Academic journal article Borderlands

The Spectacle of Champlain: Commemorating Quebec

Academic journal article Borderlands

The Spectacle of Champlain: Commemorating Quebec

Article excerpt

Introducing Samuel de Champlain and the Quebec 400

Throughout 2008, Quebec and Canada commemorated the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City by Samuel de Champlain with an extremely popular series of public events. Not surprisingly, the Canada-Quebec political quarrel played itself out in a number of different guises during this period. In English and French-language media, questions were consistently raised about the significance of the commemorations. Did the founding of Quebec City by Samuel de Champlain in 1608 constitute the founding of the nation of Quebec? Or did it mark the origins of Canada, as Canadian Prime Minister Harper maintained?

This paper veers away from the popular infatuation with this 'two founding nations' discourse (see Bannerji, 2000; Mackey, 2002) to focus specifically on the ways in which the Quebec 400 constructs a normative Quebecois national subject. In this regards, two main questions animate my inquiry: How is the past used to construct boundaries around normative Quebecois subjects? How do discourses on cultural pluralism play a role in defining this normative Quebecois national subject? Through participant observation and online content analysis, I analyze the major commemorative event at the Quebec 400 and consider the making of the normative Quebecois national subject.

In the first section of this paper I examine the process of foundation through which Samuel de Champlain becomes the father of Quebec. This historical process involves the construction of both a literal and figurative face for Champlain and the instantiation of a founding moment, both of which lead to his eventual monumentalization in the Old City of Quebec. From there, I analyze the Quebec 400's official commemorative event, the Rencontres [Encounters] multi-media show, in order to study how Samuel de Champlain is imaginatively reconstituted as the founder of the liberal ethic of cultural pluralism common in Quebec and in Western liberal democracies more broadly (Hage, 2000; Brown, 2006). This is accomplished both through the seemingly benevolent indigenization of the Quebecois subject and in the racialized modes through which Rencontres understands the colonial encounter. I conclude by arguing that the discursive attempt to re-signify the encounter between indigenous peoples and white settlers as one based on equality re-constitutes white settler forms of power and privilege common to settler societies and articulates particular forms of Quebec nationalism.

Remembering Champlain, the Founding Hero

There were two notable moments during my time in Quebec City in 2008 where the significance of Champlain's image came into full focus. Both occurred in close proximity to each other along near the St-Lawrence River in the Port area of the city. The first was at the Musee de la civilisation du Quebec (MCQ), at the permanent exhibit Le temps des Quebecois [Quebec's Time]. The second was at the Centre d'interpretation de Place-Royale, during the Champlain retrace [Facing Champlain] film showing (2008).

Le temps des Quebecois was first launched in 2004 and provides a synthesis of the major events that have shaped present-day Quebec. It is a rather traditional museum exhibit; it features a linear progression through a series of objects, artifacts, audio-visual productions, and textual panels. According to the MCQ website (2009), the exhibit addresses five key themes: Quebec's social, political, and economic history; Quebec's urban society; the growth of Quebec's rural regions during the nineteenth century; Quebec society's cultural diversity; and Quebec modernity. Among the many diverse items displayed in the exhibit are busts of early colonizers; models from a variety of landscapes; paraphernalia from the Montreal Canadiens hockey team; and objects such as books, clothes, and letters from various periods. Samuel de Champlain is given a prominent place among the exhibit's key figures. …

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