Vallerand are creating music of international stature. Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, though starved of financial support, have displayed some of the most original choreography in North America. As for the painters,

there are so many of excellence that it seems invidious even to single out such famous names as Borduas, Riopelle, de Tonnancour and Pellan.

Most significant of all is the support these Frenctr-C-anadian artists receive from the Quebec government and from the public Jfor work so “modern” that it would ¡have been refused admission to galleries ^even ten years ago. The people love it. vQûdeed. lAe extreme abstractionism of so sor^alïïi^eHt French-Canadian art is the ' . . luJroof anyone can find of Quebec’s

' break with her past. Imagine

' ^ sh-speaking town on this continent

F, .1 T°r a war memorial like the one CP, .timi took from young Armand VaMcourt!

Ñor is art the sole aspect of this explosion in the old province. The patient work of the social scientists in the universities bears fruit in a harvest of men determined that French Canada should live for the future and not for the past. Not only in art, but also in science, engineering and business, must she fulfil herself.

Only the confident dare admit their own faults in public, and French - Canadians have at last reached the place where some of them will say in public that in the past Quebec was not only backward, but allowed her inferiority complex to pretend that some of her worst faults were in fact virtues. The disgraceful evidence produced before the Salvas Commission on political corruption has been as painful to proud French-Canadians as are the admissions made by a proud man to a psychiatrist. But they have been made; at last the dirty linen has been put on view.

Schooling: road to revolution

Education — this is the focus in which Quebec’s revolution now is determined to express itself, nor could any area be more sensitive. To reform the educational system of Quebec as Premier Lesage and Paul Gérin-Lajoie hope to do is to extend the revolution all the way down to the grass roots. In the past the classical college was the core of the system. It produced a deeply religious man. often a cultivated one, but a man narrow nonetheless, and ill-equipped for competition in this modern world. Now the reforms contemplated by the Lesage government, if successful, will lift the whole province severaj locks higher within a single generation. It will make the Quebec society of 1990 as different from that of 1940 as modern England is from that of the eighteenth century.

Now 1 come to a curious phenomenon, and a perfect illustration of the inadequacy of communications between the Canadian two solitudes. This ferment in Quebec has been warming up for years, yet few English-speaking Canadians were really conscious of it. Some are not even aware of it now.

“If all this is happening in Quebec,” a friend from the West said to me only last spring, "why didn't I hear about it before? Any revolution of real magnitude is bound to show up in politics. So frankly 1 think you’re exaggerating. We've always had our problems with Quebec (note the unconscious use of “we’ve”), but they always fade out. The more it changes the more it stays the same, and for the same reason.”

I suppose he meant by "the same reason” the influence of the Church, yet his question had a certain point. Social revo-

cal action. The reason why Quebec’s took ' so long to do so can be given in two words — Maurice Duplessis.

Now that Duplessis is dead, I don’t suppose many would dispute that he came closer to being a dictator than any politician in Canada's history. Because Duplessis made “provincial autonomy” his slogan on the hustings, English-Canadians who remembered Henri Bourassa naturally assumed the late premier was a typical French-Canadian nationalist. He was never anything of the kind. He and the Englishspeaking Canadian and American corporation chiefs understood each other excellently. For him, provincial autonomy meant autonomy for Maurice Duplessis to do pretty well as he liked. Under its cloak he sold to outside corporations more of Quebec’s natural resources than any other premier dreamed of doing, and often on poor terms. In his early days he may have had a necessary function, but as he got older power intoxicated him. He bossed, he corrupted in order to boss, and he was contemptuous of the young whom the corruption and cynicism of his party outraged. He sat on the lid as long as he lived, and for fifteen years he kept the new spirit of Quebec out of the political arena. When he died two years ago some FrenchCanadians felt the same kind of relief felt in Russia on the demise of Stalin. A new w'ind, they knew, was at last going to blow some fresh air into a closed room.

To sit on creative forces such as those ^ in postwar Quebec is dangerous, and when the lid finally blew off, perhaps even an observer as astute as Jean Lesage was taken aback by some of the symptoms he observed. 1 know I was. This spring’s debate about independence for Quebec came to me as a violent shock.

"Do you realize,” a visiting Parisian said to me last winter, “that you’re sitting on top of a bomb here?”

I did not realize it, neither did 1 believe it, but a week later, after a conversation with a young separatist, 1 began to wonder.

