Excerpt of Quebec Now by Miriam Chapin
This book, which has been out of print for many years, is of particular interest in that it is an account of what Quebec was like in the eye of an English-speaking and bilingual observer, originally from the United States, in the period preceding the Quiet Revolution.
Chapter 2 - How They Talk
(pages 12 to 19)
THE French Canadian child early becomes conscious of his speech. It can never be for him simply a means of communication, taken for granted. Rather it is a knot where twist together a complex of emotional reactions, embarrassment, pride, indignation, defensiveness. If he lives among English neighbours, he will be called "peasouper," either jokingly or hatefully. He will play naturally with those of his own language, and if in a city join with others to fight English gangs. In school he will be told daily to cherish his own tongue; there and in church he will find his speech linked with his religion. He will listen to warnings lest by losing his language he lose his faith also. As he grows older, he will have to learn English in order to earn a decent living, whether he resents the need or not. Some of his leaders will discourage his doing this. His language is a factor in the conflicts into which he is born.
The French language makes the French Canadian, within or without Quebec. The pure French Canadian race, preached by ardent nationalists, is a myth. When the ACJC (Association Catholique de la jeunesse Canadienne) first convened in 1904, the opening resolution proclaimed, "The French Canadian race has a special mission to fulfil on this continent, and it must for that reason keep its character distinct from other races." Other resolutions affirmed the special aptitude of the race for this mission, and held for certain that the integral practice of Catholicism, lived by the individual and society, is the remedy for all the ills of society. That theory of a chosen people persists. Racialism is an accepted belief. But men with Scottish and Irish names, Italian and even Basque, descendants of the king's soldiers or later comers, are utterly Canadien.1
Nor is religion a strict dividing line, though to the rest of Canada French means Catholic. The Irish Catholic usually is part of the English community and accepted thereby2. In Ontario his children go to the public school; in Quebec he sometimes pays double for their schooling because his taxes go to the Catholic school commission while he pays tuition to a Protestant school because no other English-speaking one is convenient. The Irish complain regularly to the Catholic commissions that there are too few English Catholic schools. The small Huguenot group is as loyal to French Canada as any of their neighbours, but for them life is difficult, since the schools make religion the dividing line, while the community makes language. They are cut off from their language group; none the less, their speech fixes their allegiance3.
Nowhere is the mother tongue more consciously cherished than in Quebec, nor more threatened by alien forces. A constant propaganda for the use of French goes on; a stream of articles and radio talks pours forth to urge keeping the language pure and using it on every possible occasion. The Société du bon parler français works to extend and correct its use. The most good-natured French Canadian shows understandable irritation when he has to get off a streetcar in Montreal to avoid a scene with half drunk soldiers from Ontario who order him to "speak white". He may complain sardonically that, "In a restaurant in my own city, Montreal, a French city, I am asked by a waitress to give my order in English." The most touching scene in Gabrielle Roy's Tin Flute is that where the weary mother drags herself up from St. Henri to see her dying child in the charity hospital on the mountain. She calls to him in French-and he answers in English. I have known French Canadian homes where the mother would burn every scrap of English printing that came in.
The situation in which to western Canada the French language means popery, clerical meddling, reactionary and corrupt politics, is a Canadian tragedy. The language of the Marseillaise, of Voltaire, of Anatole France, Proust and Zola often suggests to Toronto nothing but Roman Catholicism. If it were not for the stout fight the Church has put up to maintain it, French might have long since disappeared on this side of the Atlantic, but to make it synonymous with clericalism is a heavy price to pay. It is that connotation which has compelled too many French children in western provinces to suffer from teaching in English when they were too young to profit by it.
But when an embassy rouses indignation because, though its officials speak French, it gives a press conference in English, when an airline is criticized for sending advertising to French papers in English, it must be remembered that attachés and managers know well that French reporters understand English, and English ones don't understand French. Any organization which can't afford to print in two languages must choose English, deplorable though it may be.
English Canadians, with the rare exception, simply do not speak French. Only 3 per cent are bilingual. They can get along comfortably without it. So they do. French is so badly taught in the Protestant schools of Quebec that a boy graduating from high-school may pass an exam on the rules governing the agreement of the past participle, but be quite unable to pass the time of day with the garbageman.
Until recently English was not begun in the Catholic schools before the 6th grade. Many children drop out before that. English used to be the accomplishment of the well-to-do, the professional classes, who speak it excellently. It was neither necessary nor desirable for humbler folk, who might be contaminated by liberal ideas, or become too friendly with les Anglais, or get notions of rising above their station. The sheer force of industrial upheaval has changed all that. Only the remote country-dweller or the unskilled labourer can now do without English, and he is hampered. Clerks in stores, tram conductors, office help, any man who has to read directions for setting up a machine, must be bilingual. Indeed, the use of English in the towns sharpens the line between city and country man, leads to mistrust of these too fluent city folks.
Since the English do not commonly speak French, their language is little altered by association. One hears the occasional French phrase in English speech, but it is a decoration, not an essential part. In contrast, Canadian French has altered greatly, especially in the last fifty years. Its foundation is Norman, its background maritime. Quebec still embarks on, debarks from, car or train. Within the province accent varies; the capital is said to have the purest and prettiest langue, Gaspé the coarsest. Among country folk, it is distorted as in rural France. Bien becomes ben, puis as pis begins every sentence, rien que sounds like yinque, moi and toi are moé and toé. Old forms like icitte are common. Indian words like moccasin and canot were absorbed long ago. Expressions for frontier and farm were developed, new names found for New World things and occasions.
But the constant deprecation of Canadian French one hears is part of the rulers' guilt complex. "These people don't talk real French," a statement one hears over and over, is simply nonsense. It is not true that a Parisian will not be readily understood in Quebec. He will be, but he will be identified at once as French, just as an Englishman will be spotted as soon as he opens his mouth in a Kansas town. French Canadian susceptibilities are kept ruffled by such remarks as that of a gentleman addressing a good roads conference in Quebec City, who calmly announced that he would speak in English because he had learned his French in Paris and knew his hearers would not understand him. Minister of Roads Talbot responded drily that at Laval's centenary the week before "we listened to the leading savants from the Sorbonne, and did not require interpreters." It is true that country people use a dialect. So does the Vermont farmer and the Texan rancher in English. But Canadian French spoken by educated people is good French. Where however it does diverge from standard is by the vast number of English words spliced into sentences, usually without the speaker's apparently being conscious that he is not talking straight French. His hearer, listening to the French lilt, has to thinly twice to sort out the English words-as probably William the Conqueror did. Il voulait me snobber, je feel pas comme ça, ces gars-la n'étaient has smart, j'ai jompé ma job, mon char s'est stucké - those are all remarks that sound French when spoken, but in which the key words are English, equipped with French endings and pronounced with French vowels.
English idioms are translated literally: marchandises sèches for dry goods, pouvoir d'eau instead of force hydraulique, sauver du trouble instead of épargner des ennuis.
Words that concern money and machinery are usually English. A garage man will understand you better if you say Fixez mes tires than if you talk about pneus. Engin, washer, brakes, valve, are ordinary terms. Cash is oftener used than argent comptant, ticket than billet. A woman asks her butcher, Combien le ham tenderizé? The passive form crowds out the indefinite on; les chiens ont été vu, not on a vu les chiens.
If Canada were a lonely island, in some ideal and rarefied clime where prejudices vanish and all men are brothers, it would be easy to make it a bi-national state, according to French its priority in Quebec and the equality in the federal courts and the Ottawa administration guaranteed by the British North America Act, trusting to its users and the enthusiasm of English Canadians for learning it, to preserve it everywhere else. But the weight of American power, so near, so overwhelming, makes English indispensable as in so many other lands. Victor Barbeau in his Le Ramage de mon pays spells out the crux of the matter: "The thousands of barbarisms which are the only means of expression of the mass witness our economic inferiority. Our language reflects our social condition. All enterprises belong to the English-speaking." Not absolutely true, but close.
There are contrary currents. In sports, when French Canadians have taken them for their own and been successful in them, they have made the vocabulary French. Baseball is now part of Quebec life. (Lacrosse has practically vanished.) So the loudspeakers proclaim, "Schultz lance maintenant pour Newark." A base hit is a coup sur, right field is champ de droit. In hockey, where les Canadiens are the most picturesque and often the winning team, all but the name is French. A puck is a rondelle, the goalkeeper gardien des buts, the forwards les avants. French is still an intensely living tongue, ready to adapt itself to new uses.
It survives in North America, a demonstration of the clutch it has on hearts. Marius Barbeau, the great French Canadian ethnologist, sadly predicts its disappearance. That day would be a very unhappy one for Canada. It may never come, it need never come. Meanwhile French determination to preserve the language and English lack of comprehension of that loving determination make a cleavage too deep for easy healing. Many English Canadians are aware of the need to close it. They make progress. But there were still in Montreal in 1954, restaurants of a big chain, and department stores, where it was forbidden to the employees to use French among themselves. Naturally they may use it to customers!
The battle is fought on two fronts, the struggle to keep French pure and in a position of equality and respect, in government, army, business and social life, and the struggle of the mass of the people to acquire the English they must have to raise themselves economically. In that ideal Canada of which we dream, they will get their education for the modern world, tempered with their French clarity and sensitivity. But also French will be valued and fostered, and the links with the best in France will be strengthened.
Chapter 6 - The Cleric and the Layman
(pages 64 to 80)
It follows that it is never permitted to ask, to defend, to grant the liberty to think, to write, to teach what a man wishes, whether right or wrong, and also the indiscriminate liberty of religion, as so many rights which nature has given to man. It follows equally, nevertheless, that these different kinds of liberty may for reasonable causes be tolerated, provided that proper moderation keeps them from degenerating into license and disorder. - Cardinal Villeneuve
PRIESTS and nuns are people like the rest of us. To be sure, they undergo a very special training, they live in a restricted atmosphere, but even so, in Quebec they come out of the mass of the people. Poverty is no hindrance to advancement in the Church. The younger men, the curés, are in daily contact with ordinary folk, they share their thoughts and concerns. In French Canada it is a rare family that has no religieux among its near relatives. Practically everyone has been educated by nuns and priests or teaching brothers.
