Academic journal article Quebec Studies

L'abandon De L'abandon: The Emergence of a Transatlantic "Francosphere" in Quebec and Canada's Strategic Culture

Academic journal article Quebec Studies

L'abandon De L'abandon: The Emergence of a Transatlantic "Francosphere" in Quebec and Canada's Strategic Culture

Article excerpt

Introduction: For the Love of France

Last year's celebrations commemorating the 400th anniversary of Quebec's founding sparked a controversy over the historic bonds between Quebec, Canada, and France. Some regard 1608 as marking the arrival of francophone civilization on the North American continent, and they understand the "Quebec nation" to be this civilization's bedrock. But others, including Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper, have preferred to imagine Quebec's founding as also denoting Canada's founding as a state, and they see a direct line of descent running from Samuel de Champlain to the current governor general of Canada, Michaelle Jean. (1) This ascription of an eminently federal lineage to the events being celebrated this past year was too much for one member of parliament from the Bloc quebecois (BQ), Michel Guimond, who dismissed the prime minister's interpretation as nothing short of a "surrealistic rewriting of history." (2) Such an interpretation not only brought to mind Salvador Dali, it also made a mockery of the historical record, for to claim that Canada, rather than Quebec, had been "born French" did seem to skate rather blithely over the British conquest of New France during the Seven Years' War of 1756 to 1763. As the historian, Michel de Waele, put it, to deny the rupture that was the Conquest is tantamount to erasing the original line of division between French and English Canadians. (3)

Nor was Stephen Harper the only national leader to feel the wrath of Quebec sovereigntists. France's president, Nicolas Sarkozy, also found himself being raked over the coals for similarly pooh-poohing the country's contested origins, through comments such as the following, made during a brief stopover in Quebec: "I have always been a friend of Canada's, because Canada has always been an ally of France's. Frankly, anyone who thinks that the world really needs now is one more fracture is not someone who sees the same reality as I do." Sarkozy went on to say that he did not understand why a declaration of fraternal and familial affection for Quebec had to be accompanied by a show of disaffection for Canada: "France is a country that brings things together, rather than splits them apart." (4) He hastened to add that his supporting Canadian unity in no way detracted from the historic links between France and Quebec; and as had Prime Minister Harper, Premier Jean Charest of Quebec, and Prime Minister Francois Fillon of France, so too did President Sarkozy insist upon the "special," "unique," and "privileged" quality of France-Quebec relations.5

The tug-of-war for France's affection was interesting in its own right; but what was truly remarkable about this jousting between federalists and sovereigntists was the historical novelty of either side's insisting upon having bragging rights to a French heritage. Consider how absent France had been the last time a Quebec centenary was being celebrated, back in 1908 on the occasion of the three hundreth anniversary of its founding. A century ago, it would have been very difficult to imagine such an outpouring of esteem for any transatlantic "Francosphere." (6) As the historian Patrice Groulx reminds us, the 1908 birthday bash served primarily to underline the advantages of colonial status both for the city of Quebec and for French Canada, and to highlight their attachment to the British Empire. The Prince of Wales was chief among the visiting dignitaries, and his presence not only lent the festivities royal luster, it also served as a reminder that Quebec was a "fleuron de l'Empire britannique." To say the least, this is not exactly how things would be interpreted a hundred years later. (7)

What happened during the intervening century? How is it that an event dating back to the eighteenth century should have been interpreted so differently in 2008 from the manner in which it had been regarded in 1908? It seems that in Quebec's collective consciousness (to say nothing of Canada's) one myth has given way to another. …

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