Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
September 2006

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Ross GORDON, The Historiographical Debate on the Charges of Anti-Semitism Made Against Lionel Groulx, M.A. Thesis (History), University of Ottawa, 1996, 141p.


Section III: 1944-1960


En réalité, ce sont des hommes diversement cultivés ou façonnés par leur pays, leur foi, leur temps, leur éducation.  Tout ce qu'on peut leur demander c'est un effort loyal vers l'objectivité accessible, sans jamais espérer que deux historiens voient l'histoire d'un même oeil." (1)


While there had been some earlier attacks on Lionel Groulx's views on race, the one that did the most sustained damage, the one that set the tone for many years to come, appeared almost as an aside in a much longer essay by the well known editor of Maclean's Magazine: Blair Fraser.  He had been a journalist on all three English language dailies in Montreal for a period of 14 years between 1929 and 1943. (2)  He was, therefore, living in Montreal at the very time of Groulx’s greatest influence and as a journalist Fraser would have had access to much more information and rumour than was published at the time.  He would have been present, or at least aware of, the Jeune Canada demonstrations of 1933 that so frightened Jews in that city.  He would, in short, have been better informed than his status as editor of the English Canadian magazine might first lead one to believe.  In 1944 he moved to Ottawa and began working for Macleans and the CBC.  He was, says his son Graham Fraser, "identified by many as an apologist for the Liberal government." (3)  It was his concern for French Canada that prompted his support of the policies of the Liberal Party of Canada. (4)


His essay, "Crisis in Quebec" appeared on August 15, 1944, at the height of the war against Nazi Germany and concerned the great misunderstandings between French Quebec and the rest of Canada.  French Quebec's attitudes towards the war were viewed as isolationist, ignorant, almost treasonous by English Canadians and Fraser hoped to set the record straight on a few things, notably the French Quebecer’s view of history.  In one part of the essay he discusses the two schools of history in Quebec.  One school made the English Conquest seem enlightened  The other, the one in ascendance in Quebec was the school that taught the 'Groulx myth' of Canadian history in which the English were painted as monsters, and conquerors while the French Canadians were victims, suffering 'Gestapo-like' treatment that tried to grind them down.  Fraser does a good job, given the war time prejudices, of trying to be even handed about this divergence.  But, he threw something which stuck to Groulx long after the article was forgotten.  "Canon Lionel Groulx is a strange figure, doubtless sincere, but from the Canadian point of view a sinister, moulder and leader of French-Canadian youth....He is a convinced racialist, a former pupil at Fribourg in Switzerland of Gonzague de Reynold, who in turn was a pupil of Count de Gobineau, founding philosopher of all modern racist theories, including Hitler's." (5)   Strong stuff to accuse anyone of, particularly so during the latter stages of W.W.II when Canadian troops were fighting on European soil against the Nazi armies.  He quotes only unnamed sources.  Where he obtained his information on the Abbé's schooling in racial theory is not noted but it was not completely surprising.  It had long been felt, in some circles, that Groulx had been influenced by the theories of de Gobineau while studying in Switzerland and a well connected editor such as Fraser would have, no doubt heard them.


In that same article Fraser praised one Abbé Maheux of Laval University, who we will see shortly.  He had published a work that not only preached unity within Canada, but denounced Groulx for his racist teachings. (6)  Fraser approvingly noted that Maheux had dealt the 'Groulx myth' a shattering blow. (7)   One of Groulx's students, Guy Frégault, felt compelled to respond to Fraser and Maheux with a withering attack in Action Nationale. (8)  Frégault himself would go on to play a large role in the development of a revisionist neo-nationalist history soon after.


Fraser's essay, outlining Groulx's ideological baptism in Europe, has had an influence upon 50 years of subsequent works on the man, particularly but not exclusively, English Canadian works.  In many cases, the incriminating paragraph is quoted directly, in others it is paraphrased.  In no case are the original sources for it given.  One can see from Maheux's book, which was viciously attacked in Le Devoir (9) , that 'racial' theories of history were in for a fight from both inside and outside of Quebec academe.  The war in Europe would have been very much a part of the reaction to such historical theorising.


For another example of the times one can look at the reaction to the controversial speech against the absurdity of 'racial' battles along historical lines that was made by a Senator Bouchard on June 21, 1944. (10)   He was speaking in agreement to an idea from his colleague, Senator A. David, that a single textbook for the teaching of Canadian History be introduced in all parts of Canada.  Senator Bouchard was attacked as a traitor to his 'people' and censured by no less than Cardinal Villeneuve. (11)   The question being asked was: Is Canada one country of two peoples, or is it two countries in one?