French Canada gets much of its impression of the rest of the world from missionaries coming home, most of them from colonial or semi-colonial countries. An Oblate from South America tells of the terrible poverty among the nitrate miners of Chile, of the inhuman life in the deserts around the mines. Another remarks that the jewels on the altars of La Paz might be better employed in paying for parochial schools for Indian children. The reports of Franciscans expelled from China have given Quebec its picture of life under the Communist regime. Oblate Father Guilbault comes back from Basutoland to raise money for a seminary there, and guardedly suggests that the white man fears to educate the black man, that the black man has good reason to resent injustice. The sympathy of Quebec goes out to any people under foreign domination.
That is only one small part of the impact of the clergy on French Canadian life. Society would stagger if the priests and religious orders were to vanish overnight. Not only education, but all the social services are under their supervision. Not all the influence runs from cleric to layman. The clergy react to the demands for modern education, for higher wages, for more freedom of thought. They too are French Canadians. The Church is a national church. It takes its authority direct from Rome; it has always stood off interference from the Irish priests who make up the hierarchy in the United States and Ontario.
The priests differ among themselves. The rural parish ones live pretty much in the old world; they know every family, they advise their congregations how to vote, usually for National Union, they stay in one parish for years and are part of the community. But in industrial towns some of the priests fight alongside their parishioners in strikes, and they certainly don't advise them to vote for National Union. They would be laughed at if they did.
To an outsider the Church looks monolithic. He is apt to believe that all Catholics are devout, that all accept and obey every dictum of the Church, that the hierarchy itself sees with a single eye and speaks with a single voice. He could not be more wrong. The Church is torn by disputes on questions of doctrine and expediency, as it has ever been. Certainly, when there is a threat from without, ranks close and authority prevails. But occasionally in minor matters, differences pop into the open. When the late Msgr. Desranleau of Sherbrooke ordered his people not to join the "neutral" societies like Rotary (Free Masonry has always been beyond the pale), the Dominicans issued a pamphlet arguing against him, until the Pope backed him up.
The dismissal of Archbishop Charbonneau of Montreal was an upheaval which shook the Catholic world. The Archbishop was one of those who try to push the Church toward the side of Labour. During the strike in the asbestos mines, he proclaimed from the pulpit. "When there is a conspiracy to destroy the working-class, the Church must intervene." Sweeping along with him a reluctant Archbishop Roy of Quebec, he ordered collections for the strikers at every Catholic Church door throughout the Province. That was more than enough to make Premier Duplessis desire his downfall. If "le cheuf" had read a book, he might have exclaimed like Henry II, "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" As it was, two trusty knights, in the guise of Quebec cabinet ministers, sped post-haste to Rome. Shortly after their return to Quebec and reportedly after receiving a midnight visit from officers of the Provincial Police, the Archbishop submitted his resignation to the Pope, "for reasons of health," and climbed on a plane for Victoria, B.C. From thence he assured an inquiring Montreal girl reporter that he never felt better in his life. If only Princes of the Church published their memoirs!
Archbishop Joseph Charbonneau was a strikingly handsome man, authoritative as a priest must be, brilliant, cultured, perfectly bilingual. Indeed, he was not wholly popular with his clergy, for that very reason - he was not un des nôtres, for he came from Ontario and had received part of his formation in the United States. Nevertheless, judging from a casual remark he made to me in 1942, he was as nationalist as anyone of them could wish: "Why should we fight for Liberty, when we are denied our liberties?"
He had made other enemies besides the Premier. He had urged strongly, and had appointed to the Catholic School Commission a prelate who would advance his views, that the few French public high schools, wholly inadequate in numbers and facilities, should be enlarged and give courses leading to the universities. This would cut into the monopoly of the classical colleges in higher education. They are private schools run by the Jesuits, Sulpicians, Clercs de St. Viateur, and other orders. They are powerful foes. That particular priest is no longer on the Commission. One day Premier Duplessis openly chided him, telling him the business of the Commission was elementary education. Yet the changes Msgr. Charbonneau advocated are slowly being made, forced by public demand, while he stays in exile, a humble chaplain in an institution, filling the sort of job usually assigned to old and nearly useless priests.
His successor, Cardinal Paul-Emile Leger, Archbishop of Montreal, has so far given the Premier no worry at all. He interferes in no strikes, he has done his best to eliminate the troublesome teachers' union of Montreal, which Charbonneau tacitly encouraged, he works very hard at his pastoral duties, behaving as an ecclesiastical rather than a political prelate. His press-agent sees to it that his good-looking countenance appears every day if possible - and it usually is - in every French newspaper of Montreal, and most of the English ones. His most conspicuous achievement so far as English Montreal is concerned, has been the ordinance passed by the City Council at his request, closing all stores on eight Catholic holy days. The big English-owned department stores are fighting this through the courts, and they with hundreds of smaller establishments keep open and pay the fines. The only Communist member of the Council (since expelled) voted with the majority on that occasion, on the ground of national rights.
But the Cardinal may soon find himself in politics, willy-nilly. Since the Church threw its weight behind the campaign to elect Jean Drapeau Mayor of Montreal the question arises if it will continue its support when the going gets tough. For certainly if Drapeau fights to gain independence for Montreal, to settle its own problems of liquor-control, traffic, taxation, housing, vice and crime, he will run head on into the provincial administration. And he will need all the help he can get.
There are three archbishops in Quebec, and some sixteen bishops, whose dioceses are mostly divided between the authorities of Quebec and Montreal. In all Canada there are about 7,000 French-speaking priests, the majority in Quebec of course. 2,500 are assorted in 35 orders, Jesuit, Franciscan, Trinitarian, Trappist, and so on. The rest are abbés, canons, curés, prelates of various ranks. There are about 6,000 brothers who teach, are employed in institutions, work as missionaries, or occupy themselves in prayer. Nearly 37,000 French-Canadian nuns are grouped in 140 congregations, mostly in Quebec. They teach, run hospitals, care for the insane, the old, the blind, the deaf and dumb, the orphans, the delinquent girls and unmarried mothers. They visit the poor, solicit alms, do all sorts of welfare work. They are Sisters of the Sacred Heart, of the Immaculate Conception, of the Five Wounds, of the Precious Blood, or are merely called the Gray Nuns, an order holding large properties in Montreal. An unknown number, perhaps a thousand women, spend their time in prayer and self-discipline. Certain orders are cloistered, and never leave their convent grounds. Others go about freely, in pairs, with pupils or on begging errands. The effort to make the long habits more practical for street and school wear has not yet shown results in Quebec, though at least one order wears pastel robes within the convent walls.
It is a very considerable drain to withdraw from a community of four million so many of its best intellects and noblest intentions, to deprive them of family life, of the hope of children born in honour. The value set on celibacy tends to accentuate the notion of women's inferiority, to make men and women regard each other as sources of temptation rather than as companions, to inculcate the idea that sex is somehow shameful. It exalts self-denial, not self-realization, as the highest estate of mankind.
It is no easy matter to become a priest. The brightest boy in a family or school is likely to be picked by his mother or his teacher, and directed along the way. His mother may believe, longing for his safety in after-life, that a priest goes straight to Heaven without a stay in Purgatory, or she may be considering his safety in this world, in that he will be exempt from any army draft. The pressure, though gentle, may be imperative. A letter to a French newspaper columnist from a youth of twenty said: "Ever since I can remember, they have said to me, 'Toi, to seras prêtre!' When I was little, I said like a good parrot, that indeed I would be a priest. But now I know that I have no taste for the priesthood. I have prayed, I have consulted the Fathers, who said that if truly I had no vocation, it was useless to go on. My family will have none of it. My mother says she will die of grief ..." It was signed, "Soul in Peril".
Once entered, a candidate may be rejected for stupidity, for wrong political ideas, for any evil trait that might injure the Church. Probably only about a third win through. It is becoming hard to get suitable recruits. To become a Jesuit priest takes ten long years of the most intense application: two for the novitiate, two for the juvenate, three for philosophy and science, three for final theology. Periods of meditation and of prayer are as rigorous as in Yoga.
Selection for the sisterhoods operates on slightly different lines. Few girls are picked in childhood, unless they show some obvious disqualification for marriage, or some special religious zeal. A girl usually chooses for herself. She may be shy and homely, she may neither wish nor be able to attract a husband, she may simply have the urge to sacrifice herself to help others. The orders offer security and prestige. If she is independent, intelligent and rich, she may found an order of her own for some special work, or look forward to being the mother superior of some convent. Such a career can be satisfying and important. At St. Jean de Dieu, the mental hospital near Montreal, the Sisters of Providence run a community of 6,000. The woman at the head of such an enterprise must know how to deal with politicians and dicker with contractors; she speaks with authority. Rarely, a girl leaves a sisterhood; it is not impossible, though it may be costly. At least one woman who was once a cloistered nun is now a wife and mother, and still lives in Quebec.
The parish priests, under the bishops of their dioceses, carry the daily burden; they say mass, visit the sick, baptize, marry, give the last sacrament, hear confessions, bless the crops, guide their people's thinking on everything from vaccination to hydrogen bombs. In remote villages they are the chief source of information about the outside world, and they are expected to take the lead in any community enterprise, whether it be a co-operative or a new schoolhouse. For two hundred years and more, in Gaspé, the priest was the man who had to build the bonfire and keep the bell ringing to guide the fishermen home in fog and storm. As mechanisms take his place, as the villages have more relationship with the outer world, the priest becomes less essential, more confined to routine duties. If he is an able man, he meets the challenge by branching out in new fields.
In Quebec, alongside the hierarchy, the men's religious orders have acquired special importance. They supply teachers, preachers for special occasions, editors of journals, advisors to officials, librarians, trained men for any demanding job. They are the shock troops. The rivalries between them are sometimes funny, sometimes acid. Jesuits and Dominicans are traditionally opposed, and there are other longstanding feuds. Once a charming young Franciscan to whom in a far-off land I had offered to send his hometown newspaper thanked me by saying, "Madame, you will permit me to pray for you?"
I answered, "Surely. But I've already got a Jesuit friend who prays for me. Do you think that would do, for you to pray too?"
"Ah no," he said with an impish grin, "They would confleect!"
The Jesuits are very powerful. They own the best theatre in Montreal (there is no good one, and theirs is small), where they have been notably liberal in the choice of plays they have permitted to be produced. They run some of the Catholic Action groups for young French Canadians. They publish the monthly, Relations, whose carefully written articles often interpret Church policy. But when Relations published some articles by Burton LeDoux, an American of Quebec descent, on the scandalous conditions in certain China clay plants, and the even more scandalous neglect by the provincial Workmen's Compensation Board of the pleas from men dying of silicosis and from the widows of those who had died, the editor of Relations was swiftly removed and replaced by another more discreet Jesuit father. No more such articles have appeared to offend industry or the Premier.
