HOME HEARTSTRING 10: NARROW-MINDEDNESS

Our Narrow-Mindedness takes on many forms.

Joe tells us he’s a prude.


“There’s no shame in admitting it. I think listening to Father Blanchard made me this way, or maybe it was my mother. Every year, on the first Sunday in June after the city folk showed up to spend the summer by the lake, the priest would give the same old sermon: Don’t come here scandalizing my parishioners with your shorts and your bouncy two-piece bathing suits.

My mother used to change the words to the song Auprès de ma blonde. She would say it’s so good to hold each other instead of it’s so good to sleep together. She would turn the radio off when that French singer Rina Ketty made quivering noises.

Have I seen the movie Deux femmes en or? Of course I have! It took me a week to convince Fernande to go see it with me. We laughed so hard. It was much more of a comedy than a film that should be on any kind of blacklist. I wouldn’t waste two hours of my time watching a movie like that if it wasn’t funny.

(His wife mentions a bachelor party.) Stop pretending you’re that big of a prude. It was just us guys. And it doesn’t count because the strippers were all has-beens. When have you ever heard me talk about sex? Sex is a private thing. The only guys who always talk about it are those who can’t get it up anymore. We never talked about it at our house. My mother used to say there was a reason we were made in the dark.”


The wave of erotic cinema made in Quebec lasted just long enough for everyone to enjoy a major collective sigh of relief. Dancing was still illegal in the Saguenay-Lac Saint-Jean region five years before our first taboo films came out. The philosopher Henri Bergson wrote that laughter is a great social corrective.

A short 10 years ago, the clergy in our colleges and convents used to rip out the pages in the Petit Larousse dictionary that showed “The Three Graces” and “Diana Bathing.” Quebec advertising has always been wary of eroticism…and any remnants of the Great Depression.

Joe Tremblay likes to dub the 1940s the great Narrow-Mindedness years in Quebec:


“If you survived the 1940s, you’re not a Quebecer, you’re a French Canadian. My generation is so stubborn! I think Quebec is about 1,000 miles long from north to south and even wider from east to west, but we’re still really narrow-minded.

I went to boarding school to study in the trade program. The guys in the classical education program were already looking down on us because we’d never be doctors. The only paper we were allowed to read was Le Devoir, which was Catholic, nationalist, anti-communist, anti-capitalist and anti-Duplessis at the time. The older guys read Notre Temps which was even more narrow-minded and ultra-religious.

Everything was Catholic: the Catholic Union of Farmers, the JEC (Christian Student Youth Organization), the JOC (Young Christian Workers) and even the unions. Those were the days of Believe or Die.

We blamed that whole era on Duplessis, but it wasn’t just his fault. Back then the mob was running Montreal, the lottery was Chinese, the Loi du cadenas (padlock law) was in effect and the orphanages were full. It was depressing. The clergy had their hands full but they refused to give up any kind of control.

The bishops didn’t want our dads joining Rotary Clubs because they weren’t religious. They much preferred the Ordre Jacques Cartier and the Knights of Columbus with their strange initiation rights. There were about 15,000 priests at that time, about twice that many brothers, and no less than 40,000 nuns. They were like a centipede stuck on its back.

We had Catholic theatre by Ghéon and Claudel. I saw Le Noël sur la place (Christmas on the Plaza) 17 times in eight years. I would’ve liked to do more theatre but they always made me play girl parts so I just gave up.

From time to time the Sulpicians would lash out at the Jesuits, and the Jesuits would lash out at the Ste-Croix (Holy Cross) fathers. Who was in power was always being challenged, but that’s the nature of power, isn’t it? Duplessis climbed the stairs of the St-Joseph Oratory on his knees. He didn’t like educated people and said that Quebecers can’t always handle education or alcohol.

I wanted to learn about different things so I would hide to read French books. I was division librarian at my college where we had biographies of all the saints, hundreds of titles on The Call and Thomism as well as missionary stories and essays by Lionel Groulx. We also had anything published by Fidès, the Marist Brothers and the Teachers Federation. But that was it.

Everything else was blacklisted. French books were considered suspicious, but so were those written by French Canadian authors. As soon as an outsider brought you one, you had to get approval from your spiritual advisor who would rip 52 pages from Maria Chapdelaine and 30 from Trente arpents. Later on there were more dangerous authors like Gabrielle Roy, Roger Lemelin, Yves Thériault and Jean-Jules Richard, who were free thinkers to be avoided at all costs. And we couldn’t just read any history of Canada.