While Blair Fraser was working on his essay there were great forces at work within Quebec's academic community of which Groulx was a part.  As Fraser mentions, there were two schools of historical thought in Quebec as to the importance of the Conquest and its influence on the present day society.  But there was more going on than just the interpretation of history.  Before the Second World War history in Quebec had been, for the most part, taught by people like Groulx: enthusiastic amateurs.  Few professors had doctorates or were even subject specialists in History. (12) There were journalists, civil servants and of course, priests teaching and writing history.  But by the mid 1940's there emerged the professional historian.  Some,like Guy Frégault, were students of Groulx who went elsewhere to do their postgraduate work.  As they returned to take up their places in Quebec Universities, they brought with them new scientific methods and theories for analysing and revising history.  They also brought with them a feistiness, a will to push boundaries and demand a greater voice in the society which they inhabited.


The two schools which Fraser alludes to were radically different.  At the University of Montreal longtime incumbent Groulx and his students followed the path originally blazed by the revered Francois-Xavier Garneau, Quebec's first 'national' historian. (13)   For the older historians the British Conquest had disrupted a utopia known as New France and reduced French Canada to an unholy remnant open to exploitation and bad influences and finally to possible assimilation by her British captors.  Garneau, then Groulx, gave credit for the survival of the French Canadian 'race', to the Catholic Church which had organised the remaining communities and nurtured their culture.  To these historians, survival of the 'race' was everything.  Language, faith and customs, those things which made the French Canadian unique in the world, had to be safeguarded from outside influences, even if it meant turning a society away from progress and industrialisation.


The younger generation of professional historians who came to teach at the University of Montreal; notably Guy Frégault, Michel Brunet and Maurice Seguin, brought with them new scientific methods of historical research.  They became known as the 'neo-nationalists' and stepped beyond Groulx and his hoary old romantic dream of a return to a faithful and agrarian society.  To these young secular historians the Conquest had decapitated a thriving, a distinct society and kept it from fulfilling its natural destiny as a nation. (14) Guarding language, faith and customs was old stuff.  Briefly, the neo-nationalists used their studies, their new methods, to reinterpret Quebec's place in present day North America and call for a focus on regaining economic control by Francophones and concentration on the inevitable march towards nationhood for Quebec. (15)  Their new nationalism was free of the traditional beliefs in agriculturalism, messianism and antistatism that one finds in Groulx's work. (16)  Others who wrote of unity within Canada were attacked as "blind tools of federal Canadian nationalism." (17) Ramsay Cook once called Michel Brunet the heir and successor to Garneau and Groulx in that he shared their conviction that scholarship was useful in so far as it served the interests of the national group. (18)  


The neo-nationalist historians were supported in their efforts to push Quebec away from the church and towards a secular society in an independent state, by André Laurendeau and the editorial staff of Le Devoir. (19)


The other school referred to by Fraser resided at Laval University in Quebec City.  As Groulx was the spiritual father of the school in Montreal, Abbé Maheux was at Laval an influential presence.  This school of history, known as the 'Liberal school' did not blame Quebec's economic inferiority on the Conquest.  It's best known thinkers; Marcel Trudel, Jean Hamelin and Fernand Ouellet, not only did not consider New France to have been a paradise, but found that the Conquest could be interpreted as a blessing in disguise for what was then a moribund colony of a despotic France.  New markets opened to the Canadians with access to the British Empire and if they did not always capitalise upon the benefits available to them, it could be because of other reasons, both cultural and religious.  This second school was bolstered by "a young, dynamic group of Francophone liberals, social democrats, and democratic socialists" who founded the journal Cité Libre in June 1950. (20)   This group of journalists and social scientists, led by Pierre Trudeau among others, "undertook a wide-ranging, in-depth analysis of Quebec's socio-economic and political institutions and of the ideology of traditional French-Canadian nationalism they saw being used by the established clerical and professional petty-bourgeois intelligentsia to retain control over the Francophone society." (21)   In other words they too attacked the nationalism of Groulx, but for different reasons.  They did not wish to change nationalism but to put it behind Quebec and replace it with a "genuine commitment to the ideology of liberal democracy." (22)


These two schools of aggressive intellectuals were but a part of a sweeping change that was affecting Quebec society from the mid 1940's onwards.  There was an increasing secularisation of society, the rise and spread of higher education and a growing middle class of educated technocrats and civil servants that would push for what was to become the Quiet Revolution.  Quebec society was not stable nor predictable and while this can be said of many places in the aftermath of W.W.II, Quebec was changing at an unprecedented and perhaps unpredictable rate and was reinventing itself as a whole.  Meanwhile, the focal point for the intellectual scorn of many intellectuals, Premier Duplessis, was in the 1950's waging war with Ottawa over taxation and education. (23)  Into the middle of of this chaos came an amateur historian from the United States named Mason Wade with a book he had written about the French Canadians that he hoped would explain them to a wondering world.


