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 V - 1980-1990

"There is no such thing as one expression of nationalism in Quebec, univocal and all-pervasive. There are, instead, various expressions of nationalism in Quebec." (1)

The 1970's for Quebec had been a time of growth and change.  From a bad beginning of violence and the imposition of the War Measure Act, the decade saw unprecedented political upheaval and at the same time, brilliance.  With Pierre Trudeau in Ottawa and, by 1976, René Levesque in Quebec City, the province had two of its brightest and most venerated political leaders offering two visions of a future for Quebec.  Trudeau offered the chance to grow with Canada, to be part of a greater whole, and offered up a vision of a country where French and English could live in harmony.  Levesque offered the dream of French state, a larger version of the Laurentia Groulx had described, but sitting atop a more realistic economic engine.

1980 was the year that the decision, by a referendum on sovereignty, was to be made.  The Parti Quebecois had been elected in 1976 by a majority of Francophone voters and had embarked on a course that would correct what they perceived to have been historic wrongs committed against the French majority in the province.  New language laws were the most obvious sign of changes that were intended to cement the foundations of a French state in North America.  The referendum was to create the conditions for a final negotiation with the federal government of Canada to create some sort of a sovereign Quebec.  Throughout the 1970's there had been an outpouring of nationalist feeling in the form of arts and entertainment from a youthful population that was feeling it's strength growing.  During the run up to the voting there were very emotional debates from both federal and nationalist camps that were aimed at a populace that had heard propaganda of one form or another for generations from politicians, intellectuals and religious leaders.  It was during this emotional battle, when all seemed possible, and everything could be won or lost, that David Rome, in Montreal, released his major work on anti-Semitism in Canada.  It received almost no recognition in the French press.

It is by far the strongest and most thorough investigation of the anti-Semitic side of Lionel Groulx's work ever written.  His 13 volume privately published series, Clouds in the Thirties: On Anti-Semitism in Canada 1929-1939 came out between 1977 and 1981 and is so complete in it's documentation of Abbé Groulx and Le Devoir's anti-Semitic writings, as to make it seem almost superfluous for Esther Delisle to have repeated the work 10 years later.  Because his work was published in English, by the Canadian Jewish Congress possibly relegated it to the margin of academic life in Quebec.  It did not create much of a stir and was not the subject of editorial crossfire.

David Rome, born in Lithuania in 1910, came to Canada in 1921.  He moved to Montreal in 1930 and lived there until his death early in 1996.  He worked as the first Press officer of the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) and was Director of the Jewish Public Library in Montreal and then archivist for the CJC.  He was always concerned with developing a "dialogue and spirit of communality between Jews and the French Canadian population of Quebec." (2)  He founded the Cercle Juif de Langue Francaise, the first Francophone Jewish cultural group in Canada in the 1950's.

He lived in Montreal during the time of the worst anti-Semitic outbursts, in the press and by fringe groups, and he was an active member of the CJC, a group which kept close tabs on those who sought to harm and humiliate Jews.  He had access as an archivist, in an archive that he helped to build, to every available document on the era of the 1930's in Quebec, and he uses them all.  What he did not have was a knack for promoting his works.  They were published and sold to libraries.  They did not receive as much attention as they could and should have.

His research is exhaustive, his viewpoint is unsympathetic.  His comment upon three influential monthly journals published in Quebec:

"Action francaise (June 1917-Dec. 1927); Action canadienne francaise (Jan. 1928 - March 1929); Action nationale (Jan 1933-) : "all of them dominated by the figure of Chanoine Lionel Groulx, all of them anti-Semitic. These periodicals, the guides of a generation, were Abbé Groulx's tribune from which he led a generation of patriotic French Canadians and constitute one of the most important religious and political institutions of Canadian culture ...Their pages carried the most bitter, effective and profoundly menacing anti-Jewish appeals in Canadian history." (3)


He went on: 


"But Le Devoir and Action nationale took over from Abbé Groulx and continued to preach the old themes of the preceding decade... the anti-Jewish program entered deeply into the nationalistic thinking and teachings of some of the most influential and serious intellectual, political and religious leaders of French Canada." (4)  

Of great interest is that with his archival resources and years of research, including the years where he lived in the same city as Groulx, Rome still had to Mason Wade to bolster the claim that Abbé Groulx had picked up his racist education during his student years in Europe.  Two pages of direct quotes from Wade’s famous works are used to outline the Abbé's influences, from the Comte de Gobineau to Maurras and Barrès. (5)   They appear in other sections as well. In the first volume of the series we find: 

"Mason Wade and Blair Fraser have both said that the Abbé had come under the influence of disciples of the Comte de Gobineau, the eminent 19th century French racist whose doctrines so strongly affected Houston Stewart Chamberlain in England and the Nazi racists who derived from him, a statement he took pains to deny." (6)

Groulx's denials are given very short shrift by Rome.  Indeed they are barely mentioned at all except perhaps to highlight the Abbé's hypocrisy.

How does the Abbé fare in Clouds in the Thirties?  He is shown to have been rabidly anti-Semitic. There is no mistaking him for anything but.  We first find him writing under the pseudonym Jacques Brassier, in an article for Action francaise in January 1927 entitled "menacingly": "Veut-on nous pousser au fascisme?" Groulx, "vigorous contender for the role of ponifex maximus of French Canadian youth" (7) is attacking movies and other entertainments as demoralising influences.  He is particularly angry that a movie house has recently burned down killing 70 children and is threatening "all those who are responsible for the law" that if they do not do something about these bad influences and punish those "guilty for the Laurier Palace affair", then the people themselves might embrace fascism as a better path.  Rome finds this to be foreshadowing the events of the 1930's when "the youth inspired by the Abbé Groulx was to come close its own form of fascism." (8)  Yet nowhere in the article is there an specific attack on Jews.  It is inferred by the reader who must already believe Groulx to be anti-Semitic.  But from this Rome conjectures that Groulx's viewpoint could be related to the "satanic view of mankind which connected the silent screen with Sarah Bernhardt....and the Jews-as institutions of demoralisation." (9)

The letter that pretty much made clear what Groulx thought of Jews was sent to a M. Lamoureux in 1954.  As Rome states "when he had long had occasion to assimilate the Hitler experience; the abbé writes in primitive anti-Jewish terms that would have been too simplistic for him half a century earlier: the mania of the Jews, the hypocritical clothing of hatred in Christian garments, the Jew as revolutionary, ...usurer.. pornographic, etc..." (10)

The letter itself is truly awful.  Beginning with "Clearly Christian charity forbids us any form of anti-Semitism" then getting to the point:"We must also consider his innate passion for money a passion often monstrous, and one that removes all scruples from him...So we find him at the bottom of every shady affair, of all pornographic works: books, cinema, theatre, etc. He shows no moral scruples in business, in the professions..." and so forth. (11)  It is an abysmal letter and demonstrates clearly that Groulx was not just an anti-Semite, but remained a small minded one as well.  His world view, despite his years in Europe and at the University of Montréal, remained that of a provincial.


