The stations of the Montreal Metro system are not named after people. They are named after streets and places, which themselves may or may not be named after people. So when people call for Lionel-Groulx to be renamed after Oscar Peterson, they are actually calling for the street to be renamed. There is no Peterson near Lionel Groulx Metro, but, in an accident recalling the deliberate irony of Wolfe, named after the British general at the Battle of Quebec, running alongside Montcalm, his French counterpart, the street parallel to Lionel-Groulx is named Delisle. By the logic of the metro system itself, an obvious replacement for the historian who gave French Canada a vision of itself as rural, traditional, independent, and ethnically French, is, by historical accident, the same name as Esther Delisle, the PhD candidate who in 1992 accused Groulx and his followers of racism, fascism, and contempt of the French Canadian population itself. *
Groulx, Delisle argued, had implausibly fabricated a French-Canadian race drawn from Norman stock. This Norman blood, together with the force of history, providence and a miracle of leadership ensured that this nation would inevitably achieve its destiny in a French Catholic State. For Groulx, it would begin, and end, with the French Canadian.
From the start there were problems. Groulx’s own figures in La naissance d’une race suggest Normans made up only a quarter of the French colonizing population before 1680 and ignore the presence black slaves and other European colonizers before the Wolfe’s victory in 1765. In this milieu, French was the language of the colony long before it had been standardized across France itself.) To Groulx’s delight, despite the policies of Versailles and successive governors of New France, intermarriage French colonials and the older populations of North America met with failure. Jean Talon may have larded the Jesuits in their missionary zeal, but “after fifty years of work, [they] were unable to teach the barbarians of the New World neither the French language nor the manners of Versailles”. Forgetting that human reproduction does not require the blessing of the Church, Groulx finds no descendants of the 94 marriages recorded before 1685, their offspring dying before the end of the eighteenth century.
How could it be otherwise? In his novel, L’Appel de la race, Groulx’s hero observes the fate of his own children’s mixed French Catholic and English Protestant heritage:
“The blood of the race remains the same through the centuries!” And the unhappy father surprised himself frequently ruminating on this painful reflection: “So it’s all true, the cerebral disorder, the psychological disorder that comes from mixing races”
Groulx vilified the perceived traitors of French-Canada, who, seduced by “the peril of individualism,” abandoned their feudal farms, “scattering” across the continent seeking adventure, profit and fur. Equally treacherous were upper class French Canadians, who fell under the sway of capitalism, democracy, and federalism. Admiring of British and American institutions and economic success, they “commit treason and kill themselves off as a group of as much as they construct themselves.”
Placed in more direct, closer relations with the conqueror or the oppressor, you can see how they succumb in an ineluctable series of falls: self-interest leads them to practice assiduous social relations with the foreigner; then, in contact with the richest, they yield little by little to the temptations of vanity … And then, through pride, through absence of nation faith, they accept marriage, the mixing of blood: this is their downfall and their end.
In their self-serving treachery, the upper classes had ushered in parliamentary democracy to the ruin of the humble French Canadian. “Parasitic individualism” was particularly rife in the Liberal party of Laurier and Bourassa, where it was “awakening appetites, cupidity of every type, especially of high finance, that insatiable oligopoly that prowls the alleyways of government, subjugating it to the point that government and oligarchy become one.” Employers, “held back by outdated fads of economic liberalism … infect us daily with the virulent germ of the worst social cankers”. Quoting the Portuguese dictator, Oliveria Salazar, “the least noisy, but, in my view, the most constructive, the greatest of the contemporary dictators”, Groulx asserted that “the State is not free, because it is manipulated more or less consciously by economic concentrations”.
Forced from their tenant farms by these “economic concentrations”, the French Canadian middle classes give themselves up to sport, the imported pleasures of the United States, even emigrating to the United States “out of sheer capriciousness” while the lower classes were swallowed up in the cities”. “From father to son, they will live in the same slums, they will be under the same bondage, with no ambition to better their lives, content to obey a master, especially if this master is a foreigner.”
The economic and cultural power of the United States was not the only threat to the moral purity of the French Canadian. More insidious was “the Jew”, an economic power able to control democracy and the newspapers, including the larger circulation Montreal daily, La Presse, and dupe the unwitting French Canadian into his economic downfall with Jewish-edited dailies bought from Jewish newspaper boys on the street corner.
The Jew went to the right school. With universal experience, he is essentially cosmopolitan, the natural vehicle of internationalism in all things. He knows how his cousin in Frankfurt or Warsaw, a newspaper boy like himself, when about boycotting the papers that didn’t please him or his race: he also knows how his uncle Jacob of Vienna, who made his fortune in the clothing business, controlled the newspapers that accepted his paid prose.
For writers at Le Devoir, the Jew was both physically identifiable and invisible. For all that his nose and the odour of garlic gave him away, he was effectively disguised by changing his name and that of his business. French Canadian businesses on Ste Catherine were not signs of progress but of “regression”, said Paul Anger. “French Canadian places of business should be really called Oriental,” he continued. “The Jews steal our names because they are worth something. They are the only thing we have left”.
Helpfully identified by Groulx as “the American microbe” and “the sons of Israel”, others elaborated on there effects. While without question the Jewish and American interests controlled all aspects of business and industry, “Judeo-American Finance with Bolshevkik sympathies” were especially powerful in the media and “the Jews rule in Russia just as in Hollywood. “Advertising, a field dominated by our Judeo-American rulers, has decided that sex appeal sells. They use it all the time, without the slightest concern for relevancy”. Conspiracy theories extended even to the lengthening of dresses which signaled not a return to decency but the “Jews passion for profit … Women would be forced to go out and buy”.