Hugh Mason Wade was born in New York City in 1913 and died in New Hampshire in 1986.  His family was wealthy and cultured, part of the eastern American upper class in most aspects except for their Catholicism. (24)   Educated at Harvard University, he left before graduating due to a nervous collapse, the first of several in his lifetime, that marked the manic depressive illness that plagued him always. (25)   Despite his lack of a formal degree he eventually taught History as a full professor at the Universities of Rochester, N.Y. and at Western Ontario.  He was the only non-Canadian to ever become president of the Canadian Historical Association.  He received four honorary degrees for his work but was always viewed with some disdain, even suspicion for his amateur status, by some academics. (26)


He was an outsider, to both French and English Canadian Historians.  He was rich and arrogant and an excessive drinker (27) .  His master work, The French Canadians, was criticised by Ramsay Cook as having been too derivative of Robert Rumilly's Histoire de la Province de Québec (28) and has been dropped off of bibliographies in academic works (29) .  Yet with all of these strikes against him his work on French Canada was not only the first full length account of that history to be published in the English language, it has stood up to much criticism for decades and still finds its way into the notes and bibliographies of many of the more popular works on Quebec history. (30)


As a young man Mason Wade had written a biography of Francis Parkman, another American who had spent time wandering through and describing Canada.  Afterwards, shaking off the withering criticism his book had engendered, he decided to follow Parkman’s footsteps and came to Quebec. (31)   He felt that as an outsider he could offer a perspective on French Canada that was perhaps lacking in English Canadians eyes.  As a Catholic and New Englander who had known French Canadian expatriates, he could perhaps be more sympathetic to the people that he would write about. (32)   He travelled the province for two years and befriended some natives, such as Hugh MacLennan of 'two solitudes' fame. (33)


The young Mason Wade was entering a Quebec that was in turmoil, the history of which was being revised behind opposing barricades.  Many English Canadian historians seemed to have given the province a wide berth.  While working on his first book about French Canadian history the Fraser article appeared.  Wade does not mention Blair Fraser as a source, but the influence of it is clear in the remarks Wade makes on Groulx.  It is interesting to note that, though there is a record of Abbé Groulx having written to Wade at a later date, Wade makes no mention of having had an interview with Groulx nor of making any attempt to question him about his controversial material, something one might have expected from a living source. (34)


For a long time the lengthiest and most complete history of French Canada to be found in the English language was his two volume work: The French Canadians 1760-1967.  As an American historian he had, he felt, the benefit of being able to distance himself from the internal struggles and prejudices that can sometimes colour a Canadian work on this subject.  "Because of ancient difficulties and a tradition of diplomatic relations between English and French Canadians, an American, who has much in common with both, often finds that either sort of Canadian will unburden himself more fully to the stranger than he would to his fellow countryman of the other ethnic origin." (35)   Indeed the standard "English and French histories of Canada(were) so dissimilar as to suggest that they were histories of two different countries." (36)


Wade's first work on French Canada was published in 1946.  This was The French Canadian Outlook: A Brief Account of the Unknown North Americans which he called a history and "in some measure a psychological study." (37)   He states in the preface to The French Canadians that the unifying thread in French Canadian history is a spirit known as 'nationalism' which is "actually an intense provincialism mingled with ethnic and religious factors."  Therefore somewhat disproportionate attention will be devoted to the extremists of a generally placid and easy going people." (38)


Wade presented Lionel Groulx as the "nationalist and racist-minded historian" who was the initiator and leader of the separatist movement that grew out of the attacks on the French language in 1905 and 1912, and the conscription clashes of 1917. (39)   It was that year that he took the reins of Action Française, named from the French royalist movement of Charles Maurras.  The accusations that they were "un-Canadian" led to a search for their own identity as French North Americans.


Groulx was the spiritual and active leader of the ultranationalists in Quebec.  Wade remarks that he rewrote Canadian history into a "perpetual struggle between the 'races'" of which the French were either the martyrs to the British, or traitors to their own people. (40)  The British were seen as tyrants.  Wade found that there "is the racism that permeates his work.  Groulx is a disciple of the historical school of the Count de Gobineau, the eminent nineteenth-century French racist whose doctrine so strongly influenced Houston Stewart Chamberlain and the Nazi racists who derived from him." (41)  Right after W.W.II and the world-wide revulsion felt for anything 'Nazi' or racist policy, this was no light remark to pass upon any man.  The similarity to Fraser's essay is striking.