Rome points out the differences between the two nationalist leaders and editors; Henri Bourassa and Lionel Groulx, by comparing their propensities for racism. While Bourassa apparently feared the path of Maurras and Barrès, the Abbé quietly, even silently, represented that thinking, waiting in the wings for Bourassa to fall.  "The youth had long followed Bourassa out of their faith in ideas which were not really his. Now they tended to follow Groulx for the same ideas which Groulx never expressed but which were probably his." (12)

Later, in another swipe, Rome manages to imply Groulx's "close collaboration and support for genocide" without directly naming anyone but Adrien Arcand (13) in a section on Groulx's reappraisal of Papineau's role in the 1837 rebellion. 

Groulx is shown to have been demonstrably negative towards Jews in his April 1933 article in Action nationale. (14)  Rome quotes Groulx who, under the pen name Jacques Brassier, encourages readers to 'solve the Jewish problem' by refusing to do business with them.  Achat chez nous, which Groulx called 'economic solidarity', was directed at the Jewish and English merchant populations of Quebec.  "Within six months, within a year, the Jewish problem would be resolved, not only in Montreal but from one end of the province to other." (15) Achat chez nous was a call taken up by many in Québec, including Les Goglus, newspaper editors and some politicians.  The restaurant keepers association of Montréal, for example, called for a boycott of Jewish products. (16)  More importantly, points out Rome, "Action Catholique served as headquarters (for the Achat chez nous organisation).  The columns of this newspaper, like Le Devoir, were filled with appeals and reports of Achat chez nous, ...The name of the influential Abbé Lionel Groulx figured prominently in this propaganda." (17)

The juxtaposition of Le Devoir and Groulx is notable as both figure prominently throughout Rome and Delisle.  Again and again Le Devoir is shown to have fostered and disseminated anti-Semitic attitudes throughout the 1930's. 

Rome uses the aforementioned article by Groulx, written under the pseudonymous name, Jacques Brassier, to reveal a dark side of the abbé. The single article, "Le problème juif" in Action nationale, April 1933, is used repeatedly in different sections of Rome's work, giving the impression of several articles having been written on the same subject.  This is, to some extent, misleading.  While it demonstrates that Groulx was anti-Semitic, it exaggerates the amount of work he put into attacking the Jews head on.  Rome is making an effort, it seems, to heighten the impact of each article by taking them apart and proffering them to the reader over a longer space.  Each quote hits the reader in a different way and it makes his case against Groulx stronger. (18)


An Austrian Bishop named Groellner made an anti-Semitic statement attacking Jews for poisoning the morals and souls of Christians and suggested returning them to the ghettos of old to "restrain the Jewish spirit as much as possible."  Action nationale published his remarks in June 1933 and followed it up with a 20 page amplification in Sept.1933 by Anatole Vanier that in turn set off hundreds of articles in journals across the province including, Le Devoir. (19)  Vanier believed that Jews were pouring into Canada, despite negative immigration statistics, and posited: "Who is to blame if Germans and French Canadians want to live their own way and remain masters of their own homes?" (20)  It is the will of God that people attack them (adds Rome)..The Jewish quarters in Montreal are deteriorating, depressing property values.  Rome then adds that: "Vanier's teacher, Abbé Groulx, was a master of strong expression through meticulously mild language.  Though he would write that entire sections of the city were infected by Jews...he had once rejected an anti-Semitic article from a student as too virulent." (21)   Rome is not praising Groulx for having stood his ground against anti-Semitism.  He is highlighting the problem for someone, such as himself, studying Groulx.  It is difficult to find evidence of outright anti-Semitic statements by the abbé.  Even under pseudonyms Groulx is careful not to write anything coarse.  Does this mean that he is not having an influence?  Reading Rome's work one can see that the influence is played out from behind the scenes more than on the stage itself.

Two dangerous anti-Semitic periodicals appeared in the 1930's.  One of them, Vivre, was "encouraged by Chanoine Groulx. The cleric praised Mussolini in his letter of commendation published in Vivre in November 1934." The year that it began. (22)  It was a vile journal spitting out the worst slander against Jews, dehumanising them along the lines that the Nazis used. The other journal, La Nation was attacked in a letter dated Jan. 18. 1937 which stated: " La Nation was full of contradictions ; preaching tolerance and ferocious anti-Semitism. But its collaborators based their views on the teachings of Abbé Groulx. They were openly Fascist, having adopted the doctrine of Mussolini and of Franco." (23)  La Nation was the successor to Vivre, slightly "more literate but equally vicious and murderous as the Patriote," Adrien Arcand's Nazi paper. (24)  It is interesting to note that Groulx never wrote for the overtly fascist papers available at that time, though they would have surely welcomed an article or two from the eminent Abbé. If he supported fascism, why not do so directly?  The answer is because he would have lost not only his credibility as an academic by openly taking sides with the marginal players who ran those journals, he could have been fired by his bishop despite his position of some power.

In the second issue of La Nation, contributor Albert Pelletier disavowed anti-Semitism quoting Abbé Groulx himself, "We are neither anti-Saxon or anti-Semitic; we are not against anybody.  We are for French Canadians." (25)  Rome points out in a later volume "In spite of what the people had been taught about the evil Jews the terms 'race prejudice' and 'anti-Semitism' were to be rejected even by many who held anti-Jewish ideas.  These very men, even as they were preaching these ideas, indignantly rejected the title (e.g. Abbé Groulx, Omer Héroux, André Laurendeau)." (26)  It is possible that their anti-Semitism was so ingrained that they truly did not see it for what it was, or, they were being disingenuous.  Rome does not say, he leaves their words out in the open for the reader to decide, based on whatever prejudices they bring with them to his books.