The Dominicans are few in number, and have no direct share in secondary education; they preach, they publish a review, they work in psychiatry, reconciling modern knowledge with Catholic belief; they are interested in all the arts, especially painting. The best-known Dominican is Father Georges Lévesque, Dean of Social Sciences at Laval University. He has been a storm centre for years, and thrives on it. Extraordinarily good-looking in his white habit, attractive, a delightful companion, a brilliant, witty speaker, a thoroughly civilized man, he has gathered about him at the old university a team of young men who make Laval a Roman candle of ideas. They work for absurdly low salaries. Within Catholic doctrine, accepting the papal encyclicals and the bishops' pastoral letters as guides, they demand for labour a share in the profits of industry. They are carefully watched. When Father Gerard Dion of Laval criticized American capitalists for "exploiting cheap French Canadian labour," Premier Duplessis slashed at him in a press conference. Father Dion withdrew his statement, and went on a trip to the Argentine to study conditions there.
Laquemac is a summer camp in the Laurentians for workers in adult education. It is sponsored jointly by McGill and Laval. A meeting-place for men and women of all faiths, it has worked magnificently. Priests in lumberjack shirts have been known to call for square dancing, Protestant ministers learn to stammer in French. Father Lévesque was one of the original founders.
He was a valuable member of the Massey Commission on Arts and Sciences, which held hearings all across Canada. He sat beaming, his hands tucked into his wide sleeves, while Msgr. Maurault, rector of the University of Montreal, attacked UNESCO and asserted Canada should pull out of it. Then he fired some rapid questions which showed how wide can be the differences of opinion within the Church. Msgr. Maurault was presenting the orthodox view, for UNESCO is not seen with favour; it is far too freethinking. Father Lévesque has also been under attack for signing the Commission Report advocating federal aid to the universities.
The Church allows a measure of freedom to some of its gifted servants. Father Emile Legault, for fifteen years director of the theatre group, Les Compagnons de St. Laurent, gave his full time to the undertaking, and wore ordinary black clerical suits, not the soutane. He acted every part in rehearsals, but never appeared on stage. Brother Marie-Victorin was a great botanist; he built up and directed Montreal's Botanical Gardens. François Hertel, poet and essayist, lived in his own apartment and made his friends where he chose, though in orders.
The campaign to make French Canadians conscious of their affinity to Latin America, with the hope of forming a great Latin Catholic bloc, has been a failure as far as the mass of the people is concerned. It remains the special project of a small ecclesiastical and intellectual group. The provincial mentality is itself a block to any great interest in the world outside, unless it constitutes a threat. Quebec cares little what goes on in Brazil or Argentina. Nor are the practical politicians exactly ardent on the subject. Neither Peron nor Somoza swings a single vote in Charlevoix. Then, too, the vision has to be drastically modified by the necessity of fitting it into the pattern of American power in the nations to the South, and by the fact that most Latin countries are nowhere nearly as Catholic as Quebec. Cardinal Villeneuve made a triumphal visit to Mexico, carried in a procession which was illegal at the time, and brought criticism in the Mexican press. But since then interest has faded, though L'Union des Latins d'Amerique fosters it, with the patronage of the Spanish consuls.
The curious attitude of even devout Catholics toward what I have heard them call "the religious disorders," at first startles the naive Protestant. When one works on any social service project with Catholic women, one notices how they sheer away from any suggestion of consulting the nuns. Their own confessors or priestly advisors, certainly - but not the sisters. They shrug and make a little grimace. "If they get onto what we're trying to do, they'll take it right over." Business men feel somewhat the same way about any visit from les religieux. They fear, and with good reason, that their ideas may turn up in some clerical enterprise, and there is nothing they can do about it. A printing firm, for instance, whose owner displeased one order, was labelled communist in the schools where it did business.
Catholic laymen run the gamut all the way from the believer who kneels in the street when the statue of the Virgin from Cap de la Madeleine is carried past (more women than men in that category) to the bitter anti-clerical. One meets the successful lawyer who says firmly, "Je suis croyant," and another, equally successful, who scoffs at all religion. It is no easy glide to leave the Church and keep on living in Quebec, for careers depend on it, even livelihoods. The functions of civil life are tied in with the Church. To register a birth, one is expected to produce a certificate of christening from a minister, though in Montreal a civil registration can be obtained with some exertion. There is no civil marriage. To enter school, to be cared for at clinic or hospital, to receive poor relief, child or adult must classify himself as French Catholic, English Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish. Doctors must be outwardly conformist to have access to the French hospitals. Lawyers find employment in the charge of the Church's revenues and investments, secrets to all but the inner circle. Occasionally bits of information leak out, as when one order got into difficulty after the 1929 stock market crash. The Province kindly bought up their library and left it in their care.
The income of the Church? One can only guess. It holds lands granted it in early days, and others bequeathed it by those hoping for salvation. Some are covered with fine buildings, others are great forest tracts. None pay taxes. In Montreal alone, 700,000 persons go to mass every Sunday, and on the ten days of obligation. Ten cents is the price of a pew, and at least ten cents is expected in the collection. In villages, visitors have been amused to see the priest direct the acolyte, money-box in hand, back to some parishioner who had not given as he should. The basic figure for Montreal must be around $9 million a year. Then there are the millions due for special masses for the ill, the missing, the souls of the dead, and for the weddings, christenings, burials. Medals bring substantial sums. Candles are sold, bingo games were played until Msgr. Charbonneau found them scandalous, and still take place sometimes. Always money must be raised to build or repair the great churches. The obsession with immense structures to the glory of God recalls the fate of the Mayas and the Egyptians, who exhausted their peoples in piling up heaps of stone, so that they had no strength to resist the invader when he came.
Certain nuns spend all their days in begging, always in pairs. Msgr. Gautier [sic] announced one day from the pulpit that he thanked the Lord for his generosity, since, he said, every day a hundred nuns pass from door to door in Montreal, begging for the Sacred Heart Hospital in Cartierville, run by the Sisters of Providence. Each one was required to bring in a thousand dollars a week, but often received more. Five million dollars a year for the hospital isn't bad at all. The first step toward modernizing Quebec's social services would be a system of annual public reports on the finances of the institutions.
Perhaps a quarter of the money goes for social service; the rest for the upkeep of buildings, the tribute to the Vatican, publications, investment, the priesthood. Occasionally the Church puts on a big show, such as one of the Marian Congresses, or a special celebration.
Many professional and business men adopt a resigned conformism. They give the bishop a drink of Scotch when he calls, and a tribute for his charities. They pay the regular contributions, add the extra high mass when a daughter is married or a parent buried, shrug when the Church is mentioned, and tell dirty stories about priests.
The open anti-clericals are fewer now than thirty years ago, when rebellion was more difficult and more fashionable. Jean-Charles Harvey, who once meant to be a priest, is entirely outside the Church, and writes against it. Others are like Senator Bouchard of St. Hyacinthe, Liberal and liberal, rich enough to stand alone, who has fought the clergy all his life, exposed their secret manoeuvres during the war in a Senate speech, attacked their hold on education, demanded better teaching of science and English in French schools, asked for friendship and understanding between the peoples. Yet he and those who work with him protest their Catholicism. Such men will die with the holy wafer between their lips, the soothing murmur of absolution in their ears. The Church has always had men like that; it does not fear them.
The left-wing Catholic intellectuals in Montreal are grouped around the review Cité Libre. Remaining devout, believing that the Roman version of Christianity is the only way to the world's salvation, they do not hesitate to speak loud and clear against the acts of the clergy when they disapprove. Men like these too the Church has known, men like Pascal and Molinos, who led great heresies. They must be watched all the more carefully because some of them are connected with the Catholic unions, and have influence therein. Neither capitalist nor communist; they can quote Sartre and Camus and Claudel, or Lenin and St. Augustine. There is nothing quite like them in English Canadian life.
Gerard Pelletier's a thin, dark, tense young man who looks as if he never got enough sleep and probably doesn't, is one of the editors of Cité Libre. He also directs publicity for the Catholic Syndicates, and has edited their weekly, Le Travail. When he reviewed a Jesuit's book on labour relations in scathing terms, and was rebuked by a subscriber, he slashed back, "It is a book we are criticizing, not the Holy Trinity." That is a rather new note in Quebec. He takes on any opponent he thinks is worth a battle. One week he tells his readers that four of Duplessis' ministers are enemies of Labour, and three of them go down to defeat in the election, buried under Syndicate votes. Another day he publishes a long, painstakingly documented article, in beautiful French, explaining that the salaries of Montreal Catholic teachers are low because les religieux and les religieuses work for so little, and admonishing the Archbishop for his attitude to the teachers' union. Then he and his pretty wife-they have four small children-go on a radio forum to explain child psychology to Quebec parents. Between times he watches television and writes funny, sharp criticism of radio and TV for Le Devoir, or radio plays of his own. Life is not exactly dull for people like that.
The threat to the Church lies in none of these, any more than it does in the intemperate attacks of Toronto Orangemen. It lies in the apathy, the utter indifference, of the city workman, in his growing reliance on company nurse and doctor instead of on a pilgrimage to Brother André's Shrine, in his mingling with men of other language and ways of thinking, in his dependence on his boss and his union organizer for advice and help, rather than the curé. He may even, as more than one Catholic has done in my presence, criticize the Church. Many for instance, think priests should be permitted to marry. As one woman commented, "Some who are completely dedicated would not wish to. But others-good priests too. I think it would be better. They do in the Eastern Church." Others complain about the birth-control regulations. And others just grumble about expense! A writer from the Cité Libre editorial board, describing French Canada to French readers in the Parisian magazine Esprit, said: "In the towns the parish no longer forms, either socially or nationally, an organic cell joined to the realities of daily life. Even religiously it is no longer anything but an administrative unit for the registration of civic affairs".
Outside the rites of passage, the ordinary, city dweller need not come in contact with the Church unless he wishes to. He almost never turns Protestant; usually he becomes a "non-practising" Catholic, who takes a realistic view of his environment, and adapts himself to it as comfortably as he can.
In education, however, the Church keeps its hold, literally for dear life.
