HOME 6. FRENCH ROOT
QUEBECERS ARE OF FRENCH DESCENT

There is a definite French presence in the Americas, especially here in Quebec. And all the Picard, Tourangeau, Normand, Breton, Champagne and Savoie clans in the phone book attest to that fact on top of revealing some of our origins.

There are also the Beauparlant (smooth talker) from Heartstring 12, the L’Heureux (happy) from Heartstring 25, the Dulac (from the lake), Larivière (the river), Laforêt (the forest), Després (from the fields), Lavallée (the valley) and Therrien (from the earth) from Heartstring 2, the Lévesque (bishop) and Leclerc (the clerk) from Heartstring 20, the Lesage (the wise one) from Heartstring 32, the Laframboise (the raspberry) and Leboeuf (the bull) from Heartstring 13, the Mouton (the sheep) from Heartstring 21, the Latendresse (tenderness), Letendre (the loving one) and Saint-Amant (holy lover) from Heartstring 29, the Legros (fat one) from Heartstring 34...the Langlais (the Englishman) and Malterre (bad land) from Heartstring 7, and the Sansregret (no regrets), Sanschagrin (no sadness) and Sansoucy (no worries) from Heartstring 22. These are all very French surnames that describe Heartstrings that are very much Quebec in nature.

We do have a French mentality but not “the mentality of the French.”

Nouvel Observateur journalist Josette Alia quite innocently interviewed Premier René Lévesque one month after the PQ won the 1976 election and asked, “If you can’t find common ground with the rest of Canada, who will you ask for help? The United States or France?” The door being wide-open, the premier took his cue. “The US is a natural extension of the Quebec economy,” he said. “We already do a lot of business with them, but it’s essential to think things through before marrying an elephant to a mouse. And on the other hand, I have to say it’s usually quite difficult dealing with France. Why is that? Maybe it’s because Bernard Shaw was right when he said we’re separated by the same language. Even though we do try to get along, the fact remains we’re separated by 300 years of history, an ocean and a continent, and like it or not, this creates a lot of the misunderstandings and the misconceptions we’ve often suffered from in the past.”

Philippe Garigue explained that rural Quebec is nothing like rural France. “If any of the 10,000 French citizens who emigrated to Canada during the 150 years it was called Nouvelle-France were from the rural regions of France, they brought little, if anything at all, of the peasant French social institutions such as common land and rights of pasture...”

A French traveller noted that, “Mr. Bigot (François Bigot, intendant of New France) exemplifies the little love that Canadians have for the French (Heartstring 24). They want an intendant of their own race (Heartstring 31).” And they’ll eventually get one. In 1755.

A headline from Le Canard enchaîné (The Chained Duck, a satirical French newspaper) reported in July 1967 that, “De Gaulle tells French Canadians their umbilical cord is tied to the womb of France.”

Now let’s take a look at just how North Americanized the French Root is. Imagine a butcher from Les Halles (a French bistro) and a meat cutter from a Dominion supermarket working side by side. The first problem encountered by the pair is language: one speaks a Parisian Rungis slang and the other uses French-English joual found only in Quebec. The two men dissect cows very differently: one goes for the rump while the other targets the T-bone. Even their customers don’t have the same tastes: one wants 50 pounds of ground round to store in the freezer while the other, if she’s in the butcher’s good books, will leave the shop with two kilos of thinly sliced flank, the best part. The same comparison can be made between a Renault assembly-line worker in Boulogne-Billancourt, France and a General Motors assembly-line worker in Sainte-Thérèse, Quebec.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t many Francophiles in Quebec who go to Paris several times a year. These people can usually be found in the somewhat select television and advertising industries as well as in the arts. A certain Quebec school of thought considers these French lovers a different manifestation of the Minority Root who have been recolonized and reculturalized by the City of Lights.