“To begin with,” this man said, “understand that we’re not anti-English. This is not the old self-pitying nationalism. This is new. We’ve been debunking some of our history books, and we know perfectly well that if our ancestors had conquered your ancestors they’d have been a lot tougher on y«u than you’ve ever been on us. But none of that matters any more. What matters is now.

"Just look at this situation from our point of view. We live in a country called Canada, and it’s supposed to be bilingual.

But it isn’t. The bilingual Canadian is the French-Canadian who speaks English. Under these circumstances we can never be considered equal here.”

I looked at him in some amazement: s"But if you can speak two languages and ' rest of us can only speak one, that ;es you superior.”

•e gave me an exasperated smile, .leoretically, yes. Actually, no. And do you want to know why? Because you English take it for granted that we mast

a foreign language. When 1 express myself in English . .

“You speak it better than most EnglishCanadians,” I said.

"Thank you. But 1 don’t speak it as well as I speak French. In English only about three-quarters of me comes through. With most of us not even that much comes through. You people simply take it for granted that you get our whole quality out of our self-expression in your language. So naturally we re thought inferior.”

I’ll always have an inferiority complex because my French is so bad.”

He shrugged. "You live in Montreal, and 1 don’t think you really mean it anyway. But the rest of you simply take us for granted. You get sore because the Americans take you for granted. You get sore because the Americans will only notice you if you compete on American terms. We feel the same way about English Canada only more so. because we speak a different language.

"So let’s separate and stay friends in-

tion. Quebec is like a raisin in the .

It can dry up or it can explode, but it explodes, maybe it will make some got wine.”

Naturally. I protested that if Quebc formed a Laurentian Republic, Cañad would be destroyed. More than that, Qu bee would almost certainly be impovei ished and isolated as she has never been i a century. I asked why Quebec could nc fulfil her aspirations within Confederatior

He shook his head: "So long as we’re part of Canada, your businessmen wil

keep on supporting all the reactionaries who hold us hack.”

By now-, of course, everyone understands that this separatist movement has no real political basis. Just the same, when an American reporter asked me if I took it seriously, I answered an emphatic “yes.” As a symptom of a new state of mind, as an extreme declaration of Quebec’s determination to realize her potentials, this man’s views cannot possibly be disregarded. For unless English Canada respects and co-operates with the aims of modern Quebec, the independence movement will certainly become a political force, both dangerous anti powerful. Should it ever dominate Quebec politics, the result would he an unmitigated catastrophe for both the two solitudes. English Canada would never let the nation go down the drain without a struggle. And if it comes to a struggle over this issue, the two solitudes will bleed one another to death.

Therefore it is imperative that English Canada should understand clearly what Quebec’s present aims are, and on what broad concepts they rest. Let's begin with the concepts.

The first is that Erench-Canadians refuse to consider Quebec merely as one province in a confederation of ten. they consider her as French Canada, and for them this is an historical and cultural concept.

The second is that Erench-Canadians, having emerged after three centuries from what Premier Lesage recently called "the protective shell of the Roman Catholic church.” believe that in the near future they can compete culturally, though not politically, with any other small community in the world.

The third concept, following from the second, is that they can realize their destiny solely within the framework of what they call the French-Canadian culture. There, at least, my separatist friend expressed an idea basic to his whole people.

But the fourth concept, at present anyway, is that all these aims should be achieved within Confederation. Anil here it must he said frankly that many ErenchCanadians distrust their English-speaking compatriots.

I hey distrust us not because they doubt our good will, nor again because they dislike us, hut for another reason of which most English-speaking Canadians seem totally unconscious. I would like to spell this out.

Behind much of the thinking in English Canada along national lines is the old Anglo-American concept of “unity,” and the historical Anglo-American manner of achieving it. In the British Isles, national unity was achieved by the all-but-absolute triumph of English methods, values, education and manners over Celtic ones. In the United States, the old-line AngloSaxons imposed, in so far as they could, their own methods, manners and values on the immigrants.

Though English-speaking Canadians in theory deny any such idea in Canada, in practice a good many of them behave as though they assumed it was the only method that would work. In no respect do they reveal this unconscious assumption more strongly than in their unconscious attitude to the two official languages of the nation. Many of them believe that if French is printed on the dollar hills it is a “concession” to the Erench-Canadians. Not long ago I heard an Ontario resident say of a Erench-Canadian: “He’s a wonderful fellow. He thinks just the way we do.”

This idea of unity is intolerable to Quebec. for it carried far enough it means assimilation and the disappearance of French Canada as an historical entity. When Erench-Canadians smell this attitude in their Elnglish-speaking compatriots,

they feel just as I do when an American tells me, as quite a few have done recently: “Join the States and all your worries will be over.”