Wade went on to highlight the influence that Charles Maurras and Maurice Barrès had on the young Groulx while he studied in France and Switzerland.  This influence was to become the basis for the myth oriented, racially motivated nationalism of Quebec as espoused by Groulx.  It included the 'cult of the homeland', folk hero worship, Catholicism, corporatism and Caesarism as unifying forces and a hatred for foreign influences whether Protestant, Jewish, liberal or Masonic, or communist.  "French Canadian youth tends to be nationalist-minded, as American youth is leftist-minded; through his personal magnetism and his power to make history come emotionally alive, Abbé Groulx made many disciples among (his) students." (42)


Wade, as he often does, looks for mitigating circumstance and a balance to his subject.  Even with fascist money coming into Quebec from Italy and Germany, in the 1930's, no significant effect was felt in French Canada.  The whole 'race' ideal of Groulx was one of the 'Latin' versus the 'Anglo-Saxon' and was just as much believed on the English side as the French.  Much of the prejudice, Wade found and was empathetic to its sting, was the anti-Catholic feelings among English Canadians.


As to the anti-Semitism of Groulx, some of it was passed off as a misinterpretation by his followers and difficulties in translation. "The press, with its emphasis on sensationalism, does much to encourage such misunderstandings, with the English press much less well informed about the other group than the French press, something Fraser also noted. (43)   As previously noted, Mason Wade was wealthy talented young American.  It is possible that he idealised his subject somewhat.  It is also possible that he had had little or no experience with Jews, nor understood their feelings about anti-Semitism.  But he knew what it was like to be a Catholic in a Protestant enclave, an outsider in his own country.  It is important to recall this when reading his comments.


His major work, The French Canadians 1760-1967 was first published in the U.S. in 1955. (44)   The revised edition came out in 1968 with a new chapter taking the history to 1966 and containing very few other changes.  The passages wherein Groulx fell under the influence of Maurras and Barrès and Gobineau are exactly as we find them in his first work and with the same amount of footnoting: i.e. none.  Where he got his background information on Groulx's influences is not noted anywhere in either work.  Groulx's well documented, self promoted position on race is presented as often as possible in Groulx's own words. "He constantly stressed the 'racial' factor, for he believed that 'the reality of our national personality, the profound consciousness of our distinct entity, could maintain our racial instincts. He preached a cult of devotion to history and to the traditions of the race, of racial pride and of opposition to anglo-mania and cultural exoticism". (45)


A long segment (46) from a 1921 essay by Groulx in L'Action francaise presents his doctrine (at that time) on Canada, the Conquest and how it has affected the ethnic and hereditary traits of the conquered population and how they need to emphasise the Catholic and Latin nature of their race, "the sort of race created by history and desired by God." (47)   Groulx carried on the Ultramontane tradition "and gave it a racist, separatist bent", says Wade. (48)  His book L'Appel de la Race, written under the pseudonym 'Alonié de Lestres' in 1922, is "permeated with intransigent nationalism and racism and with frequent comparisons drawn from the history of other minority peoples." (49)  


Wade only briefly talks about the Groulx influenced Jeune-Canada movement and its misguided anti-Semitism. He notes that Groulx's attacks on capitalism and foreign ownership and his desire for a strong 'chef' to take the reins of state are, as a combination, pseudofascist leanings that were disturbing to outsiders but they did not add up to much within Quebec.  Indeed he notes that Groulx and André Laurendeau, a leader in Jeune Canada who went on to become editor of Le Devoir, specifically denied that there was any blood racism, they were simply pressing a call for ethnic nationalism, an all too commonplace ideal in the 1930's.  "It is on the virtue of this civilisation (Christian, French) that we bolster our defences, not on a mad pride borrowed from the myths of the Black Forest." (50)


Wade mentions that Groulx was criticised more than once for cultivating a French Canadian racism and that there was some worry in the nationalist movement of the 1930's that an unsavoury element had risen up.  Henri Bourassa was notably alarmed. (51)   In fact, in 1937, articles appeared on Quebec fascism in newspapers in London, New York and Toronto.  The response was that the clergy was perhaps more voluble in its attacks on communism than fascism, but that it would do the right thing when the time came.  The fact that Wade made no specific connection between anti-Semitism and Groulx demonstrates either a delicacy of handling on his part, or, since Groulx was still alive and available for comment when the book was written, a decision on Wade's part that charges of racism aside, there was nothing to the accusations of anti-Semitism.  Even in 1968 nothing was added to the section on Groulx, Jeune-Canada and the 1930's that specifically ties them to charges that they were anti-Semitic.  After tying Groulx to the racist, anti-Semitic European ideologues, Wade does not pursue the connection yet his initial accusations were the only part of his work that survived in many subsequent histories.


The influence that Mason Wade had upon the history of Lionel Groulx in English publications has been pervasive.  Major and minor works on Quebec History, on anti-Semitism in Canada, on Canadian history in general that cover the era of the 1930`s virtually all use his work to some extent.  His quote that "French Canadians are the Sinn Feiners of North America for their strong group consciousness and cohesiveness arise from a basic loneliness and insecurity," appears in the preface of his 1955 edition of the French Canadians as well as the 1984 book on French-English relations: Search for a Nation by Janet Morchain. (52)  It sums up the ambivalent point of view of an outsider, one that is complimentary and condescending at the same time.  From the positive reviews from some English Canada, Hugh MacLennan called it "one of the most important books ever written about Canada by anyone", (53) to the accusations of being derivative, it suffered mostly over the years from comparisons to the newer scientifically based histories.  Wades was the old fashioned kind of history, everything noted and described.  He did not use graphs and statistics to prove his points nor did he specialise in social and economic history.


