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Events, Issues and Concepts of Quebec History


Last revised:
23 August 2000

Quebec Nationalism


Claude Bélanger,
Department of History,
Marianopolis College


Ultramontane nationalism: 1840-1960


[Customarily, in French, ultramontane nationalism is called «clerico-nationalisme»; the two terms are meant to convey the same reality]

I described elsewhere on the site the impact and the consequences of the Union Act [see The Durham Report, the Union Act and the birth of the Separatist/Federalist attitudes]. Created at least in part to bring about the assimilation, indeed the destruction of the Canadiens, the Union Act precipitated a major realignment within Quebec. The ignominious defeat of the Patriote movement, the discredit that inevitably fell on the class that had sponsored the more progressive ideas and nationalism, the rapid departure into exile of many of the leaders of the nationalist movement, such as Louis-Joseph Papineau, served to rapidly alter the situation and to shift the power base within Quebec into the hands of the Roman Catholic clergy. To my knowledge, historian Michel Brunet was the first one to have clearly outlined the new position of power of the Church in Quebec following the Union Act [see his communication to the Canadian Historical Association of 1969, and published in the Report of the same year].

The power of the Church, following the Union Act, was reflected in a variety of ways. First, it attracted an increasing number and proportion of the brightest minds of the province within its ranks to the extent that, eventually, about half of all of the university graduates in French-speaking Quebec became priests. The number of religious communities in Quebec increased dramatically in Quebec immediately after the Union Act: between 1837 and 1853, 17 new religious communities were founded in Quebec or arrived from France to Quebec. Among these were the Jesuits, the Christian Brothers and the Clercs de St. Viateur. After 1840, the educated class and the clerical class were basically the same in Quebec. In any case, those that did not join the priesthood studied in the many classical colleges of the province erected and controlled by the Church. In these institutions, they were properly prepared not only for the task awaiting them in the few professions open to French Canadians but, as well, for the defense of the nation and the preservation of the the spiritual values they had inherited from their forefathers. Five classical colleges were founded in Quebec between 1846 and 1852. Aside from the classical colleges, the clergy controlled all the other schools of the French-speaking part of the province from the primary level all the way to the universities. Beyond the schools, the health, social and charitable institutions of the Catholic part of the province were also in their hands. No major initiative, whether educational, social, cultural, and even economical or political, was possible, and potentially successful, without the clergy being involved or providing its blessing. As many have argued convincingly, clericalism reigned supreme over Quebec and reached extraordinary levels by 1896 [see my Roman Catholic Church and Quebec also on this site].

The Church of Quebec, between 1840 and 1960, was an ultramontane Church. In the same way that European conservative and reactionary forces of the early XIXth century looked beyond the "mountains" to the Papacy for inspiration and leadership in their fight against the rising tide of new ideas mounting from the French Revolution, so did the Church of Quebec. It derived from it the same anti-modernist, undemocratic, intolerant and unenlightened views as were defined in the Syllabus of Errors by Pope Pious IX. Beginning in the 1840's, there was an intensification of contacts between the Catholic Church of Quebec and the great ultramontane centres of Europe, in France and in Rome. Between 1840 and 1876, over 150 priests of Quebec crossed the Atlantic, bound for Europe to visit or study. The ultramontane nature of the Church of Quebec has been the subject of dozens of studies and is a well-recognised factor today. The chief proponents of ultramontanism were Mgrs Bourget and Laflèche as well as Jules-Paul Tardivel, a journalist who published a newspaper entitled aptly La Vérité [The truth]. When Bishop Bourget constructed a new cathedral in Montreal, he had it constructed on the model of St. Peters in Rome; to an ultramontane bishop, the Roman model was the ideal, and only model. The same two bishops were active in recruiting soldiers [zouaves] to defend the temporal power of the pope against the attacks of liberal revolutionaries who wanted to unite Italy. That the bishop was able to raise several hundred French Canadian zouaves in a province notorious for opposing foreign wars speaks volumes of the strength of ultramontanism in Quebec in the XIXth century.

Thus, the class that carried the nationalist message in Quebec, after 1840, was the clerico-nationalist class, made up primarily of priests and graduates from the institutions controlled by the clergy. The nationalism they propounded was an ultramontane form of nationalism.