I remember six philosophy majors – the youngest was something like 20 years old – being expelled for spending their Thursday night off at the Gaiety Theatre to see burlesque dancer Lili St-Cyr.

Bishop Charbonneau (I really loved that man) repeatedly warned priests they were going too far. Stop running bingo games. Promote mandatory education and free textbooks instead. And work with the asbestos strikers. He asked for too many things that weren’t Catholic so he was hung out to dry. It was just like the Inquisition! He ended up in Vancouver, if I remember correctly. Father Dion was another clergyman who’d had enough, and François Hertel, too. I don’t know what happened to them, but they were heroes in my day.

If you were French Canadian in the 1940s, you’re not a Quebecer today. Quebecers are all under 30 years old. We’ll be French Canadian for the rest of our lives because we can’t just wave a magic wand and erase our past. We’re stuck with our memories. We wonder why we’re still here, in Quebec, as if Quebec was our only salvation.

In a sense, I completely messed up my life. I’ve spent most of it rethinking what I’ve done with myself and trying to cure myself of the 1940s disease and my Narrow-Mindedness. I’m trying to unlearn what I’ve been taught and do the opposite of what I was told not to do.

I would’ve liked to be a businessman, or a theatre director, or a record label producer, but I’ve been a civil servant for almost 30 years. I’m not complaining. It’s a decent living. But what good has it done me to spend my life reading the authors I was forbidden from reading when I was young? I know Voltaire better than many Frenchmen, but what good does it do me? I’ve never accomplished anything useful for anyone as a French Canadian.”


It is said that Premier Maurice Duplessis, who admitted he didn’t read, told some of his close friends that French Canadians have very little room in their brains for outside ideas.

Older authors showed us that Narrow-Mindedness is akin to intolerance.

“Unlike many people in other places who couldn’t care less what others might think of them, French Canadians are very sensitive to criticism,” wrote 19th century Quebec man of letters and political activist Arthur Buies. “Their disproportionate sensitivity, which flares up at the slightest negative word, won’t allow them to learn from the most legitimate criticism. Not only are they not open to advice, they won’t take the blame for anything either. Even praise seems to set them off.”

“We have a hard time dealing with the self-righteous smugness and protective kindness of our friends in London and Paris,” wrote Father Camille Roy. “We don’t like being compared to Eskimos or being accused of disloyalty to England. We refuse to admit we’re descendants of Métis and that we speak patois (a provincial dialect). (It was French author Auguste-Maurice Barrès who alluded to those Indians and their bravery while referring to the arrival of our troops in France during World War One.)

Intolerance will quickly lead to verbal violence whose manifestations also stem from Heartstring No. 7 (Inferiority Complex). “There are many federalists who think separatists are a bunch of dreamers, poets and social climbers unhappy with their careers. And there are many separatists who label others as traitors, sellouts, happy cuckolds and henchmen for the powerful. No one takes the time to discuss ideas anymore. They just condemn the ones who defend them,” said Jean-Guy Dubuc in La Presse (April 8, 1977). “By looking at the way Quebecers are clashing with each other and how they’re expressing their feelings, we have every reason to fear our society now that it favours intolerance over respect, contempt over open discussion and hate over love.”

Quebec’s short-sightedness will clearly manifest itself in politics as we will see in Heartstring 30 (Instinct). The use of low blows and whisper campaigns aided by Heartstring 12 (Gossip), partisan hatreds between families of the same hometown that last generations and instant boycotting of small businesses whose owners vote the other way are all abnormal manifestations of our Narrow-Mindedness and remnants of the 1940s.

Our fierce and exhausting internal battles will always benefit someone…just not us.

And Joe knows this:


“When the first shopping mall opened in 1954, French Canadian grocers got really scared and started slashing prices to stay on top of the competition. Talk about a stupid thing to do! They should’ve waited like the chains did. We should admire English Canadians for their patience. They really understand how our minds work.”


Quebec women will tend to think Heartstring 11 – like Heartstring 10 – is based on yet another prejudice. So let’s now focus on Matriarchy.

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© 2014 – English translation and website by Lawrence Creaghan. Published online with the permission of Guérin Éditeur Ltée and the Fondation Jacques-Bouchard.