Chapter 8 - Womenfolk
(Pages 96 to 108)
LIKE the children, women in Quebec seem never to have been just persons. They are pawns in the game, ornaments or slaves, means to pleasure, temptations to sin, instruments for the production of children, members of a labour force, but not quite people. Now that they are becoming recognized as people they are making a revolution in Quebec.
The hope of making Canada a French Catholic state has rested on the fecundity of the French Canadian woman. The plan has not worked out, because somewhere along the route that woman discovered she had hands and a brain as well as a womb. The principle of the revanche des berceaux, the revenge of the cradles, was stated in its purest form by the Jesuit Father Lalande in 1918. He described the ideal Canadienne mother as one who took the first son from the cradle to replace him with his younger brother, while telling him that next year a little sister would take his place. The family of fourteen children is the exemplar of the clerical nationalist. He is perplexed and outraged by the change in woman's occupation and status. The average age of marriage for Quebec women has risen to 25, which in itself cuts down the birthrate. Families of two, three and four are common. The trouble seems to be that if Ma is running a turret lathe or an adding machine, maybe she doesn't want a baby this year, and if she manages to, hang on to her pay envelope, maybe she won't have one.
The doctrine of the revanche was explained more moderately by Paul Sauriol in Le Devoir in 1949. Rejoicing over the fact that for the first time in 1945 there were more births in Canada from French stock than from all others combined, he said: "The real danger would be for us to weary of the constant struggle of a minority, to doubt our future before events like the present immigration. The temptations of a living standard easier than that of a numerous family, the attacks on family and morale waged by our surrounding customs, radio, cinema, journals, could weaken our traditions and our birthrate. We must show our people that our birthrate can assure the defence of our political position."
The fact that women do not as a rule, enjoy pregnancy and childbirth has never been of much concern to men or priests. They hate to admit that in order to accept gladly the pain, and drudgery, mothers must want their children, must see a prospect of bringing them up in joy. The woman who had to look, forward only to year after year of dreary pregnancies, bringing forth babies of whom a third would die before their first birthdays, could hardly have come gaily or even affectionately to her marriage bed. Once in a while one sees in a Quebec village the proud mother of many sons and daughters, but more often such mothers have been worn out and old at thirty.
Only an agricultural society with free land in plenty can afford to sanction unbridled procreation. The productivity of French Canadian women is a phenomenon attributed to various causes, one being the amount of E and K vitamins in the pea soup which used to make up so large a share of the farm diet. However that may be, the day has gone by when a big family was an asset. There are few lands left for the younger sons, after the older ones are provided for. Now more than half the population lives in towns. Women have long tended the bobbins in the textile mills; now they work in hundreds of factories, in thousands of offices.
Perhaps life in crowded tenements, away from sunlight, itself lessens fecundity. No one knows exactly why countries with high living standards tend to fewer births; contraception alone cannot explain it. In any case the French Canadian who lives in a three room flat at the back of a big immeuble in Verdun no more wants a big family than his Scottish neighbour does. If his wife also works outside their home, her child-bearing lowers the family income as it would not if they were on a farm, where she could rest from hoeing and baking while she nursed the baby. French Canadian women in the city are not isolated; they talk with non-Catholics and they learn to use contraceptives while conveniently forgetting to confess the sin. Or they may simply refuse their husbands their privileges, which does not conduce to happy family life. The parish priest in the city is not aided by local gossip in his supervision to the extent than he is in the village. Not all priests try their best to enforce the rules. A social worker I knew, a Catholic woman, went to consult her director in an Ottawa district. She told him of a woman with ten children, in wretched health. "Can't I send her to a doctor for information," she asked.
The priest answered her brusquely. "What do you ask me for?" he said. "Use your common sense."
The population grows for better reasons than the urge to bear many babies - it grows because there are no longer, as Mr. Sauriol noted, the tens of thousands of little white coffins marching to the cemeteries. It is of course within the range of possibility that without a massive immigration Canada might become a Catholic country - or even with it. The proportion now is about 6 out of 14, including Irish Catholics. But before that happens, if it does, enormous changes toward greater freedom will have taken place within the fold of the Church - and many of the clergy desire them.
The war had a great effect on the position and thinking of women. Married ones who had once held jobs and given them up, or had never worked outside their homes, pushed into munition factories, happy to make good wages for a time. They held responsible posts, checking over shells, operating complicated machinery, spending their money independently, if not always wisely. They sent their children to the few day nurseries the Government was forced to open, left them on the street, or clubbed together with other families, paying one mother to watch over several broods.
That was only an accentuation of the change already going on. For thirty years French Canadian girls have been infiltrating the office world as typists and secretaries. Such employees in Montreal need to be bilingual, and French girls are more apt to have both languages than English ones. The convents had to give business training or lose their pupils. They had always turned out girls good at spelling and penmanship; now they trained such good secretaries that many English-speaking girls enrolled in their courses. The training they gave was never meant to develop initiative. Girls depended on the boss as they had been brought up to depend on father and then husband. But at least they had an alternative to marriage or the convent-or to existence t as the dependent old maid, drudge of the household. If they lived at home, their wages might be engulfed in the family purse, but more and more they learned to hang onto them. And if they married, and marriage failed, they could go back to work. They had a trade.
Under Quebec law, a single woman, maid or widow, has complete control of her own property. A married woman, married in Quebec, who has no marriage contract stipulating her rights, lives in community of property with her husband, and he controls it. Even with a contract, she cannot without his permission dispose of stock or real estate, though she may have her own bank account, and since 1931 she has the right to her own wages. It was a triumph to get that law passed. She cannot be director of a corporation, even of a charity committee if it handles money, without his written consent. Nor can she borrow from a bank. A husband can, however, give his wife a general authorization as a public trader, so. that she can manage her own business. But she must have his signature. Nowadays women do most of the shopping, so lawyers have worked out a theory of tacit authorization, to insure that if a woman gets credit for household goods, her husband will have to pay. No hospital will accept, unless in desperate and unusual circumstances, a wife for an operation without her husband's consent. Her own agreement to pay would not be legally binding. If her child is ill, she has to wait for his father's permission to get him surgical care, or apply for a court order. She may not even apply for a legal separation without a court order, though that is usually given as a routine matter.
The husband is the head of the family in Quebec, no matter how unworthy he may be. In a 1949 case, a woman brought her husband into court on charges of beating her. It turned out she had interfered when he had beaten their daughters, aged 11 and 12, because against his orders she had sent them to stay with a neighbour while she was away at work. Justice Irénée Lagarde dismissed the man's shamefaced plea of guilty, after a doctor said that though the blows were severe they did not endanger life. The judge said, "We must not forget that the father commands. Too many women seem to forget that today. Is it not better that the children should be corrected than to let them see the unhappy spectacle of a mother who revolts and tries to hinder that correction?"
It is only fair to note that most judges in such cases rally chivalrously to the side of the little woman and jail her husband, even when it is evident that he . must have had considerable provocation. But Justice Lagarde was within the law.
Neither divorce nor civil marriage exists within the Province. A husband might get a separation, which does not permit remarriage, on grounds of adultery, but the wife might not utilize those grounds unless he brought his mistress to live under their roof. In practice, this mattered little, since she could get her separation for outrage and grievous insult. Only in 1954 was the law equalized. Many a Catholic woman lives with a man she cannot marry because he is divorced, or because he is married and cannot get a divorce for lack of money or fear of the Church's ban. She can confess and do penance for the sin of concubinage, but marriage is out of the question. Judges take a realistic view of the situations resulting from separations-one woman I knew listened in some indignation while the judge granted her plea, and allowed a special sum to her husband, "pour l'amour".
Non-Catholics in Quebec, and a few rebellious Catholics, apply to Parliament for divorce by private bill, at a cost of some $1,000, far beyond the reach of many. Three or four hundred of these bills are jammed through Commons after a hearing by a Senate Committee. Evidence seems to be based often on the obscene nonsense of hiring a co-respondent whom detectives may find in bed in the same room with the supposed-to-be-erring spouse. Collusion? Never!
Annulments used to be granted with comparative ease. These make the marriage as if it had never been in the eyes of the law, though children of such marriages retain their civil rights, and so do not become suddenly illegitimate. Certain judges were very amenable to such pleas, particularly in marriages between Catholics and those of other creeds. But some time ago, Premier Duplessis, in his role of Attorney-General, ordered that his office be notified so that he might intervene in annulment cases, and now they are much harder to win. Still, if you can discover to your great astonishment that your partner was an atheist or communist when you married, and you never knew it, or was never baptized, or lied about some point like a previous divorce, you can usually get free of the bonds in the course of two or three years.
Girls may marry at twelve, as in four American states, including Maine. A father may give consent to the marriage of a minor child, even though the mother objects, but the reverse is not true. Since children in Quebec may not attend the movies until they are sixteen, a girl could theoretically be the mother of three children before she ever laid eyes on Gregory Peck, by which time she probably wouldn't be interested.
Of course women could change the laws if enough of them wanted to. In every country, women are parted with difficulty from their inferior status. The matriarch, not the young husband, maintains purdah. Education, tradition, fear, possessiveness, hold them more tightly than any law. Taught submissiveness, conventionality, the necessity of getting a husband and then managing him by secretive manoeuvring, they are little concerned with freedom until they themselves are caught in the net of legal restriction or injustice. But the younger women who earn their own living are growing impatient with Quebec laws.
It took years of pressure and hard work by well to-do and able women to win the provincial franchise in 1943. Labour did not help much. The unions have not as a rule been deeply concerned over women's industrial and political problems. They have too often preferred to worry over the danger of low-wage competition from them, instead of getting out to raise their wages to equality. Women have had to fight their own battles in the unions, as elsewhere. They have been backward about it. Le Travail, organ of the Syndicates, wrote recently: "Why in the CTCC do we not hear the problems of women's work discussed more often? Perhaps the women who belong to the Syndicates, who make up nearly a third of our effectives, do not busy themselves enough with their affairs. They complain in little groups about too long hours and inhuman conditions, and they don't realize what they could do all together to better their lot. But when you are conscious of an injustice, it is for you to cry out. If your masculine comrades do not hear you, go to our Commission on Women in Industry, set up expressly for that. If you don't have the position you ought to have in your unions, it is because you don't take it. When you decide to assume your responsibilities, there will not be a man who will hinder you from going where you want to go!"