The second major change that one notes in the period after 1840 is the shifting nature of the nation. Prior to 1840, the nation had been "la nation canadienne". While focused on the French inhabitants, its expression had been broad enough to have received the support of many of the Irish immigrants into the province, as both groups were linked by religion and distrust of Britain and British officials. Together, they had forged political alliances. However, as the number of impoverished Irish immigrants increased after 1840, fuelled by the Irish potato famine, the increasing competition for scarce jobs between the Irish and the French served to somewhat drive a wedge between them. As well, the passage of time made the original British settlers increasingly aware of their growing separateness from the people of the mother country so that, eventually, they developed a view of themselves as "Canadians". If the English-speaking population became "Canadians", then the French speaking population could not remain "Canadiens". Previously, to have been "Canadien" was to have affirmed the existence of a separate nation. As the nation wished to continue its separate course of existence, a new self definition was needed: the nation of the French Canadians was born. The expression did not merely say that there existed Canadians that spoke French. It affirmed clearly the existence of a separate people, of a nation. Thus, the "we" shifted from "Canadien" to "French Canadian". The very change of the description of the nation is a powerful signal of the desire of the nation to distinguish itself, to affirm its separate identity, to ward off its integration and assimilation to the rest of the continent or the country. By the same process, the "we" of the nation ceased to be as inclusive as it had been previously; the only members of the nation were those that shared its characteristics: they had to be Catholic, they had to be French speaking, and they had to be of "Canadien" descent. Anybody else was part of "les autres" [the others]. Thus, in this second period, the nation acquired an "ethnic" flavour that it had not had clearly previously.

At the outset, the French Canadian nation was centred in the St-Lawrence Valley, along the ancestral farmlands that dotted the landscape of the province. However, as population continued to increase beyond the capabilities of the farm areas to absorb it, and as the agricultural crisis of the XIXth Century deepened, at the same time as industrialisation was too slow to absorb all the excess population, there occurred large-scale emigration from Quebec to other parts of the continent. The emigration of between 800,000 to 1,000,000 French Canadians, fully 40% of the population of Quebec, from 1830 to 1930 was one of the most traumatic events to have fallen upon the nation. In practice, what it did was to remove precise borders around the nation. Clearly, one could not create a nation-state any more, except in imagination around the scattered settlements of French Canadians in New England, the American midwest, in Ontario or Northern New Brunswick, as well as in Quebec.

The scattering of the nation to different parts of the continent not only made impossible the creation of a nation-state, except as a state of the mind, but raised the question of its survival. It is striking how much the nationalist discourse changed after 1840 to focus on the ideology of la survivance. Survival is a constant theme that runs through the period. The survival of the community against the assimilation plans of the Union Act; the survival of the French minorities in the rest of Canada or in the "little Canadas" of the United States; the survival of a small nation, "un petit peuple" in the words of Abbé Groulx, against the incredible pressure of the North American environment. The theme of la survivance cannot be divorced from the realisation of the minority and endangered position of the nation. French Canadians were not only a nation. They were a minority nation, one that reason would suggest should have died, but also one that miraculously had survived. In the universe of the ultramontane nationalists, such a survival could only be achieved because God was on the side of such a people. If God was on their side, it was because He had a mission for them: as a Catholic people living in a universe of Protestant and materialist forces, their role was to be the witness of true spiritual principles, to bring back to the true faith all of the people of the continent. The nation's role was to survive, to spread, and to convert to the faith others on the continent. If it had a holy mission, it could be deemed to be a holy nation, and if it was so it would undoubtedly survive. This sense of a mission, messianism as he called it, was first defined in 1957 by Michel Brunet in his famous essay: "Trois dominantes de la pensée canadienne-française: l'agriculturisme, l'anti-étatisme et le messianisme", and published in his La Présence anglaise et les Canadiens.

The major context of the rise of clerical power, of the shifting nature of the "we" of the nation, of the theme of la survivance and of the minority position of the people having been established, we must now turn to analyse briefly the main ideological components of ultramontane nationalism.