Jeune Canada was the infamous youth group that came to attention with a virulent counter-protest on April 20, 1933, against the participation of Christians in a Jewish anti-Nazi rally.  Said Rome: "No parallel to such moral depravity on this continent comes to mind." (27)  The group published a pamphlet calling for Canadians to concern themselves more with menace of the Jew in Canada than the treatment of Jews by the Nazis in Germany. (28) They called for the end of Jewish immigration and the curtailing of the rights that Jews enjoyed in Christian Canada. Their pamphlet, which they note spoke only for themselves, was in Rome's words: "a monument they set up themselves, to their hatred and to their insensitivity which probably has no parallel in the Quisling literature of the world." (29)

The pamphlet's editors acknowledged their teachers, Bourassa and Groulx.  André Laurendeau particularly thanked his spiritual leader, Abbé Groulx, for his guidance.  Groulx responded, again as Jacques Brassier, in Action nationale June 1933 where he called the Jeune Canada protest a "fight against political hypocrisy" and praised his young students for fighting the Jews who had been raised to the "rank of a privileged cast" and who "abuse their vote even to 110% without even being discommoded by an oath." (30)  Hitler, Brassier reminds his readers, is fighting the communist tendency when he fights the Jews.  It would seem that Groulx's alter ego, Jacques Brassier, was the voice that he used to unleash his most distasteful ideas.  He was not going to jeopardise his career and reputation.

By 1934 Abbé Groulx had apparently, at least publicly, "sensed the brutality of such programs as Achat chez nous and the thoughtless blaming of the problems of French Canada on the Jews. (31)  Yet later, in his Mémoires, produced years after the Holocaust, Groulx reproduced a passage from Action francaise that he had written, as Jacques Brassier, in 1925 in which he complained that while thousands of Catholics were being bullied and persecuted in Mexico, "the cutting of the beards of some thirty rabbis for a joke in Warsaw is the occasion of talk of a frightful pogrom and the rousing of the choir of an angry press on five continents." (32). To Rome this was yet another proof , along with the letter to M. Lamoureaux that Groulx was unrepentant about his anti-Semitism, that it was too much a part of him to just disappear.

Groulx's Memoirs, written in the 1950's were characterised by Rome as having a style which can only be described as: "evasive." (33)  Neither anti-Semitism, nor Jews, existed in his Quebec, says Rome of the latter-day Groulx's memories.  Only his friends and admirers, many of whom were infamous in their own right. The Jeune-Canada group for example. He left out entirely their rally of April 1933 protesting anti-Hitlerism. He also left out their provocative pamphlet Politiciens et Juifs.  This more than a little damages his pretension to honesty in his memoirs and also demonstrates perhaps his realisation of the shame of those incidents.  Or perhaps he left them out of kindness to Laurendeau who had turned over a new leaf in the passing years since Jeune Canada.-"The sin of Groulx's racism becomes even more severe when we note that it was accompanied by a moral awareness." (34)

In a telling note Rome relays the story of Groulx's brush with the fascist right in the form of La Nation.  Groulx was scheduled to give a public lecture during the summer 1937, the proceeds of which were to go to the journal.  Following protests, (Rome does not specify from whom but by 1937 both Henri Bourassa and André Laurendeau would have likely spoken to Groulx about cancelling), the sponsors cancelled the lecture. In his memoirs he is shown pondering whether or not he "should accede to their request? a perilous adventure." (35)  He did not refuse solely because of the journal's strident anti-Semitism having repulsed him, states Rome, he was on the verge of making the lecture anyway.  As Groulx says of himself, he always liked to help young people.  Groulx later wrote of La Nation: "When we reread the final pages of this little newspaper we cannot help but think of these nights of lost battles, where the wounded left on the ground, seized by nightmares, shoot their last bullets at random." (36)  A much milder summation of the La Nation's history than Rome's characterisation of it as one of the "most rabid anti-Semitic periodicals to appear in North America."

In 1986 the book, Juifs et Québécois francais: 200 ans d'histoire commune., (37) written by Jacques Langlais and the aforementioned David Rome was published.  Langlais is a francophone Catholic priest and self described nationalist. (38)  Rome, as we have seen, has always been interested in keeping up a dialog between French Canadians and the Jewish community in Quebec.  Their collaborative effort, coming after the Parti Quebecois had been soundly beaten at the polls and nationalism was at its lowest ebb, signals a new era of cooperation and understanding.  Both have been affected by their 'minority status' and threats to their survival and they wished to help heal the wounds of misunderstanding between their sometimes antagonistic groups.

In an interesting forward they note that "If each author had set out to write these pages on his own, the task would have been easy." (39) They could each have written accurate and interesting versions of the facts and the results would be two entirely different books, open to controversy. This is an important point to be kept in mind when reading other works on this subject, the viewpoint of the author, particularly those who grew up in Quebec on one side or the other of the nationalist debate, is revealed in more ways than is intended. 

"Decades of anti-Semitism between 1880 and 1945 still weigh heavily on the collective memory" says Langlais in the introduction. (40)  The authors worked within a larger context recognising the "instinctive xenophobia of a people accustomed to seeing itself as both the builder of a Catholic and French nation and as an oppressed minority whose own survival is threatened." (41)  Throughout the book this context is returned to, that of one minority defending itself and lashing out at another in fear. "Why was anti-Semitism expressed with more virulence and unanimity by French Quebecers than by other members of the North Atlantic family?  Colonialism...which was more oppressive for the Francophones." (42)  Anti-Semitism was a “perverse influence of colonialism....Jews became the scapegoats."  From the revisionist histories of the neo-nationalists, who saw the Conquest as a debilitating decapitation of French Canadian society that crippled it for generations, through the ideological filters of the 1960's and 1970's where Marxist analysis and third world models were introduced to explain French Quebec's skewed economy, it has become accepted as fact by 1986 that oppression is a mitigating factor in the treatment of one minority by another.  Gaboury mentioned it, as did Bélanger

and Teboul in the 1970's though to be fair Teboul did not seem to approve of the theory.  It has become rote, after two terms of a nationalist provincial government and the battles fought over language, the constitution, the history and place of French Canadians in Confederation.