The same group of upper class women who won the vote have been tackling the laws on married women's property rights. Premier Duplessis appointed Me. Leon Methot of Trois Rivières to study the matter. The Women's Committee, the Chamber of Notaries (notaries administer much of the civil law in Quebec) and others, submitted briefs. After stressing that some of the women's demands were "outlandish and dangerous," the Notaries agreed to most of the reforms they asked, including giving a woman hit by a car the damages she might receive for her injury. Then Mr. Methot made his report, which has never been given any publicity and is hard to get hold of. He asked only a few mild changes for the better, and refused flatly to ask that the discrimination in grounds for separation be removed. But that change was won, and the fight goes on.
Meanwhile, with few changes in the law, a big change has occurred in customs. The gay and pretty girls who swim and ski have no mind to settle into married slavery. They make their own terms. The genie is out of the battle. They push into every profession, they marry when they choose, for love, not for family-driven necessity. Montreal's twenty excellent policewomen created a sensation in 1946; now they are taken for granted. So are women customs officers. About fifty women, half of them French Canadian, have been admitted to the bar, and practice, though none is yet a Q.C. or a judge. It was a long fight, but they made it. The shocked tones of the learned judges who refused them the right to take the bar exams only thirty years ago, now arouse only laughter. In 1954, they were told they could be notaries if they liked. Girls study medicine at the University of Montreal as well as at McGill, and set up practice, though surgery is still a closed profession to them.
Women columnists on the French dailies have wide influence. Naturally they operate within their own framework; when Mary Haworth in The Gazette tells the wife of a man obsessed by jealousy to get him to a psychiatrist, Colette in La Presse urges resignation and a talk with her confessor. When one says, "See a lawyer," the other, though not always, speaks of prayer. But there is sound advice in these columns. Women are told to let bygones be bygones, not to rush into hasty marriages, not to remind a daughter in-law that her baby came six months after marriage ("Easter before Palm Sunday" is the phrase), not to interfere in their grown-up children's lives, not to henpeck their husbands.
Women as yet take little part openly in provincial politics. That is far from meaning that they don't comprehend it. Sometimes when I have asked a French Canadian friend some question about an election, she has replied, "Oh, I do not concern myself with these political matters. It is all so dirty." And then she has proceeded to give me a detailed, penetrating and accurate account of the situation I sat in the Quebec Assembly, or been elected to Parliament from Quebec. No French Canadian woman from a major party has ever run for the Assembly, or for the Montreal City Council. Nor has one been appointed to the School Commission. One was appointed to the City Council, in the C category, who got a curfew ordinance passed. It was never enforced. Two are on the present Council, appointed. Madame Marianna Jodoin was appointed to the Canadian Senate by Prime Minister St. Laurent, after long years of organizing Liberal women's clubs, and of friendship with the St. Laurents. Yet each election, more and more girls work in the back rooms at local headquarters, tabulating and typing, more and more get out to ring doorbells, more and more every time learn how the ropes are strung, how elections are run. Some day, they'll be in the seats of the Assembly.
The truth is that it takes a woman of exceptional ability and courage to break through the barriers and propel herself into public life in Quebec. Those who have are outstanding. Florence Martel ran the women's selective service for Quebec during the war; Renée Morin worked with her, and wrote a valuable pamphlet on women's work after the war, foreseeing the drive to send them back into their homes. Françoise Gaudet-Smet edits a magazine for farm women, and runs a handicraft centre down in Beauce; women are active in the co-operative movement.
The two best known Canadiennes, the only ones known outside the Province, are both, significantly, women from old families, with some means. Renée Geoffrion Vautelet served on a provincial economic commission, appointed by Premier Godbout, and made an excellent report on women at work. She has been a vigorous campaigner for the Liberal Party. In 1946, she outlined the discussion on Mandates and Minorities at the Niagara Falls meeting of the Carnegie Foundation for World Peace through the Churches. Now she runs the Canadian Association of Consumers, trying to persuade women to realize the power they, hold through being housewives, doing the buying for the families of the nation. Whether she is climbing Mont Blanc, arguing with premiers, or writing science fiction, she is dynamic, self-possessed, and intelligent.
Madame Therèse Casgrain is a grande dame without a trace of snobbishness, who has fought for neglected children and textile strikers with equal fervour, irritated the Liberals by her nationalism and the Nationalists by her liberalism, and ended up leader of the faintly socialist CCF in Quebec. She has bullied her society friends into working for child welfare and women's rights; she has cajoled bishops and premiers, calling on beauty and social position and wit to drive for emancipation of her sex. She enraged English Canadian women by her Non vote in the plebiscite on conscription, while encouraging - a not unheard-of attitude in Quebec, which does not take kindly to coercion from Ottawa. She assails British imperialism, and accepts an O.B.E.. Those most exasperated by her inconsistencies continue to regard her with affection; her enemies quote with relish her latest wisecrack. A consummate wire-putter and lobbyist, no suspicion of corruption has ever touched her: Whoever reckons up the slow progress of French Canadian women toward the freedom and respect they have never known, must give full credit to Thérèse Forget Casgrain. In the dirt and turmoil of Quebec politics, she has shone a gay and gallant figure.
But the surge that wins the victory must come from below, from the rural teachers who stick by their union; from the farm wife who tries to keep her daughter in school until she is fourteen, "so she can do better than I have"; from the girl in industry who hides her wedding-ring lest she lose her job, and secretly joins the union; froth the department store clerk who helps win a strike for better wages; from the nuns who now go out to vote in elections, if at no other time. There are great reservoirs of ability in French Canadian' women, which have never been fully used. When they are, it will be a fairer day in Quebec.
Chapter 9 - Vie de Paysan
(Pages 109 to 117)
THE TEXTBOOK of the nationalist movement in Quebec has been Notre Maitre le Passé, by Canon Lionel Groulx, priest, teacher, writer. As far as rural life is concerned; the past has indeed been a master, and a hard one. The existence of the farmer and his family in the St. Lawrence Valley is still conditioned by the seigneurial rights of three centuries ago. For another twenty-five years - unless he rebels effectively - he will be paying fees on his land because a French King Louis, who never saw nor wanted to see Canada, gave his priests and soldiers grants in the new colony. No ruler of a totalitarian state would dare claim such a privilege. Yet in a democratic nation in 1940, 60,000 farmers were still paying their cens et rentes to 242 landholders, heirs of the seigneurs. These are not taxes, such as men impose on themselves for schools and waterworks and war; they are rents, some of them paid to the religious communities to whom the first grants were made, though the mere who lobbied for them have long been dust. The dues, small for each individual, amounted to $212,000 a year. They are now paid to a commission which Premier Godbout empowered to buy off the seigneurs for a lump sum. When the development of the Côte Nord was in the offing, Premier Duplessis was able to take over the big Mingan Seigneury along the coast, since the use of it was required for industry. But no move was ever made to expropriate the ordinary ones.
Then, the farmer must pay to his local church his dime or tithe, originally in kind, but now in cash. Out of twenty-six measures of grain, one goes to the cure, who may take his share ahead of the tax collector. This is no donation; it is a legal obligation. If the payment is in money, it is understood that the cure is selling his property to the farmer. If there is any reluctance, the priest may withhold the sacraments. No wonder an habitant who sells his land to a Protestant is looked upon as a traitor. Artisans and other village folk pay a household tax of a few dollars a year.
Quebec has almost as many farms as Ontario, 134,000 to 149,000. Fewer of them are rented to tenants. Twenty-five thousand are small-scale, selling less than $250 worth of produce a year. Quebec farms report 41,000 automobiles to Ontario's 114,000, 32,000 tractors to Ontario's 105,000. François-Albert Angers is an intelligent man and a good economist, but his nationalism blinds him when he says, as I once heard him, that the Quebec farmer doesn't want a car and a radio. He gets them the moment he has the money for them. Net income of Quebec's farmers in 1953 was $262 million, of Ontario's $402 million. Only a few hundred Quebec farmers pay income tax, a fact which causes grumbling and suspicion in other Provinces. Purchasing power has moved upward along with the rest of Canada's agriculture, from $92 million in 1938 to $363 million in 1953-in terms of real purchasing power, about 55 per cent.
The typical Quebec farm has been a dairy, where perhaps a dozen cows are tended without hired help. Milk goes to the creamery, skim milk to calves and pigs. The farmer makes a little maple syrup in the spring, butchers his own hogs, works in the woods in winter. His wife draws water from a well, tends her chickens, weaves catalogue, hooks rugs in winter, cooks and scrubs. Nowadays most buy baker's bread. They eat potatoes and pea soup and pork. They read Action Catholique or La Presse, and the Bulletin d'agriculture. A son is quite likely to go to one of the eighteen regional agricultural schools, all but the best one under clerical direction, or to one of the three agricultural colleges. An agronome will advise them on crops and fertilizers, though like all civil servants the agronomes are so poorly paid that they cannot do the work they should. The Church presides over social life, and the head of the family shares in the administration of parish affairs. Christenings, weddings, funerals mark the stages of the journey through life. Departed members of the family are long remembered, their photographs kept and cherished.
Compared to the lot of the Hindu ryot or the Southern sharecropper, that of the habitant was, and perhaps still is, a happy one. He has the peasant virtues and satisfactions, rest after productive labour, sexual needs freely gratified with community approval, children round him, avarice appeased, a solid, friendly relationship with the good earth. He belongs. He has status, the respect of his neighbours when he deserves it according to their standards, security as long as he can pay his rents and taxes. But now his whole way of life is threatened by forces beyond his ken.
Along the St. Lawrence the land is mostly in village farms. In the Laurentians and Eastern Townships farms are likely to be set apart, as in New England. The striking feature of village life is the leverage it gives to public opinion. In a barely literate society, the discussion of local events provides the chief interest in living. It may grow into an excessive and quite extraordinary nosiness. The isolated farm at its best develops self-reliance, at its worst hatred and incest and madness. The village at its worst stifles all initiative, forces conformity to accepted canons by making life unbearable for the rebel until he submits or leaves; at its best it makes for community gaiety and helpfulness.
The settler in Quebec became a villager because of geography and the way the country was opened up. The seigneuries were laid out along the rivers and the coast to give water frontage to as many as possible. They were parcelled out in feudal fashion. Only when the north country began to look promising did French Canadians take up land for themselves . Down river, the land is divided into long strips running back from the shore. Next to the water is the first rang; back of that, with a road between, is the second, and there may be one or two more, up to the nearest forest. Thus a farm is usually a thin rectangle, containing several kinds of soil, from riverbank to woodlot. Louisiana shows a similar pattern; strips marked by ditches run from levee back to swamp.