Wade in large part popularised the portrait of Groulx as the young Catholic priest from the colonies who fell under the spell of the teachings of Maurice Barrès and Charles Maurras while a student in Europe; and, of course, the Compte de Gobineau.  While Groulx was portrayed as a relatively minor character in the French Canadians, one who was mostly benign, a nationalist historian, a romantic separatist who could not bring himself to use that word even when talking of Laurentia; he nevertheless shared aspects of the sinister with his European counterparts and contemporaries.  He had 'disciples' rather than followers or admirers.  He developed the 'cult of Dollard' and the 'cult of the Homeland' as opposed to writing popular or folk histories. (54)He admired the 'chef' a strong leader in the form of a Caesar or corporatist like Salazar or Dolfuss or even Mussolini.


As to his anti-Semitism, Wade is less certain with Groulx, pointing out that it was more a case of his overeager young disciples misconstruing his calls for ethnic solidarity than a premeditated plan to harm Jews in Quebec. (55)


His calls for boycotts of English and Jewish enterprises receive scant attention from Wade and the anti-Semitism of the 1930's in Quebec is largely seen as having been part of an international phenomenon.


Mason Wade was always an outsider in Quebec but that would not have necessarily prevented him from writing a clear eyed history of it's people.  His French was not very good, his friends and contacts were often English Canadian elites who vacationed in North Hatley. (56) These alone were enough to earn him special status as a "bête noir" from the Montreal School. (57)  To them foreigners should not study French Canada, but then for them even English Canadians were considered trespassers.  Michel Brunet believed Wade's goal was to "discredit and ridicule the theorists and practitioners of French-Canadian nationalism." (58)   Brunet wrote:"Néanmoins quelques personnes reconnaissent à M. Wade une autorité dont il doit être le premier à s'étonner. Seul l'infantilisme intellectuel explique ce phénomène." (59)


Stung by this criticism, Wade made an interesting, if belated, counterattack in the revised edition of The French Canadians in 1968. In the section on the "Not-So-Quiet Revolution" where the history departments of Laval Université and Université de Montréal are compared, Laval is found to be much more the open minded and less nationalistic while the Université de Montréal is found to have a history department which shelters the "disciples of Groulx" because of its lack of endowments and subsequent ties to the provincial government.  Maurice Séguin, Guy Frégault,  and Michel Brunet were separatists with an inferiority complex who treated Canon Groulx like a saint.  Wade called them: The Thinker, The Writer, The Screamer.


Wade had more in common with Lionel Groulx as an enthusiastic amateur historian and narrative writer than he did with the new generation of ideologically driven historians in Quebec who greeted his work with hoots and denunciations.  But to a large extent his 'derivative' plodding work enjoys enduring popularity.  Because of extensive use of his work by other writers,especially the more popular English Canadian writers, it is his viewpoint on Groulx which endures.  And as his books have long been translated, he reaches a wider audience within Quebec than Michel Brunet or Guy Frégault will reach outside of the province.  Which is probably not something they were troubled about.


A year after Mason Wade published his two volume work, Michael Oliver finished the manuscript for  The Passionate Debate: The Social and Political Ideas of Quebec Nationalism 1920-1945.   It was based upon his doctoral thesis (60) and had the encouragement and editorship of none other than Cité Libre contributors, Léon Dion and Pierre Trudeau but it was not published until 1991.  The thesis that it was based upon was available and was used subsequently by several writers, and has unique perspectives to offer, coming as it did at roughly the same time as Wade’s opus and before much of the work done on Groulx in the 70's and 80's.  His other works include Quebec States Her Case, edited in 1944 with F.R. Scott and Social Purpose for Canada, published in 1960.


Michael Oliver occupies that special place in society where academics and civil servants freely mix, exchanging places from time to time as opportunities arise.  He was the director of Research for the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, 1963-1967 where he befriended André Laurendeau. (61) He became the first president of the federal New Democratic Party 1961.  He has since been Vice Principal of McGill University and President of Carleton University.  He has been fortunate to have been able to view society from the perspective of the educated elites who not only write history, but socialise with those who shape it.