Having already reviewed Rome's 13 volume, Clouds in the Thirties, the reader has a pretty good idea of how Lionel Groulx will come off in Jews and French Canadians.  It was published just 6 years after Clouds. But how much is it different for having the Catholic, nationalist, francophone Langlais on board to help interpret the past?  One finds that it is a kinder context created to be sure.  While not excused for their anti-Semitism, French Quebecers are more likely to be understood in their defensiveness and fear than in the earlier work by Rome alone.  As they stated at the beginning, two different views have melded to become a new one.  One in which the suffering of the Jews can be seen in juxtaposition with the suffering of the French Canadians.  Now they too are the victims of a brutal occupation, one that does not even need to be explained.  The assumption is that the reader knows and agrees.  (It was published in English five years later.)

Abbé Groulx is still seen as a direct descendant of the Ultramontane wing of the Catholic church, a wing that gave anti-Semitism a 'privileged platform and cultural credibility.' The clergy in Quebec is shown to have been strongly anti-Semitic.  After linking the Ultramontane movement to Comte de Gobineau, some of the most notorious cases of anti-Semitism are reviewed, including the Plamondon affair and the use of the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion as source material for Catholic pamphlets. (43)  Much of this section is compressed history so that within one page three decades of hatred is revealed making it seem as if a constant stream of invective was the norm in the first half of the 20th century in Quebec.  While some clergy were marginal and of little importance:

"It is more difficult, however, to explain how a theologian as respected as Monsignor Louis-Adophe Paquet could have voiced the same ideas.  His stance was a kind of catastrophe in Quebec during the 1930's, given the influence this great nationalist wielded over his generation and over Lionel Groulx in particular." (44) 


Paquet wrote:

"we must not hate these remnants of faithless jerusalem'..but neither must we, through ill-conceived charity, deliver our society and the treasure of our religious and national traditions into their perfidious and rapacious hands.  The Jew, for us, is an enemy (not each individual, but the nation in general as it exists today.)" (45)

Monsignor Paquet's major work Droit public de l'Eglise, published between 1908 and 1915, contained other slurs against Jews and it is the authors' contention that Groulx as a young priest would have been mightily influenced by the ideas expressed within.  This is the first mention of such an influence on Groulx and the nationalists in any of the works.  Paquet himself does not even rate a mention in most other histories of this period. J.P. Gaboury only mentions him in relation to an article that he wrote in 1925.  This claim by the authors is then not elaborated upon nor explained.  The Ernesto Nathan Scandal of 1910, the Plamondon affair, the Jewish Schools question and the resulting David Act of 1930, which coincided with the dawning of the Depression, all pass within a couple of pages building the tension to the 'inevitable' clash of the 1930's.  It is confusing for any reader to follow and hard to discern timelines.  Le Goglu and Le Miroir, well known to be organs of Adrien Arcand's fascist movement, are referred to as 'the clerical press'  by the authors. (46)  It is also noted that the school question of 1930 mirrored school battles in other provinces "Ironically, in most cases it was the French Canadians who suffered." (47)   (This would seem to have been the influence of Langlais in this book.)  In a discussion of the resistance to Jewish immigration in Quebec it is noted that Prime Minister MacKenzie King 'no friend of the Jewish people' was an admirer of Hitler. (48)  The context is one of a Canada wide movement of anti-Semitism and dictator-worship found in the press and in organisations from coast to coast.  The authors seem to be trying very hard to modify the image, ironically created in part by Rome himself, that Quebec was a more anti-Semitic place than any other.  It is not an honest argument.  Whether one part or the rest of the country was racist does not create an historic 'excuse' for another area that behaved so.

So where is the Abbé?  L'Action Catholique and L'Action nationale are discussed without him.  He finally appears in the 1930's lumped together with the 'Nazism of Adrien Arcand' as representative of 'ethnocentric nationalism' and a new form of anti-Semitism in Quebec.  While the context for anti-Semitism is set; fear of the intruder, the infidel from the Catholic church, the depression, fear of communism etc. the reason for Groulx's belated appearance is not.  The journals he edited are mentioned frequently, but he is not by name.  To put things into context the authors note, "the entire press of the day joined in the chorus (of Achat chez nous).  To understand the causes and manifestations of the movement we have to go back to the 'leading intellectual of that generation Father Lionel Groulx.  He himself never officially published anti-Semitic material." (49)  So he is responsible for the anti-Semitic overtones of Achat chez nous, but he never officially wrote anti-Semitic articles.  A revisionist balance has been struck in this history.  Decades have passed since Wade's work was first published; this is now the new consensus.

The ACJC (Action catholique de la jeunesse canadienne-francaise) had been founded  by Groulx in 1903 on similar basis to Maurras' group in France.  It was a "curious mixture of Christian and nationalistic fervour." (50)  There is some confusion from the authors when they begin a section with the founding of the ACJC by Groulx in one decade and follow it immediately with: "This radical nationalism bore clear signs of anti-Semitism.  Among its best known promoters were Omer Héroux and Georges Pelletier at Le Devoir and André Laurendeau at L'Action nationale." (51)  There are 30 years worth of accusations in that one phrase.  Followed by "But the entire press of the day joined in the chorus" whereupon they use quotes from La Revue dominicaine and Adrien Arcand as typical. (52)


With this dubious introduction Lionel Groulx appears with his famous line in which he explains that he is not anti-Semitic, nor anti-English, but is pro-French Canadian.  He is then tied in to Action francaise québécoise, the Saint-Jean Baptiste Society and the Order of Jacques Cartier and revealed to be the founder of Jeune-Canada.  "All these movements were very active in the anti-Semitic battles of the 1930's". (53)  Groulx's background is quickly discussed, and Mason Wade is once more the source. (54)   Gobineau, H.S. Chamberlain "precursor of Hitler's national socialism", Maurras and Barrès are reintroduced.  One can see a bit of schizophrenia at work here.  When Rome has the pen Groulx reverts to his role as racist ideologue, when Langlais wrestles it away we get the big picture of world-wide anti-Semitism and an oppressed French culture fighting for its existence in Québec. 