Since each man built his house on his own land, and even a thirty-arpent farm might be only a couple of hundred feet wide (an arpent is a little less than an acre), the village consists of a few dozen houses straggling along both sides of the main road, one hamlet almost merging with the next. Toward the centre of the parish, which under the county is the unit of government, the presbytère, the notary's house, the store, cluster near the big church. The seigneury maybe on a stream where the mill once stood; one of its perquisites was to build it and charge tenants for grinding grain. Often it is no mansion, but it may have the steep roof curving over a narrow porch and the small dormers characteristic of the lovely architecture of old Quebec.
By the middle of the 19th century, strips became so narrow they could not be subdivided any more, and the custom prevailed of making over the farm to a favoured son, usually the third or fourth. (Oldest a priest, second an avocat.) On him rested the obligation to care for parents and to provide for the other children. But when there was no more cheap land, the men went to the mills of Pawtucket, the Manitoba prairies, or north to Lake St. John. In the 1930's the authorities tried to drain off the dregs of the depression to Abitibi, but only the strong, experienced, well-equipped colon could make a success of farming in that harsh land. Too often he got cut-over land from which the lumber company had taken everything of value, and was abandoned to sink or swim without schools, markets, or loans. If he swam, it was back to city streets. Where colonization has succeeded, it has usually been due to the new off-the-farm jobs available from the opening up of the north.
Yet colonization within the Province is still a Quebec policy. The Church would like to utilize it to stop any drift to the United States. Not long before he died in 1946, Cardinal Villeneuve issued a pastoral letter, urging his people to go back to the land, "to fill the gaps caused by emigration, to facilitate obedience to the law of fecundity imposed on man by the Creator." Each administration makes promises to drain new acreage, to clear new farms. Honourable Jos. Begin, Quebec Minister of Colonization, has often been reproached for running the electoral machine with more zeal than he puts into land settlement. From 1944 to 1952, nearly 15,000 colons ("souls" in the Annuaire statistique) were placed on the land.
But young men are no longer content with subsistence farming. Their wives want assurance of medical care, and some prospect of winning through to a decent life before they face the toil of breaking new ground in the wilderness. Even old worked land is occasionally abandoned. Even to the old townships, where life goes on in accustomed ways, girls who have jobs in town don't go back if they can help it. They return from a vacation visit, exclaiming, "Me, I'd never live down there again. Carry water in a bucket? Use that old backhouse? Not me." And that settles the fate of many a farm, for how can a man carry on without a woman in the house? Unless he has the cash for a washing-machine, he might as well give up.
Desperate efforts have been made to keep the farm family from city contagion. Sometimes the means used are fantastic. One kindly farm wife up north used to sell us butter and eggs, when we, among several families, camped on a nearby lake. Those of us who spoke French would linger to talk with her, play with her babies. One noon when she left her soap-making to get dinner, her five-year-old, darling of her heart, somehow drank of the lye she left by the kettle. He lay for weeks, a moaning shadow, and at last died in the night. The curd told her the accident was a punishment for her association with Protestants, and she told us, sadly, that though she did not believe it, in deference to him she must no longer chat with us.
Though only about 40 per cent of Quebec's working-force is still on the land, political power rests with them. They put Union Nationale in office and they keep it there. Traditionally conservative, they distrust the Liberals and the city workman. It does not seem unfair to them that city folks have to pay a luxury tax on toothbrushes. They get their way in many things in return for their votes. They don't want to be compelled to carry lights on horsedrawn vehicles, and so every few nights a car smashes into a wagon on some back road. They are heartily behind the prohibition of margarine in Quebec. And they know where their interests lie, because the direction is drastically pointed out to them. I asked an English-speaking farmer in Compton County, a few weeks after Compton elected a National Union man to the Assembly, if it were true that the road machinery got out of the county the day after election. "Well," he said, "sometimes it ain't all out till the second morning."
"But since everybody knows that's how it'll be, why then do you all vote for the Duplessis man?"
"Look it," he said, "We got to have roads. We've got to use our trucks in bad weather. Look at Verchères. They sent a Liberal to Quebec six years ago, and they haven't laid eyes on a bulldozer since. Woman down there, they tell me, died in childbirth last spring, the doctor couldn't get to her through the mud. We got to have roads. See?"
Much of value has been done for the farmers. Rural electrification has been pushed until now 80 per cent of Quebec farms have current, a jump in ten years from a previous 20 per cent. Back roads have been improved, even when main highways are potholed. Agricultural colleges are- aided, scholarships are given. Then, the co-operatives are flourishing businesses in Quebec. Several hundred are united in the Fédérée, which sells not only butter and milk, but eggs, maple sugar, flax, fruit and wool. The co-ops even buy and rent out bulldozers for drainage projects. The Caisses Populaires, the credit co-operatives, in some districts substitute for banks.
But so long as raising hay for a dairy, and milking cows pays only a few cents an hour, no co-op on earth can save the dairy industry and the life that is based on it. The farmer may not keep accounts, but he knows he is getting poorer. The soil in some of the old townships is worn out, the cash for fertilizer is not to be found, the older men are tired, the younger ones demand more than the land can give. The unpaid labour of women and children is no longer to be had without question. Only the jobs in the winter lumber camps, or in some coastal regions on the. fishing boats, keep the families going: Diversification of crops promises better than those expedients. The sugar beets around St. Hilaire, the apple orchards south of the St. Lawrence, the tobacco near Joliette, bring modest prosperity to a few.
But all such crops make the farmer dependent on the world market. When England lacks dollars, the Canadian apple crop hardly pays for picking. When textile falters, flax and wool won't sell. If Cuban sugar drops in price, even the high tariff can't make beets profitable. Even 32,000 tractors, and there are thousands more each year, make a revolution on the farms. For a tractor doesn't pay on small acreage; it must be kept going, doing a job. And tractor feed doesn't grow on farms; every gallon of gas the farmer buys must be paid for with cash. Not only that, but buying it involves him with national policy in Alberta, with the fall of Mossadegh in Iran, with the fate of a president in Venezuela. When England put sanctions on Italy because of the Ethiopian invasion, Gaspé fishermen starved.
Willy-nilly, the Quebec farmer is part of the world, and knows it. His sons go overseas to fight, his children get family allowances from Ottawa, he sells his cheese and bacon for English tables, through federal marketing boards; his crops are sold with federal price supports. The Catholic Syndicates have their farmers' union, the Union Catholique des Cultivateurs, and some of the farmers who work in the woods in winter join the bûcherons' union. The U.C.C. is conservative, but not enough so to avoid conflict with Premier Duplessis. There will be more conflicts. Every year farming becomes more a business and less a way of life, and the purpose of a business is to make a profit. Only through national research and participation in national expansion can Quebec agriculture be saved.
Chapter 13 - The Minorities
(PAges 155 to 172)
FRENCH CANADIAN friend of mine remarks, "Les Anglais, they do the damnedest things. Who but an English Canadian would think of naming the new Quebec school for naval cadets after d'Iberville, and then dedicating it on Trafalgar Day? After all, even if d'Iberville was born in Montreal, he was a commander in the French navy, and that's the day it suffered its worst defeat in all history."
Whereat the English Canadian with me snaps, "Well, you French do pick the damnedest things to get sore at." And we part in mutual irritation.
It is out of such incidents that some of the ill feeling between English and French arises. The French Canadians live in history, drilled to remember all that has made them what they are; and alas, every grievance. The English Canadians live in the present and fail to comprehend how much of the present is tied up with the past. Yet it must be said that since the clashes of wartime, when perhaps both sides were appalled at the chasm that was opening in the nation, English Canadians have put forth a far greater effort than ever before to understand. Some of it is condescending, some of it blunders, but a lot of it adds up to a realization on both sides that the effort is necessary and should reach its goal.
About a fifth of Quebec is English-speaking. It holds the economic power. Les Anglais who speak French fluently are exceptional; those who speak it perfectly are so rare as to be notable. (Among them must be noted the Rt. Hon. Vincent Massey, Governor-General of Canada.) In Montreal, English Canadians live in their own towns, encysted within the great French city, diving into it each morning to earn their bread and Scotch, returning at night to the lawns and pure-bred dogs, the tree-lined streets and bridge-tables of Suburbia. French and English, or rather Scots, have lived side by side for 300 years without knowing each other, and have now arrived at a reasonably comfortable co-existence by remaining as ignorant as possible of each other's thoughts. Every aspect of life in Montreal is dual, religion, art (to a lesser extent than most), literature, business, pleasure, sport, sex. It is surprising that enough unity is obtained to carry on the city's business. Outside Montreal the English are settled in the Eastern Townships, and in little groups in a few industrial towns.
When I first came to Montreal to live, I thought the French Canadians were absurd when they said with emotion, "We are a conquered people". Then I heard an English Canadian business man who employed a hundred French workmen say, "Oh sure, they're all right if you know how to handle 'em. And we do - after all, we conquered 'em, didn't we?"
So, slowly, slowly, with rude and angry words from French Canadians who thought that because I speak English I must be intriguing to take advantage of them in some way, with contemptuous words from English Canadians and Americans who said disdainfully that they "didn't like" French Canadians and weren't interested in their politics or their outlook, I began to realize that les Anglais are strangers in the land, strangers who own the industry, who hold the best jobs, who control the government, who think they are being democratic if they bestow an occasional pat on a French artist, or take a wealthy French Canadian on some committee or board of directors.
Westmount is a city inside Montreal like a kangaroo's baby. It has its own postal service, police force, regulations, street-cleaning. A woman can live her whole life there and never speak a word of French, come in contact with no French Canadian except janitor, tram conductor, store clerk. She can say, as I overheard one, "Poor Sally, she can't find an apartment. She heard of one down in St. Louis Square, but of course only French people live there." So might a Princess Radziwill have spoken of the ghetto. She can dine at the Ritz, at the height of the conscription crisis, and as the French waiter's steady hand sets her soup before her, say as I heard one woman in 1944, "They ought to come down here from Ontario and just clean out the French, the lot of them. They're all yellow."
