Discovering Canadian History One Station at a Time
The tower of the of the Univerisité de Montréal’s Pavillion Roger Gaudry is one of the more imposing structures on the north side of Mount-Royal, an ivory tower in all but substance. This week, thanks to William Ralliant Clark of the university’s press office, and Diane Baillargeon and Monique Voyer, both of the university’s archives, I had the chance to find out what it contains.
The answer is boxes. Several floors worth of documents, charts, and plans, all boxed and archived recording the university’s creation by papal decree in 1878 as a Montreal branch of the Université Laval à Montreal, to its independent status from 1919 as the independent Université de Montréal, and reform in 1967 into a secular institution with an emphasis, following the creation of the Université de Québec, on research.
(Now one of the largest universities in Canada, there is a nominal circularity to this development; as William noted there is now branch of the Université de Montréal at Laval, across the Riviére des Prairies from Montreal. The original Université Laval, named, like Montreal’s neighbour, after Bishop Laval de Montmorency, continues as a separate institution based in Quebec City.)
Now, while university administration might quicken only the pulse of academics, and then only in frustration, if not outright fury, for a history of Canada by Montreal metro those boxes and the Université de Montréal present at least two important intersections. Firstly, there is the official documentation which takes us from from the clerical state, represented by Édouard-Charles Fabre, Montreal’s first archbishop and from 1878 vice-rector of the Montreal branch of the Université Laval, to the university’s effective nationalization in the Quiet Revolution by the secular state, represented by the foundation of the Université de Québec à Montréal, at Berri-UQAM, in 1969.
Alongside the official record of the university, there are the student newspapers, including the law students’ delightfully named Pigeon Dissident, in which aspiring writers, intellectuals and politicians tested themselves on the issues of the day. If my hunch is right, the turns of thought which lead from Fabre and Lionel Groulx to Berri-UQAM and Place des Arts, have a starting point in those boxes at Université de Montréal.
In the 1940s the issues were conscription, Quebec’s weird mix of free market economics and clerical authority, and the future of the Quebecois nation, and among the students are some familiar names: Jean Drapeau, future mayor of Montreal, André Laurendeau, future editor of Le Devoir, and Pierre Eliott Trudeau, future prime minister of Canada.
To varying degrees, all three were journalists. Laurendeau obviously, while Trudeau, founded Cité Libre soon after graduating as a basis for attacking the Duplessis government. Even if he did not think of himself as a writer, Drapeau could not have succeeded in a city which to this day supports four paid-dailies without setting out his stall in the press.
Some of this may not be pretty – against the enormity of World War II, antipathy to Britain might seem a poor reason not to fight, worse, both Laurendeau and Drapeau were initially followers of the nationalist, anti-semite professor, Lionel Groulx – but out of the quagmire of depression-era anti-globalization, French Canadian nationalism took a different shape. In the aftermath of the War, Drapeau re-invented Montreal with Expo’ 67, Place des Arts, the metro system itself, and much else besides; Laurendeau, became a leader in Quebec’s Quiet Revolution; and Trudeau, as Canada’s fifteenth prime minister, became chief architect of a multicultural, liberal social democracy.It is, of course, a final irony that it is upon this legacy, specifically Trudeau’s establishment of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that the latest mutation of Quebec nationalism, the Charter of Quebec Values, currently before the National Assembly, may ultimately founder.
If you want to learn more about the founding of the Université de Montréal, the archives service has a virtual exhibition on its website. There are also exhibitions about the Baby collection of documents from the tumultuous 18th and 19th centuries, the university’s most celebrated professor, Édouard Monpetit, and much else besides.
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While I was up the tower, I did think about taking a photo, but the day was overcast and boxes, which do not need to see through windows, are best saved from the light. Through that grey murk I saw for the first time the École Polytechnique, the engineering school affiliated with the Université de Montréal. On the December 6th, it will be twenty four years since Marc Lepine killed fourteen women. Remember them and stop violence against women.