  • The first component concerns the characteristics of the nation. It is especially after 1840 that much discussion is focused on the three pillars of survival. [I have discussed these somewhere else on the site] The first of these pillars was Catholicism. We should not be surprised that the nation was increasingly defined in religious terms when we remember that the main spokesmen of ultramontane nationalism were priests. The nation was a Catholic nation, with a Catholic mission, on a Protestant continent. Next came the French language, important as a cultural heritage inherited from the ancestors, a symbol of the link of the nation to one of the great civilisations of Europe and, as such, a considerable element of pride, but mostly a shield serving to separate the people from the others on the continent who were English-speaking, and thus an essential element to preserve the faith. Language was important because it was deemed that "la langue est la gardienne de la foi" [language is the guardian of the faith]. As English was the language of Protestantism on this continent, French was the pre-eminent language of Catholicism. The third pillar was the institutions that served to distinguish the nation and separate it from the rest. These were the legal [French civil law], familial [large family, traditional role of the mother] or institutional elements [seigneurial system, classical colleges, co-operative movement] that characterised the nation and had to be preserved if the nation was to last. The three pillars of survival, of which Catholicism was evidently the most important, provided an endless source of patriotic sermons and speeches throughout the period.
  • The second major component in the discourse of the ultramontane nationalists is the embattled nature of the nation. In their mental universe, the nationalists of this period saw the nation as under constant attacks or threats. One is struck by the widespread character of these attacks, much quite real but some imagined. Over time, the nature of these attacks changed, but their presence and ferocity never disappeared. What threatened the nation?

At the beginning, the Union Act itself. After all, it united Quebec with Ontario, and, by this process, removed even the small measure of self-government that the nation had had previously. While a state is not absolutely necessary to the existence of a nation, its absence renders the maintenance of the nation more difficult. In any case, the Union Act set into motion various plans for the assimilation of the French Canadians. As the Union Act was altered, and eventually Confederation was established, this threat receded but was never to be quite forgotten.

As French Canadians were increasingly scattered throughout the continent, including in various parts of Canada, they faced the real threat of assimilation. Dozens of articles by ultramontane nationalists followed the progression, or regression, of French communities outside of Quebec. Victories were celebrated, each increase in the number of French Canadians was duly noted. As time passed, and the first generation of emigrants gave rise to a second or a third, losses were lamented and analysed for the French minorities across the continent. Every new census was the occasion for deploring the heavy losses suffered, the bleeding of the nation to the scourge of assimilation. To a nation very aware of its minority, and fragile status, every loss was a catastrophic loss. So French Canadians counted each other, and eventually the count became depressing nearly everywhere, except in Quebec and in New Brunswick. Numerous speeches were made offering reasons to persevere and ways and means to counter assimilation.

If the general threat of assimilation was very real, given the natural demographical and geographical factors at play on the North American continent, the menace was increased by the intolerant attitude of "les autres" as they disregarded and abolished French-Catholic minority school rights in one area after another in the post-Confederation period. The imperialist era of the late XIXth and early XXth centuries witnessed the rise of several nativist, racialist and otherwise unenlightened movements in North America in general, and in Canada in particular. Throughout Canada, French-Catholic minorities were systematically attacked one after the other in an attempt to make them conform to the White, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant mould. Everywhere, outside of Quebec, minorities, racial, ethnic or linguistic, were hounded. French-Catholic minorities stood as a symbol: their presence said that difference was acceptable and good, that diversity was welcomed. Their eradication would give to all the same message: conformity was what was desired. Even arguments that rested on the nature of Canada, the protection of the Constitution, and the evidently special position of the French-Catholics as one of the founding people of Canada fell on deaf ears. In New Brunswick, in Manitoba, in the North West and in Ontario their rights were curtailed. If the nationalists were so successful in spreading the idea of an embattled nation, of a nation under siege, and of portraying "les autres" as a threat, it was because it was so patently, and for so long, a reality. Even where more justice should have been expected, such as in the federal government and parliament, French rights were openly disregarded. Only after long and protracted battles was French accepted on the stamps of Canada or on its currency, both symbols of the bicultural and bilingual nature of the country; meanwhile, few French Canadians rose in the civil service or in the army, and discrimination was rampant.

A fourth menace to the nation was imperialism, war, and their natural extension: conscription. This aspect was especially contributed by one of the greatest of the ultramontane nationalists of the time, Henri Bourassa. Anti-British sentiments, inherited from the time of the conquest and nurtured by many incidents accounted in part for the anti-imperialist movement. It should be remembered that Bourassa's grandfather had been Louis-Joseph Papineau. However, Bourassa was also a great admirer of the British Parliamentary system and of the notions of British political liberalism and fair play. It would be a mistake to view his anti imperialist campaigns as merely anti-British ranting, as many anti-Bourassa observers of the time claimed. To Bourassa, war and imperialism had to be opposed because they were not in conformity with Catholic doctrines of universality and peace. Many times, Bourassa was the echo of pronouncements by the papacy for peace, before and during the war. To an ultramontane, when the Pope spoke, the last word had been said. Yet, while his anti-imperialism and war views found theological justification in Catholic doctrine, for the most part they remained rooted in his nationalism. To Bourassa, Canada was an Anglo-French nation. Each group had a contribution to make to the destiny of the country. Aside from the fact that the imperialists were invariably those most opposed to French Catholic rights, imperialism and war side-tracked the nation from fulfilling its destiny. Conscription was even worse: it demanded a blood tax for reprehensible purposes and denied the basic equality of French Canada with English Canada, as it inevitably imposed the will of one on the other.