His work is a federalist's view of Quebec nationalism as being something to be understood and circumvented when possible. In the preface to the more recent edition he states: "At the beginning of 1991, we seem even further than in 1956 from the day when nationalist fires can be damped down in the confidence that we know how to live together..." (62) It is a study that incorporates a left of centre viewpoint for those times.  The assumption in operation is that "the fundamental values of the left may be properly considered liberty and equality, and those of the right, order and privilege." (63) The Quebec nationalist movement of the 1920's and 1930's is seen as having been one of freedom and equality and is best represented by Henri Bourassa, Olivar Asselin and André Laurendeau (64). Lionel Groulx appears as the right-wing conservative foil, as out of date in the 1930's as his call for a return to an agrarian society.


Anti-Semitism, when it appeared was not a home grown phenomenon, but a European import that had some misguided adherents.  It is interesting that a student of Groulx's, Laurendeau, should appear as freedom loving leftist.  He is, after all, remembered for his revolting speeches and pamphlets attacking Jews while a leader of Jeune Canada in the early 1930's.  But he was young enough to have gone to Europe in the late 1930's and be reborn into the left-wing fold.  It is ironic that when Groulx was young, he too went to Europe and was swept up in the ideologies of the times: racial purity and catholic action.  Is it possible that only a simple matter of what decade a young man travels to Europe decides whether or not he becomes a corporatist or a socialist?


Oliver first interprets Groulx's racism in the strictly biological form, as one that was based on his theory that a new race had been born in French Canada, a race that had been given divine guidance and idealism from Catholicism.  A pure race that was blighted by the conquest but nonetheless survived thanks to intervention from the clergy.  He described a nationalism where devotion was to one's ethnic group in order to free themselves from subjection to other groups.  The need for a 'national personality was paramount and the need to remain separate from other races which Groulx felt were naturally antipathetic: "Indeed it is a disagreeable truth, but a truth nonetheless: Nations dislike each other." (65)


But, Oliver notes, "because the meaning of the term 'race' tended in use to be elastic, this problem of mutual antipathy between peoples was not as serious as it might at first seem to be." (66)   Yet there was the fear of foreign, non-French, non-white, non-Catholic immigration 'diluting the stock' and it is in this context that the "anti-Semitism of the 1920's and 1930' of Quebec must be examined.  French Canadians by no means monopolized this prejudice; nor did the nationalist school...invent it.  But anti-Semitism had a particular importance and a singular prominence in French Canada which must be taken into account." (67) Here one can see the rising influence of the revisionist neo-nationalist historians that Oliver must have read by then.  While Wade wrote his book around the same time, using research gathered in the 1940's, he is seen to have been more of a contemporary of Groulx's than, say, Brunet's.  That is to say, Michael Oliver is of a younger generation of historians who is putting Groulx's work into the context established by the neo-nationalists: it is out of date romantic nationalism, but it is not bad simply for being nationalism.  Oliver, like the neo-nationalists, the 'liberals' and others, has begun to place Groulx, who was still very much alive, into a historical background rather than the position of influence that Wade had found him in.


Because the original thesis was written in 1956 it is interesting to look at Oliver's opinion on the influence of Maurras and Barrès on Groulx the nationalist.  What of European influences on the Abbé?


"The obvious place to search for these innovations is in the nationalist current in France in the same period; and if a specific clue were required, it lies blatantly in the title of the review that the Abbé directed.  Yet Laurendeau had discounted the ideas of Charles Maurras and Action française as determinants of Groulx's thought; and he was equally hesitant about stressing Maurice Barrès." (68)


Groulx said to Laurendeau: "Neither Barrès, nor Maurras had the influence on me that some people believed.  First of all I became acquainted with them late.  I barely read four of five of Maurras' books." (69)  



Yet Oliver was leery of this disclaimer.  The Quebec L'Action française was heavily influenced by the French journal.  He saw a time lag in the transfer of ideas from France to Canada of some 20 years so that the1920's and 1930's in Canada saw a repetition of the rise of Action française influence that took place in the early years of the 20th century in France. Action française in France published a manifesto calling for a movement of "anti-Semitic, anti-Masonic, anti-Protestant, anti-parliamentary and anti-democratic nationalism". (70)   It was a matter of transference.  Maurras took Barrès ideas for racial exclusivity, authoritarian leadership and mystical nationalism that was based on love of land and ancestry, and created his movement.  In French Canada, Groulx also called for a strong leader and praised the French Canadian race above all others. But there were strong differences, says Oliver: the movement for revenge against Germany, the elaborate praise of the army and the desire for a return of a monarchy, were all lost in the translation to North America.  Oliver also found that while Maurras based his movement on an aesthetic with roots in the Greco-Roman period; Groulx was more drawn to a rural model, "like that of the Middle Ages." (71)


Abbé Groulx is not accused in this book of being an anti-Semite himself so much as having ideas that were taken up by other, younger nationalists who interpreted his theories thus. In the case of the journal La Nation, for example, one that openly admired Hitler and Mussolini, we read: "The debt to Abbé Groulx revealed itself in a number of ways.  La Nation's nationalism was exclusively French Canadian ; it was anti-democratic and was anti-Semitic during its first years of publication, to almost the same degree as L'Action francaise (Montreal), and rather more so afterwards." (72)  Yet it denounced racism on several occasions and then published anti-Semitic articles on others.  Its enthusiasms were ungoverned. Groulx did distance himself from La Nation's editorial policies that promoted fascism and separatism.


