Quebec Patriots Inaugurate National Day in 1834
Referring to a banquet held on June 24, 1834, the patriot newspaper La Minevre, whose purpose was to “spread education especially in the agricultural class and defend the Just Claims of Canadiens,” published an article which said: “This celebration, the purpose of which is to cement the union between Canadiens, will not be fruitless. It will be celebrated every year as the National Day.” Ludger Duvernay, founder of the patriotic organization Aide-toi et le ciel t’aidera (God helps those who help themselves) and publisher and editor of La Minerve, led the initiative.
An explicitly political celebration, the first National Day was established within the context of the struggle of the inhabitants of Lower Canada to affirm their rights against the British Crown. In fact, in February 1834, 92 resolutions were passed by the House of Assembly of Lower Canada demanding greater control by citizens over the economic and political decisions made in the colony.
Without waiting for a decision from London, the celebration of the first National Day was organized in the garden of the lawyer MacDonnell. More than 37 toasts and speeches were made, all of them saluting the enlightened ideas of the time and the people defending them. The first toast was to the people as “the primary source of all legitimate authority, and the day we are celebrating.”
Far from division on the basis of language or national origin — which has been imposed on us by the past and present Anglo-Canadian state arrangements — participants highlighted the contribution of the Irish patriots such as Daniel Tracey, founder of the Irish Vindicator and Canada General Advertiser, who supported the demands of the people of Lower Canada seeking to exercise control over their destiny.
The struggle of William Lyon Mackenzie and of the “other reformers of Upper Canada” to assert the rights of the nascent nation of the day was also toasted. The arrival of British citizens in Lower Canada was also welcomed. The Patriots who were present at the banquet, La Minerve reported, celebrated “Emigration: May the thousands of British subjects who come every year to seek asylum on our shores against the abuses and oppression they are suffering in their native country, such will not take place amongst us and may they find the welcome they deserve! They will form with the people of Canada an impenetrable and irresistible phalanx against tyranny.”
A specific toast was also raised to the “artisans and working classes of Montreal and of this country in general. May education continue to spread among society’s useful members; may they procure the well-being and ease that their work deserves.”
The first National Day also began another tradition that is alive and well today — that of offering songs and poems to celebrate Quebec’s nationhood.