Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
October 2013

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



New Light on M. Bourassa



Chronologie de la controverse sur l'Appel de la Race


Two recently published French-Canadian books give two different French-Canadian points of view with reference to problems arising out of racial differences. One, a novel entitled L'Appel de la Race, by Alonié de Lestres, published in 1922, voices the intransigeant [sic], the irreconcilable, point of view. The other, an address, entitled Patriotisme, Nationalisme, Impérialisme, delivered by Henri Bourassa before the Catholic Commercial Travellers' As­sociation at Montreal on Nov. 23rd, 1923, embodies the philosophical, reasoned views of a keen student of affairs, who, so far from being himself an extremist as he is generally regarded by English Canadians be­yond Quebec, here reveals himself as a moderating influence endeavoring to restrain the extremists. A comparison of the two books confirms this impression.


Both works deal with the differences and misunder­standings which have arisen between the French and English-speaking peoples of Canada. L'Appel de la Race is a piece of didactic fiction written around the disputes that have resulted from the promulga­tion and enforcement of Regulation XVII of the Ontario Department of Education. This subject is dealt with only incidentally in M. Bourassa's speech, although its influence is apparent throughout the greater part of it.


Racial antagonism, implacable, inevitable, unalter­able, is the theme of the novel. ‘The persecuting race', ‘the persecuting government', are frequently repeated expressions. The utmost that is hoped for is that the race and the government may cease to persecute, not that friendship and understanding may follow. The French race must maintain itself pure and inviolate without any admixture of the hated English blood or even social relations, which might tend to facilitate such admixture. ‘Mixed marriage’ is a term, which, to English-speaking people, has usually signified a marriage between a Catholic and a Protestant. In this book it signifies a mar­riage between French and English. Such a marriage must mean either the eventual extinction of French individuality in the French-speaking partner to the contract, or else Nemesis will sooner or later exact a terrible punishment.


The hero of the story, Jules de Lantagnac, a bril­liant young lawyer practicing in Ottawa, wins and marries Maud Fletcher, daughter of a highly placed civil servant. The bride becomes a Catholic and a suc­cessful, happy family of two sons and two daughters grows up. De Lantagnac, proud of having won, not only as his bride, but to his faith, a daughter of the 'superior race', identifies himself with English-speak­ing society and business interests. English has always been the language of the home and the children have all had an English education.


After twenty years of happy family life, the ata­vism of his race begins to stir in him under the in­fluence of Father Fabien, O.M.I., of Hull, who sets himself to win the lawyer back to French sympathies and French culture. When the latter finally announces his conversion the priest exclaims:


Ah, my friend! God be praised! You have come to it at last! If you could know how I have waited for you so long! Lantagnac, I am going to speak a great word: today is a great day for the French minority of Ontario: a leader is born to them!


De Lantagnac forsees [sic] family troubles resulting from the new course which the priest has laid out for him. The priest also forsees [sic] them and sets himself deliberately to the breaking-up of the home, event­ually driving his convert to the point of final rup­ture to which length he would not have gone had not the priest relentlessly urged him on.


I have been informed that the reviewers of the French press were unanimous in condemning this feature of the book and it should not be regarded as in any way representative of general French Canadian opinion.


De Lantagnac has been absorbing all his French culture, his knowledge of French literature and his­tory from Father Fabien, and he has essayed the reclamation of his children. Quite early in the game the priest hands him a book, The Psychological Laws of the Evolutions of Peoples, by Dr. Gustav Le Bon, reading to him and emphasizing the following passages:


Crossings may be an element of progress between superior races sufficiently closely related as are the English and the Germans of America. It always constitutes an element of degeneracy when the races, even though superior, are too different....


The first effect of crossings between different races is to destroy the spirit of the races, that is to say, that ensemble of ideas and common sentiments which constitutes the strength of peoples and without which there would be neither nation nor country. . . . It is therefore with reason that all people who have attained a high degree of civilization have carefully avoided mixture with foreigners.


Whatever truth there may be in this contention and however proper to consider the question before marriage, it is here used for the deliberate purpose of breaking up a home which had been successful and happy for more than twenty years.


But M. Bourassa is not so sure about the Latinity, which is the boast and pride of the author of L'Appel de la Race. He says: “We readily boast too much perhaps, about our Latin and French mental­ity, forgetting that our ancestors, French of the north and French before the Revolution, were at least as much Normans and Germans as Latins.” And Mr. Bourassa knows his history.


De Lantagnac is elected as an Independent mem­ber of Parliament for the County of Russell to re­present the ‘persecuted' French minority, and the honest and conscientious pursuit of his duty as a member not only causes him the greatest mental suf­fering, because his wife considers herself disgraced and humiliated by her husband's association with the French cause, but also the loss of friends and profit­able business connections. The culminating point comes when he has to decide whether or not to speak to the Ernest Lapointe resolution of May 11th, 1916, requesting the Government of Ontario to reconsider its attitude toward the use of the French language in its schools. If he does so, this means the final destruction of his home. Father Fabien handles him skilfully. It looks as if he would balk at this last hurdle, but at the last moment he clears it splen­didly.