As the end of the XIXth century was reached, and Canada and Quebec entered a feverish phase of industrialisation, this became a new menace. The industrialisation of Quebec was in fact a huge benefit. It helped pull Quebec out of the agricultural crisis that had dominated nearly the entire last century. It improved the standard of living of the population and, eventually, slowed down considerably the emigration of French Canadians to the United States. Given these benefits, it should have been celebrated by the nationalists. To a large extent this was not the case and their analysis of the impact of industrialisation was usually negative.

What was wrong with industrialisation? For one thing, it led to urbanisation. The ultramontane nationalists were strong believers in agriculturalism. Agriculturalism (or ruralism as it is frequently called elsewhere) was not peculiar to Quebec at the time. But, here, it acquired a dominance, a magnitude, that was rarely matched elsewhere. As well, its ideological setting was quite different from that found elsewhere. Michel Brunet defined agriculturalism as an unbounded love of agriculture and a belief that God had meant French Canadians to be farmers. Farming was the natural economy of the people and when you farmed you inevitably communed with the forces of nature and with God. The rural areas were steeped in tradition and were the backbone of the fight for survival of the nation. By contrast, the cities were the work of "les autres". Indeed, in the middle of the XIXth century, Montreal had a majority of English-speaking people and even Quebec City was nearly in majority English-speaking. To the agriculturalists, the cities were a vast impersonal and godless universe, a place full of dangers for one's soul and nationality, an occasion for sins. In the theatres, cinemas, dancing halls, clubs and taverns found inevitably in the cities, the nation was subjected to foreign influences and shed its traditional beliefs and values. Family values, the self reliance of the agricultural class, the pride in one's accomplishments all seemed to vanish in the cities as did the connection with the past which farming the ancestral land always provided in the rural areas of the province. By uprooting them from where God meant them to be, industrialisation and urbanisation put the life and the soul of the nation in danger. [see Joseph Levitt, Henri Bourassa and the Golden Calf. The Social Program of the Nationalists of Quebec, 1900-1914, 1969, 178p.]

While industrialisation provided the French Canadians with the possibility to absorb the great excess of population they produced, it also led inevitably to the proletarisation of the nation. The French Canadians did not enter the phase of industrialisation as captains of industry but as lowly, unskilled, and dominated workers. This was one of the aspects of industrialisation that was most resented by the nationalists. The proud, self reliant and independent nation had become nothing but a huge, servile proletarian people. French Canadians were not only a nation, they were a vast working class people dominated by Anglo-American capital. Nation and class were one and the same. This aspect also provided endless opportunities for nationalists to write and pontificate. They sought to stop the trend; they attempted to promote regional economic growth so as to prevent the people from all ending up in Montreal; they preached numerous campaigns for "retour à la terre" [back to the land], especially during the Great Depression. That period of great economic problems was the occasion for the ultramontane nationalists to claim that it proved that they had been right all along in opposing industrialisation and urbanisation. Otherwise, faced with the mounting tide of people leaving the rural areas of the province, the nationalists preached remedies such as the formation of Catholic unions, co-operatives, corporatism, opening new regions to colonisation, achat chez-nous [buy from ourselves], and the training of an elite in the Catholic social doctrines. If some of these remedies were far from useless, they, nevetheless hardly made a dent in the general poverty of the French Canadians.