As to Groulx's own anti-Semitic output, long quotes are taken to show his callous dislike of Jews and Jewish internationalism. One finds long quotes about a Jewish business dictatorship that has won special privileges for itself including Sunday closing laws that allow Jewish shops to remain open. The quotes all come from two articles, written under the pseudonym Jacques Brassier in L'Action nationale in April and June of 1933. (55)   They are pretty much comprised of the same quotes Rome used in his own work.  Between them and out the infamous letter to Lamoureux "written long after Hitler's is difficult to explain how, after the revelations of the Nazi Holocaust, such an irrational view could persist until the eve of the Quiet Revolution."  The authors conclude with "These few excerpts are necessary to understand why Lionel Groulx, the great national revivalist, failed to shield the generation of the 1930's from the anti-Semitic madness that was sweeping the entire Western world." (56)

After providing only the barest sketch of Groulx's influences, borrowed wholesale from Mason Wade, that had made him an anti-Semite, and after giving the reader three examples of his anti-Semitic writing, two of which were pseudonymous, the authors conclude that Groulx was something of a major influence on anti-Semitic activities in Quebec.  It first of all calls into question David Rome's previous work if this is all that he can still use to attack Groulx just 6 years after Clouds in the Thirties came out.  He either did not have much in the first place or he was willing to water it down to nothing to please his co-author.  Or, as they stated in the preface, when two sides are considered the 'facts' can appear much differently.  When Rome was writing for the Canadian Jewish Congress, his view of the facts painted a pretty sinister picture of Groulx.  In this book, Groulx' role seems less clear. In fact of the quotes presented, in two of them Groulx is denouncing anti-Semitism.  "Not only is Anti-Semitism not a Christian response, it is negative and foolish", he is quoted as having said in the guise of Jacques Brassier.  With nationalism, in 1986, at a low point in Quebec, perhaps Rome felt that it was time for diplomacy.  He had always striven for an understanding to be achieved between the Jewish and French Canadians of Quebec.  With the nationalist movement suffering through a period of self doubt, perhaps he thought it time to tone down the language.  He does not shy away from attacking Groulx in this book but he allows a justification to be tacked on that a few years earlier would have seemed preposterous.

Pierre Anctil is interesting for many reasons when this subject is covered.  An anthropologist by training, he learned Yiddish in order to better study the Jewish community in Quebec and for a time was a professor in the Department of Jewish Studies at McGill University. He is at present working for the Government of Québec, Ministère des Affaires internationales, de l'immigration et des Communautés culturelles.  He was also one of the two committee members who voted 'No' against Esther Delisle's thesis defence and had asked originally for extensive revisions.  His vote is of interest considering the work that he has done in that field.  It is not a passing interest, he has worked with both provincial and federal organisations for multiculturalism, is a consulting member of the Canadian Jewish Congress and the Centre commémoratif de l'holocauste à Montréal.  He is the founder and president of Dialogue St-Urbain, "un organisme voué au rapprochement entre la majorité francophone et la communauté juive de Montréal." (57)  


As David Rome tried throughout his life to bring the two ethnic groups into contact, so does Pierre Anctil from the other side.  His own written output includes: Le Devoir, les Juifs et l'immigration (1988); Juifs et réalités juives au Québec (1984), edited with Gary Caldwell; Le rendezvous manqué. Les Juifs de Montréal face au Québec de l'entre-deux-guerres(1988) and "Hostility and Judeo Christian relations in Quebec in the Interwar Period, 1919-1939" a chapter in Interlude.  If he found Delisle's thesis on Groulx and Le Devoir to have been wanting, he was perhaps more qualified than most to do so, having written extensively on the subject. (58)

In 1984, Anctil and Gary Caldwell, edited and wrote sections of the book Juifs et realities juives au Québec.  Caldwell and Anctil are at the forefront of those who would ask us to judge Lionel Groulx in the context of his times and within the massive outpouring of his life's work.  In their introduction it is made clear that the book was put together to focus the attention of the francophone community on the 'communautés ethno-culturelles du Québec'.  With the help of David Rome, "du meilleur archiviste du Québec juif" (59) they hoped to give the reader an insight into the Jewish reality within Quebec.  And this reality is that "contrairement à leurs coreligionnaires installés ailleurs en Amérique du Nord, ils se trouvent confrontés à un pays où une bonne part des citoyens caresse un projet nationaliste." (60) Jews in Québec are not entirely at ease with Québecois of 'vieille souche' (a term that is used repeatedly, presumably to separate them from Québecois of other stock) and both groups are ill at ease as minorities of one type and another.

Jews have never been a large proportion of the population in any part of Canada nor Québec.  The difference however is that in English Canada the Jews face "une majorité anglo-saxonne sûre d'elle-même et de ses prérogatives vis-à-vis de l'Etat, au Québec ils furent confrontés à une minorité francophone, aux prises avec un statut d'infériorité objective et aspirant à s'en libérer." (61)


Sociologist, demographer and University professor, Gary Caldwell contributed the chapter on "L'Antisémitisme au Québec" and begins with the refrain that a certain current of opinion holds that Québec is especially anti-Semitic.  An opinion shared by David Rome, whose impressive contributions include a chapter in this book, Lita-Rose Betcherman, Irving Abella and Victor Teboul.  All have done important work, but there is, to Caldwell, a problem with the studies of anti-Semitism in Québec, they have not been put into proper context and they lack proper methodology.  And why not?  As someone once said: "Si les Juifs n'aiment pas votre analyse, ils vous accuseront d'antisémitisme.  Si, par contre, votre interprétation leur est trop favorable, les autres vous prendront pour leur dupe." (62)   The other problem of course is to define the word 'antisémitisme'.  There are many difficulties to get over before a true picture can emerge.  Dr. Caldwell hails from Ontario but moved to Quebec where he "espoused nationalism, and was soon elected to the governing national council of the Parti Québécois.  It showed." (63)  He is famous outside of Quebec for his demographic studies which show that despite the decline of the English speaking proportion of Quebec's population at every census since 1871, "it is not entirely preposterous that Quebec may in a long term perspective become anglicised despite the current French cultural renaissance." (64)   While he and Dr. Anctil both work for the Quebec government, Dr. Caldwell has a stronger ideological drive that intrudes upon his work.