Now at last the silent revolution in Quebec has received a concrete political expression. Speaking last spring. Premier Eesage declared that the main purpose of his administration is "to reintegrate Quebec into Confederation.” And by this he meant something specific which every French-Canadian understood. He meant that the time has come when FrenchCanadian culture must have its place in the Canadian sun. and (by winning that place through sheer merit) create a situation in which English Canada will at last, in fact no less than in theory, accept the French-Canadian concept of Canada as a nation which is not a unity as European nationalists understand the word, hut the political hinne of two separate hut friendly societies.

Lesage went on tty speak of a "global policy” for the spreading of the economic,

social and cultural values of French Canada. He described Quebec as the protector of French culture wherever it may be found in the land. He declared that coordinated action by the state is now essential to meet the needs of the present day. In the economic sphere he promised that, as soon as present contracts with the outside corporations expire, his government will draw new ones securing to the Quebec people a better return on the use of their natural resources. He concluded: "We will never permit, if humanly possible. the disappointment of this immense hope raised in Erench-Canadians."

Some English-speaking Canadians. 1 suppose, will regard this declaration with distaste if not with open alarm. If so, they waste their emotions. There is not the slightest hostility to English Canada in Lesage. A short while ago he was an excellent minister for northern affairs in the federal government. He has no wish that Quebec should dominate Canada, as the old nationalists once hoped. He merely wishes that the French Fact, reborn with modern education, should realize itself fully within Confederation.

To speak personally, I can only rejoice at the course Quebec’s rebirth seems likely to take. If it succeeds, it will abolish the feeling of inferiority which has been at

the root of the French-Canadian malaise ever since the conquest. But Quebec still has a long, hard course to run before her dreams are a total reality, nor at present is it at all certain that the majority of the Acadians in the Maritime provinces would accept Quebec’s image of herself as their leader. The future alone will determine whether the aims of Quebec's silent revolution are congenial to all the Frenchspeaking Canadians of the other provinces.

Yet surely it is the duty of us Englishspeaking Canadians to help Quebec to realize her aims, and to help ourselves by so doing. There are quite a few little symbolic items on the agenda which should have been attended to long ago. What are they? One very simple gesture would he to make the cheques of all our national hanks bilingual. Another would be to apply this same principle to all programs for concerts and conferences w'hich Erench-Canadians attend. A third would be to make the road signs of all the provinces bilingual just as they are in Quebec. If we become exasperated when American tourists inform us that they cun t tell one side of the border from the other, this would seem a simple methoil of pointing out one very vital difference between Canada and her neighbors.

More important than this—providing we are mature enough to accept that Canada can succeed only as a country with two cultures—the Erench-Canadians in the other provinces should be allowed French language schools just as the Englishspeaking minority is allowed English language schools in Quebec. Last of all. our own English language schools should do something drastic to improve the teaching of French. It is probably an idle dream to expect that people in British Columbia and Toronto will ever speak French as the educated French-Canadians speak English. The necessity to master the other language is not so great and, besides, it is more difficult for us to speak French, and above all to hear French, than it is for them to speak and hear English. But French is not a difficult language to read, and at present our command of it is scfeeble that Ed bet my limited bankroll that there are quite a few editors in English-speaking Canada unable even to read the editorials in Le Devoir.

If we do even some of these things (and we should try to do all of them) we will be making an extremely cheap investment in the nation s future. Since we know that Canada can thrive only if each of the two solitudes is at ease with the other and has confidence in the other, why not make public declarations that the old idea of unity through assimilation is discarded?

It costs little to be gracious in a case when graciousness is merely another word for logical common sense.

At the moment—and this is inevitable— Quebec is intensely self-centred, and French-Canadian intellectuals seem less interested in English Canada than ever before. But this is only because, as 4hey themselves admit, their own problems are so absorbing. ,

“Don’t worry, monsieur.” a French-Canadian barber whom I have known for years said to me only last week. “Twentyfive years from now, this is going to be the happiest country in the world. Once we’ve got our self-respect, we’ll be as proud to belong to the whole of Canada as you’ll he proud of us.”

That is why I think that Quebec, by setting out to heal wounds which many Erench-Canadians admit were self-inflicted, by taking her future into her own hands regardless (on the surface) of the rest of her compatriots, quite possibly holds in those hands the key to Canada's survival as a nation valuable to mankind. it