Finally, industrialisation and urbanisation, its twin sister, brought the French Canadians for the first time in their history in close contact with anglophones. The cities were the world of the English. By 1900, the vast number of anglophones in the province lived in the Montreal area where they constituted a significant proportion of the population. As they completely dominated the economy of the province, except for agriculture, their language became the primary language of business. French was largely immaterial to economic success in the province. In fact, it nearly seemed as if, the less French one knew, the more success one was likely to have. Even in the bastion of the North American French-speaking world, French was a second class language, easily discounted, almost irrelevant in the main centers of economic decisions. Those who wished to rise had to learn English and shed their French ways. In the meantime, the language of the people deteriorated, and became peppered with anglicisms. This last aspect also provided endless opportunities for the nationalists to write and preach. One of the most prominent nationalist organisations was the Société du [bon] parler français [Society for good spoken French]. [see the study by Chantal Bouchard, "Une obsession nationale: l'anglicisme", in Recherches sociographiques, Vol. 30, (1989): 67-90]

Aside from the Union Act, assimilation, attacks on French-Catholic minorities, imperialism and industrialisation, communism also imperilled the nation. This theme appeared in the 1920's and reached crisis proportion by the 1930's. While anti-communism became commonplace in the Western world from the end of the Second World War, and fuelled the Cold War, it was a major theme in Quebec long before that. In the pages of the Quartier Latin, the nationalist student newspaper of the Université de Montréal of the 1930's, 27 articles were written about communism but only six directly touching on fascism. Between 1930 and 1936 [issues between # 141 and 209], L'oeuvre des tracts, a publication of the Jesuits that printed small doctrinal brochures on a variety of issues for public consumption, printed 68 brochures and 11 of them touched on communism, the Soviet Union, and the work of the international revolutionaries. An examination of the reports of the secretary of the Association catholique de la jeunesse canadienne-française [ACJC], devoted to promoting Catholic and national causes among the educated youth of Quebec, between September 1930 and March 1933, shows that of the 335 conferences made in the various groups of the Association 7.7% were on communism. Given the hundreds of other possible themes to explore, these numbers seem extraordinary. They are especially impressive when we recall that there was not more than a handful of communists in French-speaking Quebec at the time! The anti-Communist craze led to the enactment of the Padlock Law by the Duplessis government in 1937. The Padlock Law outlawed the use of premises in Quebec for the purpose of printing and distributing communistic propaganda. What was so reprehensible and threatening about communism? To the ultramontane nationalists who defined the nation nearly in religious terms, and in any case identified Catholicism as the first pillar of the nation, communism was the main menace to Catholic values. Everything was presented to the people as if it pitted Catholicism against Communism. The enemy was out there, lurking, waiting for the people to put their guard down. Communism, aside from preaching various elements opposed by the Church, was a godless system in its ideology, and persecuted religion, and Catholicism, everywhere. As we have seen before, if the nation had a mission it was a holy one. Catholicism would be defended here, even should it come to crumble everywhere else!

As the twentieth century advanced, and the problems linked to industrialisation multiplied here as well as in the rest of Canada, the federal government of Canada became increasingly more active in taking measures to protect citizens [i.e. unemployment insurance, old age pensions, family allowances]. Other factors also contributed to move the federal system of Canada toward centralisation. In centralisation, the ultramontane nationalists found another great menace. They were not incorrect. When Confederation was established, a division of powers was effected between the federal and the provincial governments. In general, at the insistence of Quebec to a large extent, the powers with the greatest incidence on culture, language and society were given to the provinces. In this manner, the social institutions of Quebec were put beyond the grasp of the anglophone majority; only a francophone majority in Quebec could be trusted to handle them in a manner that would not injure the culture of the people. These powers defined the extent of the self-government put in the hands of the nation. To accept to transfer powers to Ottawa, where francophones were in minority, was to reduce the extent of the self-government possessed by the nation, and to threaten the integrity of the cultural and social institutions that characterised it. Clearly, this could not be allowed, even when the federal government proposed measures that would have alleviated great problems in Quebec. So, the ultramontane nationalists mounted campaigns upon campaigns against centralisation, and stood squarely behind provincial autonomy. However, with provincial autonomy, it was not so much the sphere of jurisdiction of the provincial government that they sought to protect but, rather, the control over the educational, health and social services that the Roman Catholic clergy exercised in Quebec. Provincial autonomy was necessary so that the pillars of survival would remain unaltered and unchallenged. The federal government could not be trusted, and the provincial government was merely the safe-keeper for the nation. [see the discussion on Duplessis, the Tremblay Report and Provincial autonomy elsewhere on the site].

