- Historic Sites
For an American, there is an ironic clue to the history of our neighbor to the north; she became a nation because her people did not wish to be swallowed up by the United States Quant aux Canadiens français, ils ne voulaient pas seulement éviter être absorbés par les États-Unis; ils ne voulaient pas davantage être absorbés parleurs compatriotes “anglais”
December 1965 | Volume 17, Issue 1
Richard Bedford Bennett , Conservative, 1930–35 . Only millionaire and second bachelor, “Bonfire Bennett” was once clocked on the stump at 200 words a minute, never missing a syllable. Worked a steady 16-hour day, delegating little responsibility. Despite bread lines, drought, appalling unemployment, he remained confident to the point of arrogance. Reversed himself in 1935 by promising “New Deal” type program. Retired to England in defeat.
Louis St. Laurent , Liberal, 1948–57 . Shrewd and dignified, lured into government by King from a comfortable law practice at the age of 60. Second canadien P.M., known as “Uncle Louis” to many who found his surname difficult. Less interested in politics than in international relations. Strong supporter of NATO and U.N.; urged Canadian aid to newly independent Commonwealth countries in Asia and Africa.
John G. Diefenbaker , Conservative, 1957–63 . Fiery campaign oratory won him the biggest landslide ever. After his victory, however, the bite proved less effective than the bark. Despite a strong mandate from Quebec, he weakened his position by failing to give able French advisers key posts in Cabinet; there, differences over defense policy led to open dissension.
Lester Bowles Pearson , Liberal, 1963 -. Called “Mike,” in some ways better known outside Canada for his U .N. work and Nobel Peace Prize. Has had to fight an egghead image and cope with Quebec’s unrest over its role in Canadian federation.
The Pearson government took grave political risks when it pushed the adoption of the new Canadian Maple Leaf flag, which since February, 1965, has flown from the top of the Peace Tower in Ottawa (above). The British Union Jack had waved above the nation’s capital until V-E Day, 1945, when it was replaced in a burst ot nationalist pride by Canada’s Red Ensign. Even that flag, because it retained the Union Jack in its design, was never acceptable to Quebec; the Canadiens had long demanded a distinctive flag without British or French symbols. (One of them, writing in 1865, had suggested the rainbow: “By the endless variety of its tints the rainbow will give an excellent idea of the diversity of … the Confederation.”) But, as in the case of the national anthem, debate was long and agreement was hard. The Maple Leaf Hag was an obvious gesture to reduce tension and promote unity as the nation prepared to celebrate its centennial on July I, 1967. Whether the gesture was too little or too late remains to be seen, but one thing seems sure: Canadian politicians are a little weary of talk about flags.
Their response to this challenge came out of a deep human instinct. During the first decade after the Conquest, the French-Canadian birth rate is believed to have set a historical record. Though the military leaders for the most part had returned to France, the clergy, together with a handful of wealthy landholders—the seigneurs—remained. Under the leadership of their priests, the French Canadians set before their eyes a categorical imperative from which their descendants never departed—to survive, to survive as the French-Catholic Fact in America. They won the respect of the first British governors, who were able and humane men. Moreover, these men knew that French Canada would never fit conveniently into the British colonial pattern. The language was not only different but was linguistically senior to English, and in the eighteenth century it was one of the prides of an English gentleman that he should be able to converse in French. The Catholic religion defied assimilation, and many among the eighteenth-century English gentry preferred it to the dissenters’ faith of New England. The old French civil law could not be adjusted to the British common law without creating chaos in Quebec.
The one act of generous statesmanship that stands to the credit of Lord North’s government, it has often been said, was its approach to the French-Canadian problem. In 1774, the British passed the famous Quebec Act, which established the geographical limits of the newly conquered colony and granted to the French Canadians certain inalienable rights. They were to retain the old French Civil Code, though they were required to adopt British procedure in criminal cases, which introduced them to trial by jury. The seigneurs were to enjoy the same privileges they had enjoyed under the French kings. The Roman Catholic Church retained the right to gather tithes. Though nothing was said about language, it was assumed that French would continue to be used in the schools and the courts.