Academic journal article Urban History Review

Ward Heelers and Honest Men: Urban Quebecois Political Culture and the Montreal Reform of 1909

Academic journal article Urban History Review

Ward Heelers and Honest Men: Urban Quebecois Political Culture and the Montreal Reform of 1909

Article excerpt


While scholars often emphasize traditionalism, ruralism and anti-statism as the "dominants" of Quebec's political culture prior to the Quiet Revolution, some Quebecois embraced progressivism early in the twentieth century. Municipal government reform, one of the hallmarks of the progressive movement, cropped up in Canada's largest city, Montreal. Far from being confined to anglophones and remnants of Quebec's rouge party, support for reform came from a wide section of Montreal's French-speaking population. This article analyzes the rhetoric employed by Montreal's mass circulation newspapers during the referendum campaign of 1909 in order to demonstrate the popularity of reform in Montreal and to uncover the main doctrines of French-Canadian progressivism. Urban Quebec's political culture, then, accommodated the position of the city in Quebecois culture and envisioned an expanding and active state role in city life. Overriding these beliefs were the basic assumptions of early-twentieth-century liberalism and, curiously for a referendum campaign, a distrust of popular sovereignty characteristic of North American reformism in general.


Alors que les erudits insistent souvent pour dire que le traditionnalisme, la vie rurale et l'anti-etatisme on ete les <> de la culture politique au Quebec avant la Revolution tranquille, certains Quebecois ont adhere au progressisme au debut du vingtieme siecle. La reforme de l'administration municipale, l'un des fleurons du mouvement progressiste, a vu le jour dans la plus grande ville du Canada, Montreal. Loin d'etre uniquement le fait des anglophones et de ce que restait du parti rouge du Quebec, l'appui a la reforme est venu d'une bonne tranche de la population francophone de Montreal. Par l'analyse de la rhetorique qui avait cours dans le journaux montrealais a grand tirage durant la campagne referendaire de 1909, le present article demontre la popularite de la reforme a Montreal et met a jour les principales doctrines du progressisme canadien-francais. La culture politique du Quebec urbain adapta, alors, la position de la ville a la culture quebecoise et envisagea un role plus grand et plus actif de l'etat dans la vie da la ville. Le fait de passer outre a ces convictions a preside a l'elaboration des hypotheses de base du liberalisme du debut du dix-huitieme siecle et, ce qui est surprenant pour une campagne referendaire, a ete une facon de discrediter la composante "souverainete populaire" contenue dans le reformisme nord-americain en general.


Only a few histories of Montreal during Canada's first urban boom have been written. It is a paradox that an era in which urban questions were so profound has produced such meagre debate on the development of Canada's largest city. (1) This is especially surprising considering that French Canadian boosterism had proponents as prominent as those of Ontario and the Prairies. (2) While much ink has been spilled over the political culture of French Canada, little has covered the political culture of urban French Canada, leaving a dangerous simplification of quebecois culture that this article will attempt to correct. In essence, and contrary to historical stereotypes, at least some French Canadians in the early twentieth century, following the progressive, North American urban reform movement, actively supported both reformism and an active state role.

Political Culture in Quebec

Following the polemics of Michel Brunet, the character of quebecois political culture prior to 1960 has been called antietatiste. Brunet attributed the fear of the state to a retarded classical liberalism among Quebec's nineteenth-century francophone elite that emphasized Quebec's traditional rural culture as its "vocation." In an effort to counter the upheaval of urbanization and industrialization, these being phenomena of foreign inspiration, this traditional-minded elite turned the rural lifestyles into a defence against foreign domination. …

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