Les dames de Westmount, as their charwomen call them, lead busy lives. Their charity boards relieve any itch of discomfort they may feel over the contrast between their circumstances and that of their neighbours in St. Henri, so near below the tracks. They say, "But those people know how to get along on their wages." The Red Cross, the I.O.D.E., the Grenfell Mission, the hairdresser, dinner for the boss and his wife, or for Cousin Jim and that friend of Andy's - all these obligations leave little time to think. The husbands are the bank managers, the engineers, the brokers, down through the hierarchy. They have their clubs, the St. James, Mt. Stephen and the rest, the Royal St. Lawrence Yacht Club, and then for the lower echelons, Rotary, Kiwanis and the like. Summer homes are in the mountains; for the very rich, there is Nassau. The older families, those who have not surrendered and moved to apartments, live on the short streets running up Mont Royal from Sherbrooke St., though most of the towered monstrosities built by railway millionaires have lapsed into use as schools or even rooming-houses.
Life in the middle-class English community of Montreal goes on much like that of Toronto, or a medium-sized American city, except for a certain sense of beleaguerment. It is the same feeling, in minor degree, that besets Atlanta and Singapore, the feeling of being invisibly hemmed in by an alien and unfriendly kind. There is more emphasis on church attendance than in an American city, more army life, more formal social occasions. The great balls of St. Andrew's and the rest are horrendous bores, mitigated only by the gathering of previously alerted cliques in upstairs rooms where the liquor can flow freely, and by the thought of the Dior gowns to be described in next morning's Gazette.
But among the young the routine is breaking down. The skiing week-end elbows aside the family dinner, the big houses are demolished to save taxes. The boys' schools with their "forms" and their Greek, have to prepare for Americanized colleges. Cricket is almost unknown; Canadian football (twelve on a side) draws the crowds. More and more girls go to college as a matter of course, not contenting themselves with the finishing school, though more of them will make a formal debut than in any American city. Most English Montreal girls are good looking, in tweeds and sweaters, with shining hair. They lack, however, that touch of vividness that once in a while makes a French jeune fille a thing of exquisite loveliness. Boys and girls grow up hardly knowing they are in a French city, unless they come up against some regulation which surprises them, like, the ten-year-old who swam in the Lachine Canal with only trunks, and emerged to find his companions had run away, while a policeman pointed a revolver at his skinny little chest, bawling him out for exposing his lascivious form.
The Molsons and the Dawes (beer), the Gordons (textile), the Muirs and Gardners (banks), the Morgans and the Birks ("in trade"), the Allans, the Drummonds and all their kin make up the leadership of English Montreal. They run the hospitals (and beware lest any socialized medicine raise its head); they run McGill, the turret on the bastion of their fortress; they run the Welfare Council; they run the Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal's art gallery. Sometimes there is rebellion. In 1952 the trustees fired the director of the gallery, over loud protests. There was schism in the ranks. He had, in five years, opened up the place for one evening a week with no admission charge, rejected pictures by their favourite portraitist, even put up as "picture of the week", a sketch by that Communist, Picasso. But he stayed fired. The Museum needs more money; it gets only a pittance from either City or Province, and isn't likely to get more until it gives some share in control to French Canadians.
Sidney Dawes, who ran the Canadian Olympic Committee from his Montreal office, with some seemingly arbitrary selections, also met with base ingratitude. Canada did poorly, whereupon Jack Kent Cooke's New Liberty Magazine took potshots at undemocratic methods, and nastily bit the noble Dawes hand. The old guard squint at Cooke with the same wariness that an earlier generation of Montreal millionaires turned toward Max Aitken, when he invaded their stronghold, before he departed carrying with him their scalps and their pants, to become Beaverbrook.
The most powerful individual in Montreal has long been John W. McConnell, handsome white-haired philanthropist, who before his recent retirement owned, and bossed in detail, the Montreal Star, the tabloid Herald, and Weekend Magazine, with a million syndicated circulation across Canada. His wealth came not only from them, but from sugar refineries, flour mills, and a hundred other interests. He is also reputed to be the shrewdest stock market operator in Canada. A Liberal who had close access to Mackenzie King, his papers never seriously oppose Duplessis.
As for the Montreal Gazette, it is thoroughly dependable: straight Tory. It can be relied upon to champion Churchill, Eisenhower, George Drew and Duplessis, to be dignified, informative, always know what is good for the children, and be doubtful about any change whatever.
Every little while some dignitary takes it upon himself to expound in public the fairness with which the English minority in Quebec is treated. French Canadians stress the point when they are demanding concessions for French minorities in other provinces, English ones when they want to pay a gracious compliment. The phenomenon is invariably ascribed to the tolerance and justice of the French Canadian. Never does the spokesman make mention of the unlikelihood that a minority which wields almost complete financial power will be seriously oppressed.
The Jews, of whom there are few in Quebec outside Montreal, are a minority within a minority. Among the French discrimination is political, fomented for political advantage, with religious overtones; among the English it is largely social. With the establishment of Israel, Jewish standing has improved; the Jews have more pride, others have more respect for them. One small but significant development is a Jewish Cercle français, which invites talks from distinguished French Canadians, and studies the French language and culture.
Never again, one hopes, will Adrien Arcand's bully boys march down St. Lawrence Main, smashing windows and yelling A bas les Juifs, as they used to do when Hitler was powerful. And yet ten years later, after spending the war years in internment camp, Arcand was telling his followers in Quebec City to pinpoint their attacks on a certain Jewish merchant, "until the people are ready for direct action." And that same year, Laurent Barré, who is still Minister of Agriculture in the Duplessis Cabinet, told the Legislative Assembly that his son, on entering the army, had been subjected to the indignity of a medical examination by a Jewish doctor, and had been ill in consequence. "Our children were thrown into the hands of infamous Jewish examiners who regaled themselves on naked Canadian flesh." L'Abbé Gravel of Boischatel, near Quebec City, explained the fall of France to his parishioners by telling them that France was dechristianizing itself. "If it lost the war, it was because in years preceding it had that dirty Jew Blum at its head."
There are curious hangovers of mediaeval beliefs among the French Canadians. A Jewish friend of mine went to a French Canadian home to hire the sixteen-year-old daughter of the house as a nursemaid. The girl kept staring at her hair. Finally my friend put up her hand uneasily, and asked if it were untidy. The girl giggled and said, "Oh no. I was just wondering about your horns. The sisters told us all Jews had little horns on their foreheads that they hid under their hair. But yours is so smooth, and I can't see any". Still, the girl was entirely amiable about the matter, and came to work next day.
In spite of the indoctrination, there is often great friendliness to Jewish people among French Canadians. A Jewish salesman told me he prefers to sell in Quebec rather than in Ontario. (He speaks good French.) In the English places, he said, the storekeeper greets him with a cold, polite "Nothing today." In rural Quebec his counterpart grins and says, "Maudit Juif, what are you going to cheat me on this time?" And gives a good order. The few Jewish merchants who do settle in Quebec villages usually stay and become part of the community. One such, after he refused to betray some fugitives in the conscription crisis of 1917, found the community could not do enough for him and his family - the cure offered to set up a special English school for his children! Many people do fight against the prevailing attitude, like the business man I know, who rebuked a relative at his table for abusing Roosevelt as a Jew. "You and I, my dear, were brought up with these prejudices, and can probably never escape them. But I do not wish the children to acquire them."
The psychiatrist, Dominican Father Bernard Mailhot; works hard on interracial relations. He gets small groups together, to talk things out. He concludes that: "Each feels threatened. French Canadians are weak on the economic level. English Canadians think their dominant position is undermined by the Jews. The Jews know that when things go badly, they are the scapegoats." There are committees in the labour federations, church committees, and others to consider the problem. Quebec has not heard the last of it, and will not in our day.
The bulk of Jewish population, amounting to about 75,000, lives along St. Lawrence Main in the very middle of Montreal, the centre of the garment, shoe and fur trades. As its members make money, they spill over into Outremont and other residential sections. The best-known leaders of the community are the Bronfmans, one of them head of the Canadian Jewish Congress. They own the big liquor firm of Seagram's. Justice Harry Batshaw is the first of his religion to become a judge in Quebec. An able and cultured man, he stands with the reformists who want to adapt Judaism to changing times; he has been an ardent supporter of Israel, and has visited it several times.
In the English community, discrimination is unofficial. It comes out in the refusal to rent a house, in the removal of a child from her part in a school play where she was to be the Virgin Mary, in the "personal interview" required for entrance to medical school, in the denial of promotion in business, the slow acceptance of professional work. Yet Jewish citizens have contributed much to the arts, and as always are in the forefront of charitable work.
The Cross of Maisonneuve stands high on Mont Royal, a symbol of belief and pain. To the city lying along the slopes below, is it ever a reminder that Jesus of Nazareth was a rebel and a Jew, who was put to death for subversive activities?
Negroes from the West Indies and the American South are often pleased to find how little colour prejudice there is in Montreal, among either French or English. The Montreal Star quoted Warren Gardner, student of racial questions, as saying that Montreal has special advantages for the Negro. Coloured families can live in white areas. Job barriers are beginning to crack, though Negroes still are in second-rate jobs as servants and porters when qualified for better. But hospitals have begun to accept Negro student nurses, there are Negro college teachers and Negro postal employees. Montreal enjoys the reputation among Negroes of a democratic city. They study at McGill, mingle with other students, interne at the Royal Victoria. A southern girl who objected to the presence of a West Indian girl in the dormitory where she roomed was promptly told by the Warden, "If there is any preference here, it will be given to the British subject, which you, Miss Blank, are not." A very pretty West Indian girl was queen of the McGill winter carnival in 1949, and everybody was delighted with her appearance in the role.
The partly American Negro colony along St. Antoine Street does suffer from discrimination, especially in housing. They harbour some jealousy of the West Indians, who are more or less expected to go back to the islands whence they came, after they get their education. Among French Canadians, there has been little colour prejudice since the days of the coureurs des bois. When a Hindu woman who was a member of the Indian Congress Committee and later an envoy to Geneva Conferences was refused shelter at two of Montreal's big hotels, she was enthusiastically entertained in French circles. There was sharp criticism in French papers when the Chateau Frontenac (CPR hotel in Quebec City) closed its dining-room to persons of colour, in deference to United States tourists. The presence of the International Labour Office during the war, and that of ICAO and IATA since, with their delegates from many lands, have educated Montrealers to ignore superficial distinctions.
