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CHANGING QUEBEC MARIUS BARBEAU (t EBEC - has" individuality; it strikes a note of colour all its own in the North American panorama . Unusual features in the landscape arrest the visitor's attention as soon as he enters the lower St. Lawrence Valley-old houses of stone or square beams, massive and whitewashed, with heavy chimneys and hipped or bell-cast roofs; Roman churches "with I belfries and pointed spires; wayside shrines, bake-ovens, ox-carts; and jovial habitants, sometimes dressed in homespun, and speaking French. Quebec City, with its crooked, narrow streets within Vauban-like fortifications, resembles a Norman town. Provincial France here still survives; and in spite of its modern growth, the city still looks attractively old-fashioned. It seems strange that French culture should have survived so long in the midst of the North American agglomeration. One easily forgets that racial complexion in this hemisphere was formerly more varied than it is to-day. Much of our continent, from Quebec down the Mississippi to its mouth, was a French colony until the conquest by the British, in 1759, and the purchase of Louisiana by the United States in 1803. The Southwest was Spanish, and Alaska, Russian. Native races still " roamed free in the West. The French element long remained predominant on the whole St. Lawrence, the Detroit River, and the Mississippi. Small settlements of the same stock were scattered in Michigan, Wisconsin, Oregon, and elsewhere. Louisiana held the largest French nucleus outside Canada. It consisted of thousands of early colonists, Creole slaves, and Acadians. 318 CHANGING QUEBEC Its cultural survival seemed assured when, In 1810, it en tered the Union. Yet all this was changed in less than a century. The original diversity of races has vanished. Indians no longer count. Spain and Russia have renounced their rights. Louisiana conserves only traces of its former cultural affiliations. The French language there survives precariously-and language is the last rampart of nationality. This is also true of the Detroit River. The Acadians of the Maritime Provinces have drilted a long way from their racial moorings. ' Quebec alone seerns to have stood its ground, and its resistance to "assimilation challenges interest. The fact of its survival, once accepted at its face value) may be misleading if no further probed. It may turn out to be lTIOre apparent than real. Changes are taking place under a deceptive surface of stability. That French Canadians, singly or in groups, are adaptable, cannot be doubted. One out of every three in the last fifty years has passed the frontier into the United States. There are one million of them in New England alone, to about two millions and a half in Quebec, and many others have lost their identity. From farmers, most of them, they have become labourers in industrial centres. They are no longer like their ancestors, rooted to the soil, and they are fast being Americani:?ed. The loss of their language is only a question of time. Is "then the survival of French Canada to the present day a criterion for the future? It is not. ' At least such will be my argument. French culture in Canada in the past rested on twin factors: the vitality of ancestral traditions coupled with isolation. Should either or both fail, we may wonder how long it can endure, in a frontierless country where dis319 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY tances no longer count, amidst more than a hundred million people speaking English and forcing uniformity even beyond their own habitat. * * * * * Isolation cre.ates new necessities. If these must be met, the burden falls upon initiative, individual or collective ..ยทยท Vitality develops as a result; independent gliowth . is fostered. Nothing in a people is lnore easily stifled at this 'stage than self-reliance. As soon as outside forces loom larger than its own, confidence is lost and the process of disintegration sets in. This, in short, seems to have been the experience of French Canada in the past two hundred years. Even before the Conquest, isolation as a stimulus to growth was already at work on the St. Lawrence. Immigration came to a standstill before 1700. At that date nine thousand Normans and people from the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 318-333
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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