New Cite Libre: A Precious Legacy Abandoned

By Joncas, Pierre | Inroads: A Journal of Opinion, Annual 2000 | Go to article overview

New Cite Libre: A Precious Legacy Abandoned


Joncas, Pierre, Inroads: A Journal of Opinion


THIS ARTICLE TRACES THE HISTORY of Cite libre from its 1950 founding by Pierre Trudeau and Gerard Pelletier, through its death in 1966 and resurrection in 1991 (under the editorship of Anne-Marie Bourdouxhe), and its subsequent rebirth as a nationally distributed, bilingual quarterly under editors Max and Monique Nemni. The author, born in Montreal of bilingual parents deeply attached to their dual cultural heritage, was profoundly influenced by Cite libre's first phase. Forty years later, he became a contributor to the magazine and joined its editorial committee.

IN 1985, THE CANADIAN ENCYCLOPEDIA INCLUDED an entry about Cite libre, remarkable recognition for a small periodical that had ceased publishing nearly two decades earlier.

Cite libre was founded in June 1950 by Gerard Pelletier and Pierre Trudeau, and in its first decade printed 500 to 1,500 copies of, on average, two issues per year. Excellent writing and its contributors' boldness in tackling thorny issues like pervasive clericalism and reactionary nationalism earned the magazine a small but committed readership. From January 1960 until the final issue in the summer of 1966, with 7,000 copies of 10 issues per year, Cite libre was an important voice in what came to be known as the Quiet Revolution. Pelletier and Trudeau had gone on to political careers in Ottawa a year before the magazine ceased publication, and, if Cite libre was remembered at all in 1985, it was largely for the celebrity of its founding editors.

Jean Pellerin and Pierre Vallieres (before his public involvement in the FLQ) took over Cite libre's editorship early in 1964, but Trudeau and Pelletier remained important contributors. With the exception of a three-month period in 1964, during which Pellerin was effectively pushed aside by Vallieres and his cronies (they were soon dismissed by the board of directors), positions taken by contributors were generally consistent: Quebec's institutions and Quebecers' attitudes needed to be brought into harmony with the mid-20th century realities of industrialization, urbanization, etc. While criticisms of established institutions and prevailing attitudes were vigorous, they were by no means revolutionary, and the advocated reforms -- to upgrade the educational system, secularize church-controlled public bodies, expand the role of the provincial state in fostering and directing economic growth, etc. -- could all be achieved within the existing legal and constitutional framework. Canadian and international issues were also addressed," usually from a Quebec perspective, while other contributions focused on literary and artistic subjects. The editors and most contributors were self-consciously French-speaking Canadians from Quebec (the term Quebecois had yet to come into fashion), with intense emotional ties to their people, but contributors with other backgrounds, from Quebec and elsewhere, were also welcomed.

I became an eager reader of Cite libre with the November 1954 issue. To the youth I was then, many articles were of limited interest, but the hope of finding at least one gleaming nugget made it worthwhile to pan through the rest. These exceptional pieces compelled me to reconsider sometimes strongly held views. Pierre Trudeau's articles, especially, had this effect. Two spring to mind: "De libro, tributo et quibusdam aliis" (October 1954)(1), a favourable but not uncritical review of Maurice Lamontagne's centralist Le federalisme canadien, and "Les octrois federaux aux universites" (February 1957), a harsh but fair assessment of the Saint-Laurent government's policy of federal grants to universities. My family background had made me suspicious of Quebec City (Maurice Duplessis was then at the height of his power) and trusting of Ottawa, but never before had arguments in defence of provincial autonomy been put so logically, so clearly, so forcibly -- and with no fleur-de-lys flag-waving. Several years later, Trudeau's arguments against emerging separatism, in "La Nouvelle trahison des clercs" (April 1962) and "Les Separatistes: des contre-revolutionnaires" (May 1964), were similarly persuasive -- not that I needed persuading. …

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