Translator Pierre Beaudry showed that France is also to blame for the French deculturalisation of Quebec (and that Quebecers still have a bone to pick with that guy Voltaire):


“Regardless of nationality, the main purpose of any businessman is to make a profit. In this respect, French businessmen are no different, but it is sad to see how some of them act like complete strangers in their own home. One of my readers sent me an advertising insert from the Canadian subsidiary of the French company BIC, which was probably set up in Toronto so we could practice bilingualism by using English as a working language, and English and Toronto French as advertising languages. And we did, starting with its name: Bic Pen of Canada Limited, Bic Pen (sic) du Canada Limitée. Let’s not be petty by pointing out how quickly the company passed up on an excellent opportunity to promote Francization of the Quebec economy. Instead, let’s marvel at the thought process that led the company to entrust its (French-language) advertising to Torontonians so they could make it easier for us to understand.”


Unfortunately, Bic is no exception.

After coming to Quebec to study the French-language advertising phenomenon, a French journalist wrote the following in Stratégies, “There is only a very small market here for French products.” He is brutally honest in his comment. Much more so than French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing who laid it on really thick during Premier René Lévesque’s last visit to France, saying that, “[Quebec and France] share a friendship based on strong bonds that go beyond politics and combined interests.”

We can accept that Quebec is nothing more than another commercial outlet for France (after all, we’re not angry with the Japanese), but they need to lay off the whole American cousins, brotherly relationships and emotional bonds malarky. No one believes in those theatrics anymore.

Action Canada-France, the monthly bilingual newsletter published by the French Chamber of Commerce in Canada, printed the proceedings from a conference given to its members in 1976 by a top Quebec civil servant.

Polite and spiritual, the speaker talked at great length about cultural relationships and sister cities before getting down to the nitty gritty. “It takes longer to get results on the economic front compared to other areas,” he said. “While it takes 12 to 14 months to finalize an industrial location for US businesses, it takes three to four years, sometimes as much as seven or eight, to do the same with French businesses. And during that time, someone else has already grabbed the market share you thought was yours for the taking.”

As if to make amends, the civil servant went for the classic bow after the curtain call. “The economic marriage of convenience between France and Quebec must last. And our love marriage, built on culture and politics, will last forever.”

Never will a people anywhere have mourned the loss of their mother country to such an extent.

And another important union is the love marriage between Toronto and London.

As part of an annual contest, the Montreal Management Institute of Canada sends Quebec managers to France to expand their management knowledge. One journalist writes, “It would cost less to send them to Harvard for the summer semester but the wine there wouldn’t be as good.”

For about 15 years now, thanks to the Office Franco-Québécois pour la jeunesse, France and Quebec have exchanged over 25,000 young workers in various industries from agriculture to leading-edge technology.

Combined with de Gaulle’s four very famous words (“Vive le Québec libre”), the 3500 copies of L’Express and the 8200 copies of Paris-Match sold in convenience stores, these efforts probably would have given France a much-needed boost in the eyes of Quebecers. But then Madame Berlioux showed up.

Monique Berlioux, the French director of the International Olympic Committee in 1976, had the nerve to say (in English, no less) that, “the Montreal Olympic Games have no soul.”

That’s when all hell broke loose in the papers. Quebecers, who were in the midst of enjoying a sizeable ego trip, felt betrayed by a Voltaire-Lord Durham hybrid. And as promised in their motto (Je me souviens), they’ll still remember Berlioux’s words in 2976.

In Possibles, Gérald Godin stated that sometime around 1840, the handsome poet Alfred de Vigny was the only Frenchman to show us any compassion. “Like a ship that leaves behind an entire family on a deserted island,” he wrote, “France has left Canada with a miserable population that speaks the language that I write.”

Yet the French Root still exists.

When Alain Peyrefitte accuses his countrymen in Le Mal français of being over-theoretical, hereditarily suspicious structure freaks lacking kindness in civil service, he is describing Quebec Heartstrings. And when he praises Germanic efficiency and pragmatism, he is somewhat like those Quebecers who tend to admire the same qualities in Americans.

The 6 Heartstrings of this conservation plant of the French soul, to use Gabriel Hanotaux’s expression, all resonate in crescendo. Read on to see how I have no problem making that case.

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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.