Indeed, Montreal has become a cosmopolitan city. The disapproving attitude of French Canadians to immigration has been altered by a realization that it is inevitable. Now, while Toronto Orangemen wail that the Catholic Church controls Canadian immigration and puts up bars against non-Catholics, French Canadian politicians shriek just as loudly that French Canada must maintain its cadres by seeing to it that more immigrants who can be assimilated into French culture are sought out and admitted, that French is being drowned out in the flood of English (or about to learn English) immigrants coming in. Meanwhile Montreal coffee shops are towers of Babel, music and art are stimulated by European ideas. Hungarians, Poles, Baltic Germans, Rumanians, Italians, every sort and kind of people hive in Montreal. Naturally they tend to cluster around their own churches and restaurants. Poles, Bavarians and other Catholic groups are apt to associate with French-speaking groups. Others enter the English community. They all find they need English to earn a living; most speak several languages already. In the years since the war, they have added new skills to the Canadian scene, strong arms to its mines and factories.
One minority in Quebec is voiceless. The Indians and Eskimos are in Quebec but not of it. They have no legal relation to the Provincial Government, no faintest representation in it, yet they are daily affected by the fact that it is French and Catholic. They travel on its roads, they are sentenced by its judges, taxed by its laws, but they are not its citizens - nor for that matter, are they citizens of Canada. Fewer than two hundred Indians enlisted in Quebec enlistment bestows the federal franchise, even on those who remain on the reservation. They were held liable for home service, and judge Monet of Montreal ruled that a Caughnawaga Indian who refused to serve was a draft-dodger. Ontario has given its Indians the provincial franchise, but there is no question of that in Quebec. Whether they use it is another question; at present the older men deny any wish to vote. The 15,000 Indians within Quebec are, like all in Canada, under the Indian Branch of the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, - now in the charge of Honourable John W. Pickersgill. The 2,000 Eskimos, for some reason lost in the mists of time and bureaucracy, are administered by the Land Bureau of the Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources, whose head is Honourable Jean Lesage. Federal departments of Health, Education, and justice also have fingers in the Indian and Eskimo pies. In Quebec Indian agents are usually French Canadian. Except at Caughnawaga near Montreal and along Hudson Bay, the Indians are French-speaking, when they know a non-Indian tongue.
Indian education in Quebec is of course in the hands of church authorities. The Federal Government has been accustomed to make grants to the mission schools and forget about them. About half the Indian children in Quebec never get to school, or go for so few days out of a year that they count for nothing. Along the Bay the missions are Anglican; to the east of Lake Mistassini they are Oblate.
Indians in Quebec are of three cultures, and were at three stages of progress when the French arrived. There are the agricultural tribes of the great valley, the deer-hunting tribes of the forests, and the caribou-hunting ones of the barrens. The Iroquois, now at Caughnawaga, were a corn and squash raising people, with a highly organized government. Women held high posts among them. Nowadays their men are mostly structural steel workers, going freely across the border to the United States under the Jay Treaty, to work on bridges and skyscrapers. Women work in the Lachine canning factories across the river from their reserve, where they come under provincial labour laws, or make little curios to sell to tourists. The provincial road, heavy with traffic, is the main street of their village. Buyers at the little stores pay provincial sales tax. The Jesuit mission came originally from Rhode Island, bringing English with it, but now some of the priests are French Canadian. A few learn Iroquois well enough to preach in it. Two-thirds of the people still use the soft, complicated speech in their homes. The United Church of Canada has a school also, and about eighty Indians remain "pagans," holding their festivals four times a year in their Long House. Caughnawaga is not a happy place; the RCMP maintain a post there, to quell the drunken fights that break out - though Indians are forbidden to buy liquor. The men who have gone away come back to summer celebrations, in big cars, to visit their people. When they are old or crippled in their dangerous trade, they may come back for good. The Iroquois still own a tract of land in the Laurentians for a hunting reserve, but they seldom go there. One feels they do not know which way to turn, how to preserve their own way of life, or how to become Canadians like their neighbours.
The Hurons at Loretteville, near Quebec, recently produced a remarkable leader, Jules Sioui, who wanted to organize an Indian nation. He went to jail for two years, in 1949, on a charge of inciting the Indians to rebellion. He had recalled to them their loss of treaty rights, the white encroachment on their lands, and he roused enough excitement to worry the authorities. Maybe his way was not a good way, but he voiced a lot of grievances.
The woods Indians are of Algonquin stock, Crees around James Bay and up the coast, Montagnais east to Labrador, in some thirty bands. They are dependent on their Hudson's Bay Co. post, the local agent, and the RCMP patrol. They must trade their furs at the company store, getting an advance in fall for the winter's work, and they are eternally in debt. In 1947 Dr. Percy Vivian, of McGill's Public Health Department, made a study of the Indians at Rupert's House, one of the oldest posts on the Bay, where an Anglican mission has been established over a hundred years. He found the Indians living in patched tents or one-room log buts, often two families in a hut, surrounded by filth, refuse and excreta. The only furniture was boxes to store food. The dirt floors were covered with spruce boughs for sleeping on. Cooking utensils were lard pails and frying-pans. During seven months they travel inland; in summer at the post the children go to school. He found the people moved slowly and were apathetic, the children unnaturally docile. The tuberculosis rate was forty-six times Ontario's.
For the inland bands the story is much the same, with less schooling. Measles and flu take heavy toll. The change from the skin tent to the crowded log cabin promotes the spread of disease. Diet of tea and flour is no help. Few Indians get training as doctors or nurses; those who do and come back to their tribes too often relapse defeated. The new hospital at Moosonee (Ontario) is helping some tuberculosis patients from the Quebec shore; the distribution of vitamin tablets does some good. But what the Indians need is jobs and wages, food and housing, education and citizenship. Mr. Lesage travelled around the Northwest and came back with a programme for technical training for the Indians. Being himself Quebecois, perhaps he can apply it to Quebec as well.
Yet in spite of everything, these woods Crees have amazing vitality. In the spring the young men put their love notes in a forked stick along the path the maidens will take to the lake. The old songs and dances are not wholly forgotten. The sweathouse of the medicine man is set up not a hundred yards from the missionary's cabin, and he will never know.
Far to the northeast, in the scanty woods and on the barrens, dwell the most wretched and primitive people of all, the Nascopi. They know nothing of agriculture; both men and women hunt. They make canoes with bone or wooden tools, and dogsleds like the Eskimos. During the winter they scatter through the vast interior; in summer they came to sea or river to dance and visit. with other bands, to pick berries and.,. fish. Their religion is merely magic for success in hunting; they shake rattles and pound. drums to make strong the caribou man who lives with the caribou or to propitiate the master of the salmon. Like the Eskimo (whether learned from them or from Mongolian ancestors), they amuse themselves with complicated string games, esoteric cat's cradles. From them comes the legend of the Windigo, the cannibal monster feared all along the Côte Nord. Their tag-ends of Catholicism amount to a liking for the display of the mass, and for the shiny medals. F. G. Speck, who lived with them and wrote a book about them, says, "For the white metal crosses the women wear around their necks, they pay the missionary priests $2.50."
But even to the Nascopi change has come, as it has to the Montagnais. Up through their country drives the railroad to the iron of Ungava. It was an Indian chief who first brought a bit of rock to a geologist and led him to the great discovery. They work on the roadbed, on the dozens of plane-strips, they act as guides; new opportunities open. The Quebec Department of Mines, collaborating with the Indian Bureau, has given courses in prospecting to twenty or more Indians at Sept Isles. All through the north country, because of the need for conservation of furs and the development of fur-farming, Indians begin to trap under supervision, or to work for money wages. The mines, the pulpmills push the frontier farther north each year. At Bersimis, the great powerplant which is to supply Gaspé by cables under the St. Lawrence is only a few miles. north from the Indian reserve. Indians found work at day labour-some of them discovered that bootlegging brought windfall profits.
The question whether Indians can or should join unions comes up in an appeal to the Quebec Superior Court, in the case of an Abitibi sawmill company. Ninety-two of the 291 employees were Indians, but the A.F. of L. local which was certified by the Labour Relations Board said they ought to be excluded because they don't pay unemployment insurance, because they come to work and go back to the reserve as they please. It seemed they voted against having a union; without them the local had a majority of the employees. So Indians must either be educated in the value of unions or kept out of them entirely!
Eskimos too are drawn into the money economy. Since they live on seal and whale meat, animals even the white man's guns have not been able to exterminate, they fare better than the Indians whose caribou grow scarce. They continue to flourish in one of the harshest environments known to man, from Great Whale Bay on Hudson Bay, around the Straits and halfway down the Labrador shore. They learn fast to use and repair the white man's machines; they even learn to drive a hard bargain with him. Up at Fort Chimo, they worked on the plane strips as day labourers. Their wonderful language with its long words made up of a dozen particles, each shading the meaning of the others, has little dialectal variation in Quebec. Their sculpture finds a ready market in Canadian cities. The anthropological research centre at the University of Ottawa has started, with Oblate collaboration, a great project for the study and recording of Indian and Eskimo languages.
French Canadians never had any quarrel with the native peoples, except as a function of the quarrels between English and French. They wanted their trade, not their land. Even the great Count Frontenac liked to dance by the Indian campfires. They have long worked side by side on the edges of the bush, suffered the same hardships, often intermarried. French Canadians can be of excellent service in bringing Indians and Eskimo into a greater participation in Canadian life, in training them to share in the development of the North. They have much to contribute to that development, in knowledge and skill.
These excerpts of the book are those that were already digitized in "How Others Have Viewed French Canadians and Quebec", Documents in Quebec History, Marianopolis College. We fixed many typos, added images and wikified the text. Last time we checked, on old edition by the Oxford University Press could still be purchased at Amazon and some other on line book stores.
1. Indeed. Only the ignorance of the history of Québec can lead people to think there could be something like a French-Canadian "race", in the sense of a community of biological descent that would have kept itself "pure" by being isolated from foreign penetration since the British Conquest of 1760!
2. This would be true of the Irish Catholics who emigrated in the cities of Quebec after the establishment of institutions ready to welcome them. The first waves of Irish immigrants in the 18th and 19th century landed in a country that was essentially French-speaking and Catholic. These ones assimilated as Canadiens in much greater proportions. A great deal of French-speaking Quebecers are descended from Irish immigrants.
3. Pierre du Calvet, the first champion of Quebecers' natural and citizens' rights, would be a good example of the patriotism of the Huguenots, even when Quebec was not their native country but instead their adoptive country.
4. In fact, the colonization within the province of Quebec started as early as the 1840s and aimed at providing cheap lands to farmers in order to reduce the negative impact of emigration and dispersion.