Celebration of Quebec’s National Day
June 24 is celebrated as Quebec’s National Day. The celebration rejoins another modern and forward-looking tradition established some 187 years ago – the celebration of the Quebec nation and all its inhabitants established on March 8, 1834, by 19th century revolutionary and progressive patriots who founded the Aide-toi, le ciel t’aidera Society (“God helps those who help themselves”). The aim of that patriotic institution was to “provide a designated place for thought (for all those who recognized the necessity for change) to discuss the country’s state of affairs” and “to rekindle the burning desire of love of country, either by shedding light on the deeds of those governing us, or by paying a fair tribute of praise to the eloquent and brave defenders of our rights.” It was that society, led by elected representative Ludger Duvernay, publisher and editor of the patriot newspaper La Minerve, which on June 24, 1834 organized the banquet in the garden of the lawyer Jean-François-Marie-Joseph MacDonell to institute a national celebration for Canadiens of all origins. Today, the term Quebeckers of all origins is used.
What was established on June 24, 1834 by Ludger Duvernay, his fellow patriots and the elected members of the Patriot Party was a national celebration. As for the original proposal, what Duvernay, the patriots and their political party organized was the celebration of the Canadiens, today the Quebec nation. It was the first celebration of the people of that nation, where Duvernay, the patriots, the elected patriots and their party recognized the people as “the primary source of all legitimate authority,” and in doing so also recognized their sovereignty.
This nationality was constituted in the course of the people’s opposition to the British Empire’s military aggression and occupation of their homeland, and the destruction and domination of their national economy by the monopolies of the British Empire, including the British American Land Company, and oligarchs such as McGill, Molson and Moffat. Known as the Château Clique, they controlled the Bank of Montreal, imports and exports, naval and railway construction and transportation, the mining and metallurgical industry, the Montreal Gas Light Company, and McGill University, amongst other things. It was these forces who were served by the suppression of the nascent Quebec republic.
The members of that nation included Indigenous peoples and those who hailed from Brittany, Normandy, France, Ireland, Scotland, England and other European countries. Canadiens were considered all those descended from the people of this new nation which constituted itself over time through the struggle for its independent development and the defence of its right to sovereignty. In undertaking their nation-building project, patriots of all backgrounds and their Patriot Party never acted in a sectarian manner based on language, religion or national origin. Never did they declare that they were “French Canadians,” nor did they ever declare or take up the defence of “French Canadians versus English Canadians.” The writings of the patriots, the Patriot Party and its most distinguished leaders — including Nelson, De Lorimier, Chénier, Côté, Duvernay (La Minerve), O’Callaghan (The Vindicator) — never employed the terms or concepts “French Canadian” or “English Canadian” which are a perversion of history that has always favoured the British Crown.
It should be remembered that during the 19th century the founders of associations organized on an ethno-cultural, linguistic or religious basis were people such as McGill, Molson and Moffat. They used such associations to undermine the unity of the Canadiens in defence of their homeland, their national economy and the building of their republic.
This concept of “French Canadian” — as well as today’s concepts of “old stock Quebeckers” and “French Quebeckers” — takes its origin from the British colonial method of divide and rule. It originates with Lord Durham, the emissary and administrator of the British Empire who, following the suppression of the budding Quebec Republic through force in 1837-38, arbitrarily and unjustly divided the nation into “French Canadians” and “English Canadians.” He falsified history for self-serving purposes. Durham claimed he found “a quarrel of two races,” not the struggle of a people against occupation and domination by a foreign empire, and against an absolutist and tyrannical state and government; and a struggle for an independent homeland and the establishment of two democratic republics, one in Lower Canada and one in Upper Canada.
The real division was not between two imaginary “races,” invented for all intents and purposes by the monopolists and capitalists of the British Empire and their administrators to connote the “civilized protestants” on one hand and the “ignorant and boorish papists” on the other. It was between a nation in search of its independence and sovereignty, determined to establish its democratic republic, and a colonial empire denying that nation’s right to be.
By uniting with the Indigenous Nations on whose lands they had been deposited by the french crown two hundred years earlier, the genius and force of character of that people which constituted itself the nation was consistent with the times. The British administrators and their collaborators and conciliators did everything to divide the people but the Canadiens refused the negation of their right to be a nation comprised of all members of their society, regardless of national origin, language and beliefs.
They adopted a name taken from the Algonquin word “kebek,” meaning narrow passage or strait, in this case referring to the area of present day Quebec City and the narrowing of the St. Lawrence River at Cape Diamond.
The celebration of Quebec National Day includes the celebration of our 19th century patriots, Nelson, De Lorimier, Côté, Chénier, Duvernay, O’Callaghan, and others — all those who fought to establish an independent homeland and republic which vests sovereignty in the people. It includes celebrating all those who have espoused and continue to espouse the cause of the Quebec Patriots, in particular all those committed to elaborating a nation-building project in conformity with the needs of the times who are the patriots of our day.
Today once again the nation is called on to define itself in a manner which settles scores with the global turmoil of neo-liberalism. The resolution of this historical problem can only be guided by modern definitions as inspired by the patriots of the 19th century, in opposition to today’s versions of the same old dogmas inherited from the colonial past. The nation-building project is once again intimately linked with establishing who decides and smashing the outmoded and archaic structures of the past. This is what will open a bright future for a modern Quebec nation that defends the rights of all.