In the city itself, “while entire Montreal districts are ruined just like Warsaw, smaller municipalities like Plage Laval are also complaining that Jews have destroyed real estate values.” Others worried about the arrival of the Wailing Wall in Square St Louis. When anti-semitism gained the attention of parliament Groulx, noted that “in Montreal we have drawn safe electoral districts for him” and protested their “elevation to the rank of privileged class of ethnic minority.” It could only entail one thing:
To what end are all these absolutely unjustifiable priviledges being accumulated if not to encourage the establishment of a veritable Jewish commercial tyranny – tyranny which Israel’s international influence ensures will be formidable and easily implanted – in Quebec and first, and foremost, in Montreal.
To combat the predations of international capital and the solidarity of international Jewry, economic and political measures were needed, including the errecting of dykes around Quebec. Most explicit was André Laurendeau writing in Le Devoir in 1933 as a founding member of Jeune Canada:
The actions of the trust, i.e. Foreign capital, are felt everywhere. The trust is master in Ottawa, and master in Quebec. The hour is too late for equivocation. It is time to make them fear the indignation, the rage of a people that awakens from its deep lethargy …. one day, we will do to the trusts here what they did to the Jews in Germany. We’ll give them the boot. And if they don’t get up safe and sound on the other side of the forty-fifth parallel, well, just to bad.
Under a pseudonym, Groulx endorsed the Achat chez nous, or Buy At Home, campaign.
In six months or a year our watchword will be understood and followed, and the Jewish problem will be resolved in Montreal and across the entire province … Of the Jews, none would remain except those who could make a living solely off their own people. The rest would scatter, or of necessity disband to make their living in other sectors other than business.
As well as political and economic isolation, re-education and leadership was needed. Again, Groulx looked Europe; to Germany, where “teachers, mobilized in special camps as if preparing for important pedagogical manoeuvres, heard their country’s leaders express their plan for the national training of young Germans;” to Italy, where “the present strength of Il Duce’s government is due to the generation of young Italians trained according to Fascist principles;” and the U.S.S.R., where the extraordinary and mysterious longevity of the Soviet regime is in large part due to the revolutionary mystique with which an entire army of masters inspired Russia’s youth.” Just as Italians had the “blood of Cesar running through their veins” so Groulx reminded “the cowardly nation that is contemporary French Canada that they are the direct descendants of northern America’s conquistadors”.
While “Weak minds which believe in democracy at the expense of the Church and Christ react with horror to Fascism in all its shapes and forms” Groulx saw “a glorious kind of rebirth under this political system”. To Groulx, a French Catholic state was the “legitimate and necessary destiny” of French Canada. To his followers, including André Laurendeau, this state was Laurentie and would “rise out of the realm of desire” with the inevitable break up of the United States”, its borders corresponding with Quebec for some, reaching into northern Ontario, New Brunswick, and New England for others”. Defined by loyalty “to blood, to history and culture”, the Ligue d’action nationale, publisher of L’action nationale, the day of St John the Baptist (24 June) declared a national holiday and the fleur-de-lys the flag of the new nation.
To achieve this glorious state, all that was needed was a leader. Some despaired of the situation. Others found their leader in Groulx. And for his part, Groulx knew that Providence would not fail him. Only French Canadians could do that.
Whether the miracle of a savior – for which we hope and beseech Providence – is granted today or tomorrow, we have to look realistically at our chances of developing a truly national policy. French Canadians know nothing about nationhood. They are a poor people with plenty of feeling, to be sure, but they have never attended any call beyond their stomachs.
Finding solidarity only in the political party, “the most destructive form of individualism”, French Canadian businessmen rejected the Achat chez-nous campaign, preferring to “found branches or sub-branches of the Rotary Club, the Kiwanis, the Knights of Columbus. Like the old aristocracy from New France, “the anti-patriotic, anti-nationalist bourgeois population … will succeed in eliminating [its] own kind”. Their “pomaded, painted whipper-snappers” receive instruction from teachers more interested in sport than the cultivation of souls and patriotism while French Canadians merely follow:
… worse than the revolting regime is the perfect idiocy with which we tolerate it. Every week, and sometimes two or three times a week, there are ten or twenty thousand, at the hockey games in Montreal, yelling and shrieking as wildly as savages. Out of these twenty thousand, you will find no more than five hundred who would be capable of opening their mouth to end the tyranny of Ottawa.
In the French Canadian himself, Groulx’s bucolic ideal collapsed on itself: “all the country people who persist in the stubbornness, petrifying themselves in a their frantic individualism … traditional and apparently incorrigible individualism.” Paradoxically, given calls to erect dykes and to isolate of French Canada, French Canadians themselves are “unable to see what is going on, in their country, in North America, persuaded they can live indefinitely, in isolation, in their goldfish bowl”. The degeneracy of the French Canadian race, previously the manifestation of “all goodness in their elegant maintenance of the native nobility” is seen in its language and posture by “the flabby, soft pronunciation, the talk of just about, the sentence half spoken and half swallowed” and “the stooped back and the rounded shoulders … of weak people or slaves”. In love with all flags, their balconies are draped with a profusion of flags, the Union Jack, the Canadian flag, the Stars and Stripes, the French Tricolore, anything except the fleur-de-lys and ignored calls to celebrate St Jean Baptiste (24 June) as a national day. “The great misfortune of French Canadians”, Groulx dared to say, “is that there are no French Canadians”.
* If you want to pursue this change, good luck to you. A healthy society is able to look its past in the eye. The other alternative is St Jacques.
Consulted for this post
Esther Delisle. The Traitor and the Jew: anti-semitism and the delirium of extremist right-wing nationalism in French Canada from 1929-1939. Trans. by Madeleine Hébert with Claire Rothman and Käthe Roth. Montreal: Robert Davies Publishing, 1993.