HOME HEARTSTRING 28: ARTISTIC TALENT

Quebecers are not only blessed with special gifts and talents, they also know how to recognize and appreciate them in others.

A 1975 study conducted by the secretary of state revealed that while Quebecers spend little time reading books, newspapers and magazines (they average 26 minutes a day vs. 49 minutes for British Columbians), they spend more time watching television and attend more shows and artistic events than the rest of Canadians.

Secular music has always had sinful and escapist appeal, making it quite popular around here. “These men [fiddlers],” writes a Sherbrooke bishop, “lead good people to temptation and are cohorts of the devil.”

Despite the church’s strong dislike of them, fiddlers – who each have their own unique way of playing and often entertain the masses with an exclusive repertoire – are still around today and more celebrated than ever in times like these that are all about showcasing our heritage.

Quebecers break nearly all Canadian records – as well as many world records – when it comes to consuming artistic products. We hold the world record for the number of hours of television produced in the French-speaking market and the most guitars sold per capita (28,000 per year province-wide). We have the longest running soap opera in all of North America, Un homme et son péché (A Man and His Sin). We’ve set records for the number of opera voices per capita (that we export to London and Milan), TV and radio ratings, the size of our artistic community, record sales and opening box office receipts for US, French and Quebec films. Bravo! Encore! We want more!

Quebecers sing (in tune), are musically inclined and often play an instrument, whether it’s a Casavant Frères Maskoutan organ, the harmonica or a Jew’s harp. They know how to rock the spoons and always stomp their feet in time to the beat. And if, quite surprisingly, they’re not blessed with at least one talent, they always gladly recognize and applaud it in others.

Our people, full of rhythm and self-expression, are almost too proud of and dedicated to their artistic community. Joe Tremblay has a few friends who run in that circle.


“I met a lot of artists when I was on the road. I got drunk with Paul Berval and Paul Desmarteaux in Val-d’Or one night. We were so wasted. I was talking with them as if we’d been buddies forever. There were six or seven of us and the tab was close to $100. They wouldn’t let us pay our share. They were real gentlemen even though they do make a ton of money. I knew Michel Louvain and Olivier Guimond personally. Those guys were true artists. They were just as talented as the Americans and the French who were big at the time.”


I talk about our artistic community, the Olympus of Quebec, in La publicité Québécoise (Quebec Advertising). “Nowhere else in the world can you find the same type of synergy between a people and its performers. Worshiped by consumers, Quebec artists are the gods and goddesses advertisers rely on to sell their goods.”

As a result of this (almost) co-dependence, Quebec advertising has evolved into a form of pop art. It is without a doubt the cash cow of the Union des Artistes. Unofficial sources claim advertisers and the agencies they hire paid out some $2.5 million in talent fees to about 1000 performers in 1975 alone, once again beating out Radio-Canada television, the artistic community’s second largest employer.

In 1974, BCP paid René Simard $30,000 to record the Laura Secord pudding commercial. That’s not a bad take for a four-hour job. In this golden age of Quebec advertising, many of our performers make over $100,000 in talent fees per year, with a good lot of them repeating the experience year after year.

By simple osmosis, commercials created in Quebec are always more musical and more “Olympian” than those developed elsewhere. Our jingles play on two elements that resonate strongly with Quebecers, the musicality of hymns and simple rhymes. Just think of the p’tits poudings ditty and you’ll know what I mean.

An art form of the people, Quebec advertising certainly has its fair share of wannabes.

“I hear you can make millions writing jingles like yours,” says a skeptical Joe Tremblay. “How is that possible? It’s not rocket science. They’re just slogans, after all. Who do I need to send mine to so I can get in on the action? I could write speeches for Réal Caouette, too. It’s a shame we don’t have real fights in the assembly anymore. Those guys were really gifted public speakers. The same goes for our preachers…true artists. I’d like to get paid to write about my opinions or create commercials.”

Anything magical, poetic or truly imaginative will always find a way to captivate Quebec’s ever-receptive audience.

The last of the great public speakers have now made advertising agencies their home. Quebecers are super-consumers, this is true, but they are first and foremost super-advertisers.

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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.