Oliver felt that it was the younger generation, the hot blooded and inexperienced youth that spoke out in such shocking and vicious forms.  The older generation, such as Groulx, were too conservative to desire something such as a fascist state and were too cautious, and too Christian, to openly attack Jews in such a bold faced manner.  Groulx did not caution his youthful friends to desist, that is true, and he should be censored for this.  But he did not, in Oliver's book, actually promote anti-Semitism.  It is interesting to note of Oliver's work that Groulx and his generation are given much less credit for leadership of the movements of the 1930's as they receive in other books and articles.  The radical youth of that era is given full credit for its own part in the nastiness of Jeune Canada, La Nation and La Relève, Les Goglus and their attacks on Jews in print and speech.  Groulx, the spiritual mentor to these youth, at least of Jeune Canada if less certainly of Les Goglus, is not seen to have been directly responsible any more than any teacher is responsible for the actions of their pupils outside of the classroom.


In his chapter on Nationalist anti-Semitism Oliver notes a reticence on the part of the Quebec of the 1950's to recognise the anti-Semitism of the 1930's  Even Pierre Trudeau had felt that Mason Wade had gone too far in exposing something that "was really quite restrained." (73) "The conspicuous feature of anti-Semitism in Quebec, especially in the decade of the 1930's, was its widespread appearance, and in publications which were as far removed from yellow journalism as Le Devoir is alleged to have been." (74)   Many nationalists deplored anti-Semitism, including Groulx's students: André Laurendeau and Guy Frégault.  To Oliver this shows that there was more to it than just a generalised racism.  Anti-Semitism was special and noticeable.  It grew from a 'latent' hostility found in the pages of L'Action française in the 1920's, into the openly nasty extract of Mgr. Gfoeller's pastoral letter printed in the L'Action nationale in 1933.  Anatole Vanier's admiring article three months later in the same journal using the bishop's 'admirable' letter accused Jews of creating their own misery wherever they went and charging that in French Canada the problem was reaching crisis proportions was, again,  the responsibility of Vanier himself, not Groulx. (75)


Oliver found that casual anti-Semitic references were legion in journals such as La Nation, L'Action nationale, L'Action francaise and in Le Devoir there were countless signs of anti-Semitic intent.  He gives many examples and recreates the campaign against the Jewish intern at Hopital Notre Dame for example. (76)   But of the myriad examples from journals which were 'influenced' by and even edited by Groulx, none come from the Abbé himself.  From this one may conclude that Oliver could not find anything that he believed worthy of incriminating the Abbé..  Or, one may conclude that though he may have found some tainted works by the Abbé himself, it was not evidence of a life long anti-Semitism and so even in 1991 Oliver could not bring himself to come right out and call him such.


Blair Fraser's attack on Groulx may be seen as the work of a journalist who writes the truth as he sees it, or, as a Liberal supporter who is setting up a nationalist icon for a fall.  It all depends upon ones’ viewpoint.  What he does not do is offer a context, or mitigating circumstance for Groulx's racial theorising.  Mason Wade, the outsider, as an American in Canada, a Catholic in the days when that could be a barrier, and an English speaker writing about French Quebec, took up the charges against Groulx and with great thoroughness expanded upon them.  But within Quebec his work was immediately sidelined by the young Turks who refused to even consider the question of Groulx's anti-Semitism without calling into question the entire premise of an outsider writing about their history.  Neo-nationalists and Liberals may have disagreed about the history of Canada and Quebec, and the future of both those places, but they agreed that Wade had no business telling the outside world about their internal problems.  They certainly made no efforts to write about the anti-Semitism of the past, they were eager to redefine the Quebec of the present.  Any discussion of Groulx had to fall into the context of the history of the nationalist movement in Quebec and the appropriate view of Quebec's place in Canada as either captive of the conquerors, or dynamic federation builder.  It was a side-track few wanted to go onto.


Michael Oliver represents the earnest attempt by an Anglophone Quebecker to take on the subject of anti-Semitism, but to put Groulx into a context of sorts: that of an idealist who had been out of touch and out of date throughout the 1930's.  In such a context he could not have had much of an impact and indeed it was the radical youth who really made things happen.  Fortunately, the radical youth turned left before causing any real trouble it would seem.  This view point is not endorsed by other writers but it is not far from the kind of interpretation that one sees reappearing in later years.  Groulx was harmless.  Nothing really bad happened.  Let sleeping dogs lay.