Caldwell discusses the three levels of anti-Semitism that he says are possible in a society: violent, civil, social.  Since in Quebec there has been virtually no violent anti-Semitism, even during what David Rome called the 'battles' of the 1930's, it is doubtful, he concludes, that Quebec was particularly anti-Semitic.  It boils down to the difference between 'active' anti-Semitism and 'ideological' anti-Semitism.  The latter being no more harmful than, for example, anti-Anglophonism.

The object of his essay is to respond to the question of how anti-Semitic is Québec and why?  "Toutefois, prétendre qu'il faut donner une 'interprétation' à l'antisémitisme au Québec, n'est-ce pas risquer de le rendre excusable?....En essayant de mettre l'antisémitisme au Québec 'en contexte', je ne crois pas m'aventurer dans un discours éthique." (65)  What he leaves out is the fact that the psychological damage to Jews , caused by 'passive' anti-Semitism, is compounded by the latent violence implied.  There is simply too much historical evidence of the violence that can be a follow-up to seemingly passive anti-Semitism.  Anglophones, while unhappy with verbal abuse, do not have a psychological dread of Francophones engendered by centuries of physical violence against their people.


The largest dossier of evidence gathered against Québec as an anti-Semitic province, up to that time, is David Rome's Clouds in the Thirties, says Caldwell.  What is important to note, he adds, is that this work "se base surtout sur des extraits de journaux de nature idéologique." (66)  So how much does this really represent Québec society?  It is a mistake, and unfair, to take Le Devoir as being representative of French Québec, just as it is a mistake to overlook the relative powerlessness of the Francophone elites vis à vis their, also anti-Semitic, anglophone countrymen.  The Francophones tended to perhaps display their anti-Semitism more openly.  This is something that often appears in works that seek to explain anti-Semitism in a historical context.  The argument appears to be honest on its surface, the writer accuses his own society of anti-Semitism.  But then the inevitable comparison with the society next door, in this case English Canada, shows how patently unfair that label is.  'At least we are not as bad as they are to their Jews' is the gist of it and it is not something one can defend with any integrity.  It is akin to his 'blame the victim' attacks on anglophone Quebecers.  Since, he says, they have no real cultural identity, it is their own fault that their presence in Quebec is fading. (67)

So where does Abbé Groulx fit in to this?  After a brief history demonstrating how non-violent anti-Semitism has always been in Québec, Caldwell relates the role of the Catholic press in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as the principal fomenter of anti-Semitism as a reaction to the perceived role of Jews behind the 'liberal' press. (68)  It is important to differentiate again: "Toutefois, et la distinction est capitale, nous parlions là de l'émergence d'une idéologie antisémite au Québec et non de manifestation d'antisémitisme actif."  To the Catholic church Québec society was a Christian society (69) that allowed for its minorities to have certain rights and freedoms.  When clashes over things such as the right of Jews to govern their own school system erupted, the battles were ideological and fierce.  What Caldwell does not do is to name Groulx in any of this.  Several incidents are brought up, but only the 'clergy' are mentioned.  The only time we see the name Groulx, is where Caldwell mentions that many important people and political parties did not condemn Adrien Arcand; "sans parler d'un grand nombre de personnages importants comme Duplessis et l'abbé Groulx." (70) Later in the essay while discussing criticisms of Jews in the literature of French Québec, Caldwell quotes Graham Fraser who noted: "Chacun s'accorde précisément à la caricature antisémite que traçait Groulx en 1954 dans sa célèbre lettre à Lamoureux." (71)   It is noteworthy that Caldwell does not elaborate, knowing that his readers probably know what Fraser was talking about.

Out of the entire essay on anti-Semitism in Quebec, over a lengthy time period, and using David Rome's research, Caldwell only mentioned Groulx twice.  Groulx is not separated from the generic 'clergy' that fought a non-violent battle over ideological grounds.  As he says repeatedly: context is everything.  "Cette définition faisait place à une double distinction, la première se faisant entre la propagande ou l'idéologie antisémite et les actes réels, la seconde en fonction de la gravité des actes." (72)   As seen in previous works, Groulx's nationalism is taking on a patina of political action of a later 20th century interpretation.  Because his anti-Semitism was non-violent, he is a peaceful freedom fighter.  He could have, it is hinted, gone for blood and been perhaps 'justified' in historical terms.  That is to say that if a comparison with other 'colonial' states is accepted, it is argued in a veiled fashion, then Quebec should be praised for its restraint rather than chastised.

In Le Devoir, les Juifs et l'immigration Pierre Anctil says that Groulx helped to write the manifesto of Jeune-Canada. (73)   It was a pro-French Canadian document drawn up in reaction to the Anglophone strangle-hold over positions in the federal civil service in Montréal and the economic domination by some Anglophones over the Quebec economy.  Then came the demonstration of April 20, 1933 that will forever tie Jeune-Canada with stupidity and anti-Semitic hatred.  They complained of compliant French Canadian politicians and wondered why people so ready to protest against persecution of Jews did not also protest against persecution of Catholics. They trotted out the classic Jew-hating arguments about financial power, conspiracies to control the economy, the menace to Christianity.  Where did they get these ideas?  That is the important question.  From Lionel Groulx, they were glad to admit so themselves.  It is here in the history of Lionel Groulx's anti-Semitism that his words came closest to causing actual physical harm.  The Jeune-Canada spoke in a most violent fashion and, given the crowd reactions in other countries that very year (1933), could have easily incited rioting.  It should be remarked here that the level headedness of the average citizen of Montreal was in clear attendance that night.

Jeune-Canada's actions discredited francophone nationalism for years in Jewish eyes.  The Canadian Jewish Congress put the group near the top of their list of "regroupements franco-québécois hostiles à la présence des Juifs et activement engagés à les calomnier. L'organisation nationaliste Jeune-Canada, qu'on dit conseillée par les Jésuites, dirige une agitation antisémite marquée." (74).