Feminism was one of the challenges that confronted the ultramontane nationalists. These nationalists lived at a time of significant social and economic transformations, of modernisation. These brought changes in gender roles, women making an increasing entrance into labour markets, occupying jobs that either did not exist previously or that had been occupied by men. The workplace, education and the family were drastically affected. Some feminist organizations made their appearance, asserted themselves and claimed for women a place and rights that had not been recognized previously. These were even to extend into the political and professional spheres, areas to this point reserved to men. The ultramontane nationalists considered the feminist trend to put the survival of the nation at risk. If women abandonned their traditional role of prolific mothers, of "queen" of the family and home, then the traditional values that sustained the nation could not be upheld, as it was women's role to teach these values to the children under their care. So, to a large extent, they opposed the feminist trend and continued to embrace a patriarchial form of society where women were respected but kept within the strict confines of the home, family, church and charitable work. With some notable personal exceptions, until the Quiet Revolution, the only avenue of social promotion for women was to join one of the many religious congregations that proliferated throughout the province in this period of time. In these, together, women could exercise significant influence, manage considerable budgets and largely free themselves of the tutelage of men. To the extent that the congregations were dedicated to the glory of God, the spread of the Catholic faith - so essential to the survival of the nation -, to the caring of orphans, of the sick, of the aged and to educating the youths, to the extent that they were engaged in these eminently "feminine endeavors", they received the wholehearted support of the clerico-nationalists.

The last, but not the least, of the great dangers that menaced the nation, according to the ultramontane nationalists, was immigration. On this point, we touch one of the most sensitive elements of the nationalist thinking of the ultramontane period. It has been the subject of considerable debate with eyes focused not on advancing our knowledge and understanding of the phenomenon, but rather to obscure it, deny it or else play it up for political reasons. When studying the attitude of the French Canadian nationalists toward immigration in general, it should be remembered that at no time in the period under question was there ever a desire in the federal government to present immigration to the people of Quebec in such a manner that it would appear that immigration made a positive contribution to the preservation of their nationality. On the contrary, the federal government conducted its immigration policy oblivious to the goals of the people of Quebec. This is especially striking when, otherwise, it is very evident that it reflected very well the desires of English-speaking Canadians on immigration. Thus, we should not be surprised that there was not a very positive response to immigrants in Quebec. One should also note, and ponder, the minority position of the people of Quebec. Every time that an immigrant landed in Canada, the proportion of French Canadians in the country decreased accordingly. Thus, in analysing the attitude of Quebec, or of the ultramontane nationalists, to immigration, the minority situation of the nation should be kept in mind.

The above comments, and nuances, having been made, one is struck by an apparent contradiction: in general, the people of Quebec showed a good deal of tolerance and acceptance of those who came and settled among them, while the nationalists did not. In many respects immigrants were less discriminated against here than they were elsewhere in Canada. Blacks were subjected to segregated schools in Ontario and Nova Scotia, but not in Quebec. The Université de Montréal accepted far less Jews than McGill University did; there were various reasons for that. However, at McGill, quotas for Jews existed; not so at the Université de Montréal. Further, when a Jewish student was accepted at the Université de Montréal, he/she was treated with far more dignity, and with more equality, than he/she would have been at McGill. The Université de Montréal stood fast, and with much dignity, against the mounting cries of those that wanted it to abandon its tolerant policy. Jewish schools and a Jewish hospital were opened in the province with legal sanction and grants from the provincial government. Nowhere else in Canada were Jewish institutions financed by governments.

While the people of Quebec showed a modicum of acceptance of the immigrants once they had come to live among them, the nationalists tended to rant and rave against immigration in general, and Jews in particular [this issue has been well studied by Pierre Anctil in his book Le Devoir, les Juifs et l'immigration, 1988, 161p. Another interesting study, although criticized for its lack of nuances and context, is Esther Delisle, The Traitor and the Jew. Antisemitism and the Delirum of Extremist Right-wing Nationalism in French Canada from 1929-1939, 1993, 215p.]. Anti-semitism was alive and well among the ultramontane nationalists of the period of 1890 to 1945. It affected strongly the position of the province on the issue of the Canadian refusal of Jewish refugees in the 1930's. To them, the Jew was covered with all of the imaginable sins. He was the source of communism, and strangely enough, of the worse excesses of capitalism as well. The contradiction never bothered the nationalists; it only served to blacken Jews further. They were blamed for all of the ills that afflicted the urban society. As the ultramontane nationalists defined the nation in Catholic terms, the more one deviated from this norm, the more unacceptable one became. Of those who came to Quebec in any numbers prior to 1945, Jews most deviated from the norm. They were the supremely anti-Catholic people, "Christ killers" bent only on their own satisfaction and on destroying everything of value around them. To ultramontane nationalists, overall, one should never think of Jews without immediately associating the word problem with them. The Jews were a problem, they could only be a problem. A nation should protect itself against them. At a minimum, you should not add to your problem by increasing their numbers through immigration, and one should never patronise their businesses as well [achat chez-nous movement]. That the achat chez-nous campaigns had to be repeated so often tells us much about their lack of success among the common people in the province. [for an examination of the negative image of Jews as portrayed in the literature of Quebec, both before and after 1945, consult Victor Teboul, Mythe et images du Juif au Québec, 1977, 235p.; for evidence of recent positive view of Jews, see Naïm Kattan, Juifs et Canadiens, 1967, 133p.]

