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Laurentia Revisited
June 22, 1961

Transcripted by Benoît Rheault from:


Many people in Quebec think that a Montreal world's fair would be a fine way to celebrate the centennial of Confederation in 1967. A small but growing minority of their neighbors are working just as diligently for an event that would not only spoil the fun but would wreck Confederation itself — the secession of the province and its transformation into a French-speaking North American republic. In the flaring argument, veterans of Quebec's famed Royal 22nd Regiment fortnight ago branded the separatists as "traitors", offered to fight if necessary to save Confederation. Last week the separatists ripped a union jack from a flag-pole at the Sherbrooke Canadian Legion and painted the words "traitor" and "liberty" on the Montreal home of Lawyer Paul Aubut, a former president of the Van Doos veterans.

Separatist sentiment has been smoldering for generations in French Canada. But serious suggestions that partition was the cure for French Canadians' so-called second-class citizenship in English Canada have been rare indeed. The new agitation for a "Republic of Laurentia" began with the business recession and consequent unemployment, which revived the smoldering resentment over Quebec's financial and commercial domination by English Canadians. Ultranationalists began talking loudly about the virtues of secession. Separatists now amount to three small but bellicose groups. They range from left to ferocious right, share only common ethnic backgrounds and a yen for a free Quebec.

Hard v. Soft Sell.

Biggest and best organized, with some 2,000 dues-paying members, is the right-wing Alliance laurentienne, the creation of Raymond Barbeau, 30, a bombastic teacher of history at a University of Montreal-affiliated business college. The Alliance has attracted a few priests, and puts out a glossy monthly publication, Laurentie, sold at many Quebec newsstands. On the far-left is the Action Socialiste pour l'Indépendance du Québec, a small, shrill group founded by Raoul Roy, 45, a former Communist and unsuccessful haberdasher ("I'm going out of business; the imperialist colonialism, the shopping center, has ruined me"). Castro's Cuban consul in Montreal, Carlos Herrero, helps the group with its organization or makes a speech whenever he can. Despite his aid — or possibly because of it — Action has only 200 members.

Between the two extremes stands the group that may turn out to be more significant than either. It calls itself the Rassemblement pour l'Indépendance Nationale, and preaches a middle-road brand of separatism. Founder André D'Allemagne, 31, a Montreal advertising copywriter who is independently well off, aims a soft sell at fellow admen and newspapers, radio and TV workers, has scored well (500 members claimed) with his let's-be-pals approach: "Wouldn't it be better," he argues convincingly, "if we each ruled our own people and remained great friends?"

Students & Doctors.

So far, the separatists have found their greatest success among intellectuals — professors, students, lawyers, doctors and staffers at the Montreal headquarters of the CBC French network and the National Film Board. The movement draws only yawns from Ottawa. But many French Canadians loyal to the concept of Canada as a single nation no longer dismiss the separatists as a mere lunatic fringe. Says Novelist Hugh MacLennan, who has spent most of his life observing Quebec: "Most dangerous and very serious. It's come extremely suddenly, which means that it has been brewing underground for a long time."


This is an article from The New York Times (June 22, 1961), taken from the review Laurentie (Laurentie, September 1961, no.115, pp.800-801).