The young university students who made up Jeune-Canada were for the most part sheltered, inexperienced young men "n'avaient certes pas fait l'experience concrète de cette oppression juive qu'ils dénoncèrent si violemment en quelques phrases lapidaires.  Rhétorique du moment? Sans doute, mais qui s'abreuvait à quelles sources?" (75)  The argument is that the young men of Jeune-Canada were at most incredulous, naive fools but basically harmless.  This has never been a good excuse for inciting hatred.  Indeed because of this, those who influenced them should be double ashamed

André Laurendeau considered Groulx to be his 'maître'.  Groulx gave him a program of readings and was a counsellor to the young man.  He gave Jeune-Canada his blessing and some ideas writing under his pseudonym of Brassier in the oft-quoted article in L'Action nationale on April 20, 1933.  He also "permis d'en induire que les flèches antisémites des jeunes intervenants et leur dénonciation à l'emporte-pièce de certains hommes politiques québécois avaient trouvé chez lui un partisan enthousiaste." (76)  He was the father of Jeune-Canada and in some sense responsible for its actions.  Yet despite the evidence of Groulx's influence on Jeune-Canada, despite the use of David Rome's archives, Anctil felt that Lionel Groulx should be looked at within the context of his generation, his age.  A 'victim' of his environment as it were.  "Comment ne pas voir en Lionel Groulx, né en 1878 et prêtre lui-même, un hériter de ce dix-neuvième siècle francais, marqué de radicalisme politique et religieux autour de l'idée d'une profonde du terroir et d'un ordre social dépassé..." (77)  "Adepte de Louis Veuillot, de Maurice Barrès, de Charles Maurras et de Joseph de Maistre, Lionel Groulx avait pu absorber la haine et la méfiance vis-à-vis des ennemis déclarés de cette France grandiose dont, au premier rang, les Juifs." (78)

He was a product of his times and of his culture. And his responses to the terrible economic and political degradations of the depression and urban life in general were dictated by perceived threats to Christianity. (79)  In this Anctil finds agreement with historian Guy Frégault.  Groulx was not interested in class nor caste but in his culture. And it made him close out other cultures from his.  "Groulx a aussi développé une conception de l’histoire du peuple francophone d'Amérique, et donc de la Nouvelle-France, qui fermait à d'autres cultures." (80)

"Groulx fut-il antisémite?" asks Anctil.  Many have asked this question before he notes.  What Groulx was in the end was a solid Bourassiste, "intrasigeant et inébranlable." (81)   Whereas Bourassa revised his opinions later in life, Groulx, who admired him, stuck to those opinions that he had carried with him into the 20th century.  He was anti-Jewish insofar as he took their arrival on the French-Christian shores of his country as an intrusion.  But he was overtly anti-Semitic only briefly during the darkest days of the depression, 1934-35.  For nationalist Quebecers, Groulx was not undone by his anti-Semitism.  He was foolish and perhaps something of a yokel, but he was so much more to 'his people' that he could be forgiven.  The blame goes to the time in which he lived, when talk like that was normal, commonplace, and the fact that he was influencing generations of students is not a real concern.  Again, it is like reading the histories of a colonial who fights his oppressors: any mistakes he makes along the way are forgivable if the end is achieved.

Anctil mentions in his notes the letter of 1954.  "À part l'article de juin 1933 publié dans L'Action nationale, ...(Brassier), Groulx livra son opinion sur les Juifs au moins une fois dans sa correspondance privée." (82) Not much evidence to use against a man who did so much good, who wrote so many books and taught so many students their own history.  He should not be remembered for just this.

Pierre Anctil wrote Le rendez-vous manqué: Les juifs de Montréal face au Québec de l'entre deux guerres in 1989 while he was an assistant professor of Jewish studies and the director of French Canadian studies at McGill University.  What is an anti-Semite, he asks?  "Un antisémite doit être défini comme celui qui, même sans association avec d'autres personnes, fait de son hostilité à l'endroit du Juif la principale et souvent l'unique rationalité de sa pensée politiques et sociale....Peu de gens au Québec, même dans la période de l'entre-deux-guerres, se méritèrent explicitement le qualificatif d'antisémites." (83)  For the most part Catholic Quebecers put Jews into a secondary group of things to worry about.  People were much more concerned with the anglo economic domination and Anglicisation of the language in addition to the severe poverty found in rural areas.  Certainly, says Anctil, Jews did not enjoy good press in those days, at least in the nationalist press. (84)  As well, there were problems in Montreal where the competing ethnic groups lived side by side.

Anctil provides a good amount of detail on the anti-Semitism of the 1930's in Montréal and a glimpse of the Canadian Jewish Congress as well.  Every incident of note is listed, (David Rome's work is apparent throughout) the attacks in the press and the church.  Where then does Lionel Groulx fit in?  There are many mentions of the 'church' and the 'clergy' and their difficulties coming to terms with the Jewish community in their midst.  L'Action catholique "conclua ce débat par une phrase dont ses éditeurs avaient le secret: ‘L’antisémitisme n'est pas plus amiable que le prosémitisme.  Si l'un aboutit à la haine, l'autre conduit directement à la déchéance nationale." (85)

Specific details on Groulx are scarce.  "Dans ce contexte mouvant de la politique de l'Église, les Juifs, troublés par la montée des fascismes, parvenaient difficilement à comprendre l'attitude du Vatican, en particulier au sujet du judaisme et, ici au pays, celle des clercs face à la communauté juive de Montréal." (86)  Then "Publié en avril 1933, au moment du débat au Parlement de Québec autour d'un projet de loi visant à protéger les Juifs contre les abus des publications antisémites locales, un texte de Jacques Brassier résume l'attitude courante des milieux catholiques québécois.  Sous ce pseudonyme, L'abbé Lionel Groulx y exposait sa pensée quant aux Juifs de Montréal, qu'il se défendait pourtant de détester outre mesure." (87)  It is the article so often mentioned in other works, the Brassier article that sums up Groulx's solution to the 'Jewish problem': L'Achat chez nous.  Soon after came the pastoral letter from Linz and together the context looks worse for Groulx than it should.  Anctil is thorough in his research and a lot of new material appears in this work.  He made use of the Canadian Jewish Archives and Rome's many volumes as well.  Yet the only mention of Groulx in the context of anti-Semitic activity is the Brassier article, reprinted in part by Anctil, that is calling for Achat chez nous.  It is clear that Anctil does not believe Groulx to have been specifically anti-Semitic anymore than other clergy at that time.  There was a bigger picture to be looked at than the fight between Jews and the catholic press.  Jews were just a secondary part of the 'problem’ that the church, and one presumes Groulx, was fighting.  With his resources and research one has to conclude that Anctil left out the other Brassier references because they tend to draw attention away from his main argument.  Which is that the fight for freedom from under the yoke of Anglophone domination, in Groulx's words to 'be pro French Canadian, was more important than his anti-Semitic afflictions.  Groulx is not seen to have been particularly anti-Semitic nor should he be viewed as such.  Indeed he has been criticised for suggesting that the covert anti-Semitism of the anglophones in Quebec was effectively more harmful than the overt, church inspired francophone anti-Semitism. (88)  It is at this point, as always, that politics have to be taken into consideration.  He and Gary Caldwell, nationalists both, tend to see anti-Semitism in Quebec as being a shared burden between Anglophones and Francophones.  They therefore wonder at the specific charges made against one group, the Francophone nationalists, and their leaders.  Are these attacks politically motivated to get at the nationalists, to discredit them?  Is it fair to write about Groulx and the nationalists as though they were representative of anti-Semitism in Quebec when they were in fact just the most visible and therefore, harmless, manifestations?  It becomes a matter of whether or not one sees a plot to discredit nationalism in Quebec. 