These anti-semitic views were propounded broadly and openly from about 1890 to 1945. They were found in the publications of the clergy, in otherwise rational newspapers such as Le Devoir, Le Droit and L'Action catholique, they were heard in Parliament or in the National Assembly, they spiced up many conferences and sermons. Yet, they were not universally subscribed to by all of the nationalists: after an initial period where anti-semitism was part of his mental universe, Henri Bourassa came to reject such views and to condemn them strongly in 1923 and 1935. In 1924, Bourassa wrote to a correspondant who had complained to him that Le Devoir was too open to Jews: "I will never fall in the excesses of narrow-minded nationalism, hateful and stupid and which is far too common throughout the world and which is now starting to infiltrate our country". Armand Lavergne, a nationalist follower of Bourassa, championed the Jewish exemption from the Lord's Day Act enacted in the Parliament of Canada in 1906; virtually only the nationalists were prepared to grant Jews this measure of justice. Indeed, under the influence of Bourassa and Lavergne, the National Assembly of Quebec was the only one to grant an exemption to Jews in 1907 [the exemption was abolished in the 1930's when anti-semitism became stronger in Quebec]. Olivar Asselin was another nationalist to condemn in very strong terms anti-semitism in the 1930's; however, Asselin was a liberal nationalist, and not an ultramontane. After 1937, André Laurendeau, eventually involved in L'Action nationale and in Le Devoir, with Gérard Filion did much to purge nationalism of its anti-semitic components. Yet, these exceptions having been noted, anti-semitism was alive and well among the ultramontane nationalists of the period of 1890 to 1945, and anti-semitism constituted, without a doubt, a major element of ultramontane nationalists' thought in the period.

Aside from the defence of the three pillars of survival, and the fight against all the elements that threatened the nation, three other characteristics of ultramontane nationalism need to be briefly emphasised: their focus on history, their anti-statism and their political objectives.

A very strong component of ultramontane nationalism, one that had been absent from the earlier liberal nationalism, was reliance on history. While earlier nationalists in the period of 1845 to 1915 had made a contribution to this, it is really only with abbé Groulx that history made a strong entrance in the ultramontane nationalist discourse. Abbé Groulx became the first professional historian in Quebec. He was also, between 1915 and 1945, the chief proponent of ultramontane nationalism in Quebec. Groulx lived at a time when the proletarisation of French Canadians took its heaviest toll. He railed continuously against it and against the many ills that afflicted "his people". In this process, the nation had developed a huge inferiority complex. To Groulx, this was a tragedy. At all costs, pride in one's self and in one's nation had to be restored. Where else was one to find the elements to restore pride and faith in one's destiny than in history? To Groulx, French Canadians were not only a nation with a holy mission, they were the descendants of a people that once discovered, evangelised, conquered, civilised and controlled much of the North American continent. Once, they had been masters of the continent and if they had done so it was because they had had great qualities and had not been cowardly or subservient. They were from a race of heroes, carved out of the best of Catholic France, cast upon this continent to tame it. A good example of that was Dollard des Ormeaux who, with 16 friends, had stopped the invasion of Canada by the Iroquois in 1660 and, with the sacrifice of their lives, had saved the colony. How could a people, coming from such origins, have sunk so low? Only because they had ignored who they were, only because they had forgotten their history. Groulx made it his task to tell the people about their history. It had a moralistic tone and a nationalist goal. He wrote hundreds of pieces about the history of French Canada. He preached incessantly about the necessity of a "national education", that is one that instilled pride in the nation and its accomplishment. Central to his interpretation of the history of French Canadians was the role of Catholicism and of the clergy as the guardian of the values of the people and of the preservation of tradition. [on the role of history, and the connection of the historians of Quebec to the the society that produced them, see Ronald Rudin, Making History in Twentieth-century Quebec, 1997]