Then his wife leaves his home, taking with her one son and one daughter. One son and one daught­er remain true to him, but the daughter leaves the world for the service of the Church. His chief com­fort is his eldest son who, having jilted his fiancée the day before so as to avoid contracting a mixed marriage, returns from college to console him. Thus after twenty-three years Nemesis overtakes him for the crime of marrying out of his race. In his lonely agony in the empty house he tells himself:


For your misfortune blame chiefly yourself. The first fault you committed twenty-three years ago. By this marriage which tied you to an alien you erected a home out of incongruous materials. Why complain if the wedge of iron has split it asunder?


I am not citing this book as representing the gen­erally accepted French Canadian point of view, for I am satisfied that it does not do so. But it does represent the point of view of a group to which M. Bourassa refers in the following quotation from his speech:


Recently a group of young French Canadians, bril­liant, eloquent, have been endeavoring, in anticipa­tion of the rupture [of Confederation] to promote the formation of a French state whose limits would correspond somewhat closely to the present limits of Quebec. That is, they say, the ideal toward which we ought to work. Is this dream realizable?


Ontario opinion has long thought that this was M. Bourassa's own dream. He answers his ques­tion himself:


I do not think so. Is it desirable? I do not at all think so, neither from the French point of view nor, still less, from the Catholic point of view, which, in my eyes, takes precedence of French In­terest.


He goes on to give many strong reasons why, in the interest of her own people, Quebec should con­tinue in Confederation. His references to the school question are mostly incidental but pointed.


Even in the struggles for the language, let us have order in our demands. . . . Let us be care­ful always to make a distinction between that which we have the right to exact legally and that which it is simply reasonable to expect from a ra­tional and equitable interpretation of the constitution. In the first case we must demand; in the second, persuade.


No persuasion is either recommended or counten­anced in the novel. It is a case of standing on legal rights guaranteed by the constitution. “Why all these unrelaxing assaults', demands Father Fabien, ‘against article 133 of the constitution which es­pecially proclaims the judicial and political equality of the two languages?”


Now section 133 manifestly confers no rights that were violated by Regulation XVII. It provides merely and solely that French and English shall be official languages in the Parliament of Canada, in the Legislature of Quebec, in the courts of Quebec, and in the Federal courts; also that the proceedings and Acts of Parliament and of the Quebec Legisla­ture shall be printed in both languages. So far as I am aware, none of these rights has ever been at­tacked.


This is the kind of case with which M. Bourassa would endeavor to deal by persuasion, and few of us would refuse to listen with patience and courtesy when approached in that spirit or refuse to examine sympathetically the ground of complaint.


But ardently as M. Bourassa has fought for the language and would still fight, it is not the first con­sideration with him. He calls sharply to the at­tention of his hearers the admonitions which Popes Leo XIII and Benedict XV both have given them in connection with Canadian school disputes and tells them that “the unity of the Church, the authority of its hierarchy, are more important than the preserva­tion of no matter what language, than the triumph of any human cause”.


And again: “From the strictest Nationalist point of view as well as in the general interest of Canada and of the Church, better to direct our farmers to­ward the lands of Ontario or the West than to let them become engulfed in our over-populated cities.” He quite clearly has in mind here that by such emigration under present conditions they would sacri­fice language rights. He adds in the same para­graph: “It is the family and the parish that have saved the race. Let its preserve them intact as long as possible. They are more important still than the language.”


The questions of race and creed are inextricably mixed up in these disputes. Even when the author of L'Appel de la Race does try to separate them he succeeds only in asserting their unity when claim­ing that the cause of his race is the cause of his Church, although his whole book bears out the fact that the trouble in the Ottawa schools was not a dis­pute between two creeds but between two races of the same creed.


M. Bourassa does separate the questions of race and creed and he keeps them separate. And more­over, he chastises his fellow French Canadians for the very things for which he himself has been pil­loried throughout English-speaking Canada during almost the whole course of his public career.


It is said that the prototype of De Lantagnac is a well-known French-Canadian senator. I also un­derstand that the name Alonié de Lestres is a nom de plume. It may be that the author's identity is an open secret, but if so I have not yet been able to learn his real name. One of my French-Canadian friends tells me that he knows him but does not con­sider himself free to reveal his identity. I am given to understand that Alonié de Lestres is not nearly so good a hater as his book would make him appear and that he prefers to be known for his more love­able qualities.


Many parts of L'Appel de la Race display liter­ary merit of a very high order. One could wish that the author would essay a theme similar in nature to that of Maria Chapdelaine, that is to say, a theme free from religious or racial rancor. We would translate him and make a hero of him among Eng­lish-speaking readers.


Source: J. ADDISON REID,” New Light on M. Bourassa”, in Canadian Forum, 1924, p. 201-203. Transcribed by Mahsa Mehrabzadeh. Revision by Claude Bélanger. Errors in the French terminology used in the original text have been corrected in this web edition.

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© 2013 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College