The last time I was in Montreal, my home town, was in 1964. Québec Libre was freshly painted on many a wall, and students were fixing stickers that read Québec Qui Ottawa Non on car windows. Militant French Canadian Separatism, and not Expo, was the talking point. I had returned to Montreal, as I wrote in Encounter at the time, on Queen Victoria’s birthday, a national holiday in Canada. A thousand policemen were required to put down a French Canadian Separatist demonstration. Flags were burnt, a defective bomb was planted on Victoria Bridge, and a wreath was laid at the Monument aux Patriots, which marks the spot where twelve men were executed after the 1837-38 rebellion. The city was feverish. André Laurendeau, then editor of Le Devoir, developed the popular theory of “Roi Nègre,” that is to say that the real rulers of Quebec (the English, represented by the Federal Government in Ottawa) used a French Canadian chieftain (former, and once all powerful, Provincial Premier Duplessis) to govern the French, just as colonial powers used African puppets to keep their tribes in order. André Malraux, in town to open a “France in Canada” exhibition, told the City Council, “France needs you. We will build the next civilization together.” Malraux added that he had brought a personal message from General de Gaulle. It was that “Montreal was France’s second city. He wanted this message to reach you…. You are not aware of the meaning you have for France. There is nowhere in the world where the spirit of France works so movingly as it does in the province of Quebec.”
Naturally, this made for an uproar, so that the next day at a hastily summoned press conference Malraux said, “The mere thought that French Canada could become politically or otherwise dependent on France, is a dangerous and even a ridiculous one.”
Since then, as we all know, De Gaulle himself has been and gone, shouting the Separatist slogan, “Vivre Québec libre,” from the balcony of Montreal City Hall, and Prime Minister Pearson, rising to the occasion for once, declared this was “unacceptable” to the Canadian Government. I doubt that De Gaulle’s outburst, enjoyable as it was to all French Canadians, will make for more than a momentary Separatist resurgence, but it is worth noting that France has not always been so enamored of Quebec, a province which was largely pro-Vichy in sentiment during the war, and whose flag is still the fleur de lis.
In the summer of 1964, André d’Allemagne, one of the leaders of the RIN (Le Parti Rèpublican du Québec) told me that in his struggle for an independent state of Quebec he was opposed to violence, but, should his party be outlawed, he might be obliged to turn to it. “Like the maquis.” D’Allemagne looked to the next Quebec provincial election in 1966 as the big test—and he wasn’t the only one.
But, in 1966, the RIN which claimed 8 …
This article is available to subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.