This might explain why Pierre Anctil, specialist on this era, researcher and published author, would take exception to a book that accuses Groulx and repeats accusations often made against him.  When one reads Delisle's book after reading Anctil, particularly the criticisms of Pierre Anctil that she includes, one knows that there is a confrontation here.  She looked at his work and came to the opposite conclusions that he did.

(1) Jean-Louis Roy. "Nationalism in Quebec in the 1980s: After Failure, The Challenge of Relevance." Quebec since 1945.  p300.

(2) Obituary written by the Canadian Jewish Congress, 1996.

(3) David Rome. Clouds in the Thirties.  v3, p22.

(4) Ibid. p26.

(5) Ibid. v1. p3.

(6) Ibid. v1 p28 my italics


(7) Ibid. v.1 p26

(8) Ibid. v1 p.27

(9) Ibid. v1. p26

(10) Ibid. v1  p32.

(11) Ibid

(12) Rome quoting Robert Rumilly from Histoire du Québec.  p719-720.  v1. p50.

(13) Clouds in the Thirties v1. p56.

(14) Ibid. v1, pp. 240-41.

(15) Ibid. v2 p8.

(16) Ibid. v2 p9.

(17) Ibid

(18) He should have mentioned somewhere, however, just how many articles he began with so that a close reader does not have to check his notes.

(19) Clouds.. v3 p33.

(20) My italics.

(21) Ibid. v3 p34.

(22) Ibid. v3 p44.

(23) Ibid. Letter from H.M.Caiserman.

(24) Ibid. v3 p46.

(25) Ibid.  v3 p47.  Fev. 20, 1936.

(26) Ibid. v4 p3.

(27) Ibid. v10 p388.

(28) Politiciens et Juifs, discours prononcés par Pierre Dansereau, Gilbert Manseau, Pierre Dagenais, René Monette et André Laurendeau. Montreal 1933.

(29) Clouds. v4 p21.

(30) Ibid. v4 p25.

(31) Ibid. v4 p73.

(32) Lionel Groulx , Mes Mémoires, as quoted in Rome v4 p335

(33) Clouds. v10 p397.

(34) Ibid. v10 p400

(35) Ibid. v11 p594.

(36) Ibid. v11 p595.

(37) I used both versions in researching this paper.

(38) Langlais & Rome. Jews & French Quebecers.  pvii.

(39) Ibid. pviii.

(40) Ibid. pxi.

(41) Ibid. p55.

(42) Ibid. p59.

(43) The Plamondon affair.  Edouard Plamondon, joint founder and editor of La Libre Parole, (an imitation of Drumont's journal) gave a virulent antisemitic speech to the Quebec City chapter of the ACJC. It was widely covered in the Catholic press but this time a Jew sued for libel.  The defence called in priests and other witnesses to try to prove that Jews sacrificed christian children in their ceremonies. None could and Quebec was looked upon with some horror by the rest of the world.

(44) Jews & French Quebecers.  p66.

(45) Ibid. p67.

(46) Ibid. p81.

(47) Ibid.

(48) Ibid. p86.

(49) Ibid. p94.

(50) Ibid. p93.

(51) Ibid. p94.

(52) Ibid.

(53) Ibid.

(54) The same information is found in Wade's History of the French Canadians, but for some reason Langlais and Rome use the earlier work French Canadian outlook (1946) in their notes.

(55) Jacques Brassier "Pour qu'on vive," L'Action nationale, June 1933, p361-67.

(56) Ibid. p96.

(57) From Pierre Anctil's Curriculum vitae.

(58) It should be noted here that Pierre Anctil did not ask to be on the jury that reviewed Esther Delisle's thesis.  His presence was requested by Laval University.

(59) Pierre Anctil. Juifs et réalites Juives...p7.

(60) Ibid. p9.

(61) Ibid p.10.

(62) Gary Caldwell. "L'Antisémitisme au Québec". p293.

(63) William Johnson.  "Blinkers keep minds on track."  Globe and Mail. Jan.18, 1984, p

(64) Ibid.  He also is known to have said that he moved from Ontario to Quebec to find a more 'humane society'  "Breaking the Silence" Globe and Mail, May 14, 1984.


(65) Ibid. p295.

(66) Ibid. p297.

(67) Margot Gibb-Clark review of Conflict and Language Planning in Quebec edited by Richard Bourhis.  Globe and Mail.  Feb.02, 1985. pE19.

(68) Ibid. p302.

(69) Ibid.  His italics.

(70) Ibid. p307.

(71) Ibid. p310.

(72) Ibid. 312.

(73) Le Devoir, Les Juifs et l'immigration. p110.

(74) Ibid. p115.

(75) Ibid. p116.

(76) Ibid.


(77) Ibid. p119.


(78) Ibid.

(79) Ibid. p120.

(80) Ibid.

(81) Ibid. p122.

(82) Notes p146.

(83) Le rendez-vous manqués. p29.

(84) Ibid.

(85) Ibid. p273.

(86) Ibid. p272.

(87) Ibid. p273.

(88) Lita-Rose Betcherman. "The many facets of Judaism in the modern world." Book Reviews. Globe & Mail. Jan.23, 1993.


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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. 67-96.


© 2006 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College