The French Quarter:
The Epic Struggle of a Family - & a Nation - Divided

by Ron Graham,
276 pages,
ISBN: 0921912374

French Canadians

by Michel Gratton,
ISBN: 1550134388

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All in the Family
by Donald Swainson

ENGLISH-SPEAKING Canadians have had to devote a lot of time and thought to French Canada during the past generation or so. Since the rise to power of jean Lesage and his Liberals in 1960, Quebec has been an economic, social, cultural, intellectual, and political cauldron. We have had to adjust to the Quiet Revolution. The FLQ crisis dominated our attention for a time. The imposition of the War Measures Act in 1970 is still hotly debated. Separatism evolved into a highly competitive political movement and, as the Parti Quebecois, won power in Quebec City in 1976.

The country held its breath in 1980 while the Quebecois fought their referendum battle over the issue of separation (of some sort). We then observed the bitterness of many in Quebec when Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau was able to make massive changes in our constitution without the consent of Quebec. Then came the Meech Lake Accord of 1987 and the increasingly bitter debate that led to its rejection. The politicians came back with yet another package of constitutional

changes designed to placate Quebec. This agreement, the Charlottetown Accord, led to the convulsive national referendum on 26 October 1992. And, during these years of turbulence and change, Quebec produced some of the most fascinating and compelling leaders in Canadian history, a group that includes Lesage, Trudeau, and Rene Levesque.

These developments and leaders gripped us because of their combination of high drama and innate importance. What has been at stake has been the definition of both Quebec and Canada. Are we to be one country or two? Is Quebec to remain a part Of Canada, but with so many "distinctive" powers that it might as well be independent? Is the Canadian federation to be weakened to the point that Canada becomes truly ungovernable? Is some sort of status quo situation going to prevail? Canadians have been groping with these problems for a long time. While doing so, many in Englishspeaking Canada have been badly handicapped: they have not understood the nature of Quebec society. This has made it very difficult to deal effectively with the aspirations and demands of Quebec. This crucial discussion has often been pursued within a context marred by misinformation and misunderstanding.

Ron Graham and Michel Gratton have produced two books that do much to educate us about the inner workings of Quebec society.

Graham's book is about his family. He had a French-Canadian grandfather, which makes him one-quarter French Canadian. Hence the title of his book, The French Quarter. Although he grew up in affluent and anglo Westmount, Graham became fascinated with his French lineage. He started to investigate it. In the process he met Andre Moncel, a nephew of his grandfather, Rene Moncel. Andre gave Graham "a couple of hundred ornate pages" of the Moncels' family tree, which enabled him to trace his Canadian family from 1634 to the present. His first Canadian ancestor emigrated from France in 1634. His name was Zacherie Cloutier and he was the "great-great-great-great-great grandfather of [Grahams] great-great-great-great-great grandmother."

Graham is able to give us bits of information about many members of his family, and he is able to relate them to most of the great themes and events in Quebec history. His ancestors included farmers, fur traders, soldiers, officials, politicians, professionals, business operators, devoutly religious Roman Catholics, skeptics, and writers. They fought in the battles that led to the fall of Quebec in 1759 and in the campaigns that produced the United States of America. They were involved in the War of 1812 and were on both sides of the 183 7 rebellion movement in Lower Canada. Members of this distinguished family were both pro- and anti-Confederation and are represented in each of the strands that constitute the political tradition of Quebec. After Confederation they were divided between federalists and nationalists. Some adopted English and moved to places like Toronto and Calgary, while others became separatist followers of Rene Levesque.

By explaining his ancestors in this way, Graham makes absolutely clear the extent and nature of his family's involvement in the evolution of French Canada from a tiny and fragile society to the Quebec of today. This sets up the concluding section of the book.

Ron Graham loves Quebec and is immensely proud of his family's long and honourable place in the history of the province. Clearly, he wants to belong in Quebec, which he sees as his society. But that cannot be, because Graham is not sufficiently French. He explains the nature of 20th-century Quebecois nationalism as narrow, exclusive, and at least tinged with racism. It is such that the impure like Graham simply do not fit. So the book ends on a note of tragedy. Graham retains a cottage in Quebec, but has lost his province. He lives in Toronto and works in English.

The French Quarter is popular history as it should be. It combines anecdotes with great themes and is based on careful research. The book is very well written and makes some major points that are central to the Canadian condition, and it should be of interest to both the historian and the general reader.

Michel Gratton has written a different kind of book. Gratton grew up in a francophone and devoutly Roman Catholic family. They lived in Eastview (now Vanier), a francophone workingclass enclave in metropolitan Ottawa. He became a journalist, working in both Quebec and Ontario and writing in either English or French, and for a time was press secretary to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

French Canadians is a book about the Quebecois majority and the Franco-Ontarian minority. It is based on Gratton's recollections of his life in Eastview and his experiences as a working journalist. The book's subtitle, An Outsider's Inside Look at Quebec, is apt. Gratton is an outsider in both Quebec and Ontario. He explains that as a teenager he transferred from a boarding school in Papineauville, Quebec, to a high school in Ottawa: "In Quebec I'd been treated like a 'maudit Anglais'; here [in Ontario] I was now a 'frog."'

Gratton gives us his impressions of the Roman Catholic Church, the language, educational system, politics, and culture of Quebec. What he has to say about the treatment of Franco-Ontarians, especially in the area of language education, is interesting and informative. He writes very effectively about the veritable collapse of the Roman Catholic Church in Quebec during the 1960s and after. The educational system, which had a powerful influence on the Quebecois until at least the mid- 1960s, is revealingly analysed. That system, he suggests, was rigid, stifling, anti-intellectual, and racist. He documents the racism by quoting passages from. the textbooks used by the children. This evidence is dramatic. He quotes from L'Eleve (The Pupil), a text "with a circulation of 528,389" that was used until the mid, 1960s:

As for the "Eskimos," they are an unhappy and poor lot who can find happiness and good fortune only through the hard work of the missionaries. They have other faults too. "The Eskimo is slow; he is also often deceitful."

Gratton's analysis of the Quebecois national ideology concurs with Graham's analysis. This nationalism emerges as exclusive, authoritarian, and inward-looking. It is suggested that it is a religion, a substitute for the Catholicism that has crumbled away. The French Quarter and French Canadians are disturbing and engaging books that teach us much about our francophone fellow citizens. These volumes make a real contribution and deserve to be widely read.


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