(1) L. Groulx to M. Wade, September 1, 1953.JP Gaboury. Le nationalisme de Lionel Groulx. p101.

(2)The Canadian Who’s Who. vX 1964-1966.

(3) "Blair Fraser Reports." p.xxi.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Blair Fraser "Crisis in Quebec." Maclean's, Aug.15 1944  p43.

(6) Arthur Maheux. Pourquoi sommes-nous divisés? Radio-Canada, 1943.

(7) "Crisis in Quebec",p43.

(8) Guy Frégault, "Le Mythe de M. le chanoine Groulx" Action Nationale, nov 1944.

(9) Serge Gagnon, Quebec and its Historians. p9.

(10) Ibid, p6.

(11) Ibid, p7.

(12) Ibid, p2.

(13) Ibid, p6.

(14) Cameron Nish, ed.  The French Canadians, 1759-1766: Conquered? Half-

Conquered? Liberated?. Issues in Canadian History. 1967.

(15) Hubert Guindon. Quebec Society: Tradition, Modernity, and Nationhood, p.xvii

(16) Ibid, p.xxviii.

(17) Gagnon. Quebec and its.Historians. p19.

(18) Ibid.  Gagnon is quoting Cook from an article published in Cité Libre, Jan.1965.

(19) Michael Behiels. "Quebec: Social Transformation and Ideological Renewal, 1940-1976." Quebec Since 1945: Selected Readings. p29.

(20) Behiels, Ibid. p25.

(21) Ibid.

(22) Ibid. p27.

(23) Ibid. p32.

(24) N.E.S.Griffiths. "Hugh Mason Wade". Mason Wade, Acadia and Quebec: The Perception of an Outsider. p2.

(25) Ibid. p3.

(26) Stephan Kenny. "Histoire sans coeur?" Mason Wade, Acadia.and Quebec. p182."At

the end of his life, Wade personally experienced disdain."

(27) Ibid.

(28) Ibid. p187.

(29) Susan Mann Trofimenkoff does not include his work in her "Select Bibliographies" in Dream of Nation: A Social and Intellectual History of Quebec, 1983.

(30) Mordecai Richler in Oh Canada! Oh Quebec! called Wade's The French Canadians an 'invaluable aid', in 1991.

(31)Kenny. "Histoire sans coeur?" p183.

(32) Mason Wade, preface to The French Canadians. xiv-xv.

(33) NES Griffiths, "Hugh Mason Wade". p5.

(34) Aside from the aforementioned letter from Groulx, there does not appear to have been any interviews on the subject of Groulx's controversial writings.

(35) Mason Wade.  The French Canadian Outlook. p13.

(36) Ibid. p14.

(37) Ibid. p12.

(38) Ibid. pXIII

(39) Ibid

(40) Ibid. p123.

(41) Ibid. p124.

(42) Ibid. p125.

(43) Ibid. p159.

(44) I am using the revised edition

(45) The French Canadians. p869.

(46) One of the criticisms of Wade's work was that he depended too much upon long quotations.

(47) Ibid. pp869-871.

(48) Ibid. p876.

(49) Ibid.

(50) Wade quoting an article from L'Action nationale, Fev. 1933.  P.904

(51) The French Canadians. p986.

(52) Janet Morchain  Search for a Nation  p3.

(53) David M.L. Farr. "Mason Wade as Historian of Quebec." Mason Wade, Acadia...p32.

(54) Wade. French Canadian Outlook p124.

(55) Ibid. p146.

(56) Farr, "Mason Wade as Historian ..". p32.

(57) Kenny "Histoire sans coeur?" p186.

(58) Ibid. p187.

(59) Michel Brunet. Revue d'histoire de l’Amérique française vII no3 déc 1953.

(60) M.K. Oliver. The Social and Political Ideas of French Canadian Nationalists. Montreal: McGill University Thesis 1956.

(61) Michael Oliver.  The Passionate Debate.  preface.

(62) Ibid. P14.

(63) Ibid p18.

(64) Ibid. p12.

(65) Ibid. p74.

(66) Ibid.

(67) Ibid. p81.

(68) Ibid. p82.

(69) Ibid.

(70) Ibid. p84.

(71) Ibid. p88.

(72) Ibid. p138.

(73) Ibid. p180.

(74) Ibid. p181.

(75) Ibid. p183.

(76) This case is mentioned in many works and is as shocking a display of anti-Semitism as can be found anywhere.  When a Jewish intern was hired on to the staff of Notre Dame hospital in Montreal in 1934, a strike was called by French Canadian interns to protest that he was taking their rightful position.  The strike spread until the Jewish intern resigned. 



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Source: Ross GORDON, The Historiographical Debate on the Charges of Anti-Semitism Made Against Lionel Groulx, M.A. thesis (History), University of Ottawa, 1996, 141p., pp. 19-42.


© 2006 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College