Another component of ultramontane nationalism was its anti-statism. Along with agriculturalism and messianism, anti-statism was one of the three dominant myths of French Canadian thought as defined by historian Michel Brunet. Brunet believed that it grew out of the Conquest. There is very little evidence to support that. Rather, it seems more natural to date it from the 1840's, when control of any elements connected to the state was lost to French Canadians, following the Union Act. It is also from that time that the clergy rose increasingly in importance and started to assume such tasks as one expects from government: education, health, social services. After 1840, in so far as these matters were concerned, the Church took care of the people and, in fact, assumed one of the important functions of the state. From this point on, the ultramontane Church preached distrust of the state, a distrust shared by XIXth century liberals in any case. Even when the province of Quebec was created in 1867, a French and Catholic state in practice, the Church continued to preach distrust of the state and ascribed to it dangers that simply did not exist. The effect was catastrophic. Aside from the Catholic Church, the government of Quebec was the only major institution in the hands of French Canadians. Given the social and economical situation of the people of Quebec, they would have needed an active state if they were to develop and overcome the increasing economic inferiority into which they fell. Only by the 1930's did a new emergent form of nationalism in Quebec start to challenge the anti-statist views of the ultramontane nationalists.

Only on one major point, did the near unanimity of the ultramontane nationalists' vision of the world break down: on matters that were political. In general, the ultramontane nationalists were not involved in party politics. They frequently held rather undemocratic views in any case. Their focus was continuously the elite. In their mental universe, political parties mostly served to divide the people when what the nationalists wished to do was to unite them. They easily heaped scorn on politicians and had very little faith in political solutions. As much as possible, the ultramontane nationalists emptied their ideology of political content. This aspect has been very well documented by André-J. Bélanger in his book L'Apolitisme des idéologies québécoises. Le grand tournant de 1934-1936 [1974, 392p.]. Abbé Groulx was typical in this respect. He was quite proud, in his Mémoires, to report that he had frequently not gone to vote, as one could not expect anything good from politicians who were all the same in any case.

Yet, while they shunned politicians, and heaped scorn on political parties, there was no escaping the essentially political question of the future of the nation. How would the nation best survive: Within Confederation or out of it? Was the ultimate destiny of the nation to eventually form an independent state? This question provided ample opportunities for debate in the classical colleges and in the various platforms usually occupied by the nationalists. No clear answer was provided to this existential question and in fact it did not make much difference how it would be answered. In so far as the ultramontane nationalists were anti-statists, it did not make much difference if the nation would suddenly have available an independent state: it would not have done very much with such a state in any case. The real question was really: how would survivance be best achieved? Both the separatist and the federalist ultramontane nationalists basically wanted to achieve the same thing: the security of the nation, its survival. And many answered the question in the same ambiguous way that Abbé Groulx did: within Confederation if possible; outside Confederation if impossible. Canada had value to the extent that it might make a contribution in the maintenance and the development of the nation. If this point had been more fully grasped outside of Quebec, real and fruitful political alliances, for practical purposes, could have been forged and French Canadian nationalism could have become a more positive force in Canadian history. The survival of a vibrant French Canadian nation, secure in its rights, would have gone a long way in securing the survival of Canada as well. Instead, increasingly, starting with Jules-Paul Tardivel, continued by abbé Groulx, although somewhat ambiguously, and scores of youth movements in the 1930's, the nationalists turned to separatism to assure the survival of the nation.

While the ultramontane nationalists were very active for over a century, they were not very successful, except in specific circumstances such as during the Riel rebellions, the conscription issues, or during the 1930's. There was a considerable gulf between their message and the views or actions of the average French Canadian. In part, this may have been because they envisaged too much individuals only in relation to the group; this tendency may be normal among nationalists, but it seemed to have been taken to an exaggerated level among the ultramontane nationalists. They were rarely as one with the people, in the same way as the Patriotes had been before 1837. Despite their best effort, they could not stop the emigration of French Canadians to the United States, nor the movement away from the farms of Quebec to the cities. When they railed against cinema, theatres and other leisure occupations, or when they supported prohibition, they were not followed by the people; nor did they fully succeed in making the French Canadians see Jews as their enemy. They did nurture among the people a sense of grievance but, perhaps, that was because the fate of the people was so miserable. They were inward-looking, unprogressive and not very tolerant of others. Yet, in many respects they were well meaning. They set into motion tendencies that were difficult to shed by later generations.

© 1999 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College