June 24 is known as “La Fête nationale du Québec” (the Québec national holiday) or “La Fête St-Jean-Baptiste” (the national holiday of French Canadians and the Canadian Francophonie) in other parts of Canada.
Note: When we use the word “national” in French, it does not always have the same connotation as English. It has two meanings: (1) Country, and (2) a people sharing a common heritage. Both meanings exist in both languages, but in English, the latter meaning (a people sharing a common heritage) is rarely used. Thus, many Anglophones are unaware that “nation” also carries the second meaning.
However, in Canadian French, the second meaning is used just as frequently as the first meaning. I mention this because I have encountered numerous Anglophones who are only aware of the first meaning, and who become offended when they believe the word is only being used in the sense of a “country”.
It is a holiday celebrated across Canada, in all major cities, and in all provinces and territories.
The politicization of the event in Québec
La Fête nationale du Québec is a time when Francophones celebrate their shared heritage. In Québec, it was made a statutory holiday in 1977, when it took on a much more “political” tone starting during the Quiet Revolution years of the 1960s (it is not very political elsewhere in Canada). It was also during this time that it was named “La Fête nationale du Québec” by the PQ government.
The political nationalist aspect of the holiday in Québec peaked during the time surrounding both referendums. However, the event’s political nature has slowly been eroding away, bit by tiny bit.
(Above) The main concert stage at the 2014 Fête nationale in MONTRÉAL.
In both a move to (1) velcro the event more exclusively to Québec (basically wrestling it away from other Francophones elsewhere in Canada – a political move in and of itself), and (2) with the aim to make the event more “inclusive” feel for non-white and non-Francophone Québecois (again a political move to woo the “minority vote”), the Parti Québécois governments under Bernard Landry and Pauline Marois insisted that only the name “Fête nationale du Québec” be used in anything publicity related, or anything receiving government funding.
You can imagine how well this went over with Francophones outside of Québec. The Canadian Francophone family was already left broken by what I call the “First night of the Long Knives” in 1967. Refer to the following two posts for the context of what happened:
- Conditioning: The goal of the “Estates General of French Canada” (#279)
- Conditioning: Modern Canada’s “First” Night of the Long Knives – a trigger for the all the rest (#280)
Nonetheless, La St-Jean-Baptiste has persevered across Canada.
The beginning of the depoliticization of the event
But the nature of the event across Canada, and in Québec has begun to change over the last four or so years.
In Québec, the former PQ Landry and Marois governments planned to use the event to “infuse” sovereignist sentiments into the hearts of all Québecois by opening the event to everyone and anyone. Yet, it looks like their plans backfired. By welcoming everyone into the fold (an all-inclusive event), larger and larger sectors of Québec’s society began to call for the depoliticization of the event.
Just to name a very few examples (among many others):
- The last four or five years have seen calls to allow English-language music groups to be allowed to play at La fête nationale (and they have, mostly in smaller local neighbourhood parties). Until now, English music has been banned by the organizers.
- There have been calls for the main events on stage to have fewer political discourses (and you can easily get the feeling that some participants of the main events carry an awkwardness about them — as if they know they are walking on eggshells).
- This year alone, there have been calls for the event to be wrestled away from the annual organizer and “trustee” of La Fête nationale; le Mouvement national des Québécoises et des Québécois (MNQ). The MNQ is a sovereignist organization which, bluntly put… is more than less than partial. And boy, have they and their political allies (notably the PQ, and the Société St-Jean Baptiste) been fighting calls to take the party away from them (a move being championed by the CAQ provincial political party).
The last two years in particular (and especially this year) has seen private French-language media outlets call for outright depoliticization of the event, period. We have never seen this happen before in Québec — not on such as scale as we have seen this year.
Such changes in public sentiment in Québec clearly has people in the sovereignist camp worried. They’re on the defensive in the media.
This year, prominent sovereignists have been appearing on program after program on both television and on the radio to argue that they have never highjacked the event (a charge being thrown at them from all directions). They therefore argue that changes to the event are not necessary. They are also trying to argue that the current format is a “natural fit” for Québec. (hmmmm….)
Adding to sovereignists worries, all Federalist politicians (both at provincial and federal levels) have fully embraced La Fête nationale as their event as well (I don’t think that Landry or Marois envisaged that would happen when they “welcomed” everyone and anyone to join in the party and call it their own). Federalists (both Francophone, and more and more Anglophones) have begun to flock to the event.
A couple of years ago I attended daytime Fête nationale celebrations in the far East-End of Montréal (the most Francophone and nationalist region of Montréal). Even in the East Island, there were a good number of Anglophones in attendance (contrast this with other Fête nationale celebrations which I attended in Montréal and elsewhere in Québec only just a decade ago, when I heard Anglophones being jeered at for just speaking English in public). What a difference only a few years has made!
The true inclusive nature, hospitality, sincere openness and genuine good cheer of Québec’s people are radiating with the all-inclusiveness and depoliticization of La Fête nationale.
I am sure sovereignists must be finding these changes more than awkward.
But I think it is a great thing if everyone can take pride in La Fête nationale in Québec, and La St-Jean across Canada and throughout Canada’s Francophonie. Our French language and culture is something very special about our country from coast to coast. It belongs to all of us in Canada – regardless if we are Francophone or Anglophone. This is precisely what these events should be about — and what they are finally becoming.
The NDP in Ottawa even once tabled a bill to make it La St-Jean Baptiste a national holiday across Canada (in the next few years we may see this happen yet). And say what you will about Stephen Harper, but he has attended every single Fête nationale in Québec since becoming Prime Minister 10 years ago.
Traditionally, the media in Québec has stayed pro-status quo (even when the event had a much stronger sovereignst feel). But the media is slowly starting to take a stance towards depoliticization.
Two cases in point:
- The nationalist French-language magazine L’Actualité (a rough equivalent of Maclean’s in English Canada) published an article yesterday named (translation) “5 Ways to Depoliticize La Fête Nationale”. Wow !! Such an article in this type of magazine would have been truly inconceivable even a couple of years ago. The cracks in the impregnable wall are showing. Times are changing – and La Fête nationale du Québec may be a bellwether of changing public sentiment.
- (example in addendum) The morning of June 24, RDI Matin gave a televised report regarding the main stage festivities. The report was pre-recorded. It discussed Gilles Vigneault’s singing of Gens du pays on stage. The reporter wanted to state “Gens du pays est devenu l’Hymne national lors de la fête” (“Gens du pays has become the national anthem during the holidays”). However, in a move rarely seen by the public, Radio-Canada edited the reporter’s statement by cutting out the word “national”. The edit was very deliberate and quite obvious because they did a poor editing job by missing the “na”. The statement thus became “Gens du pays est devenu l’hymne na-(cut/coupe) lors de la fête”. Regardless, it is more than obvious that main stream French-language media in Québec are themselves making efforts to depoliticize the event. And again, we never would have seen this even two or three years ago.
Outside Québec, as the rest of Canada has secularized over the past 50 years, the former religious nature of the St-Jean Baptiste event has subsided with time. La St-Jean has now become a giant community music and BBQ festival for Francophones, and now Anglophones too want to celebrate their Francophone compatriot’s and Canada’s francophone heritage. It has become an “everyone-is-welcome” event.
Each provincial Francophone organization holds their own events across Canada. Events are as diverse as the Albertan St-Jean, Manitoban St-Jean, and Acadian St-Jean (just to mention a few).
Lit in blue tonight for the St-Jean-Baptiste in Toronto.
Photos (above and below) of the Bloor Viaduct in TORONTO, Ontario tonight (one of Toronto’s most iconic bridges).
Yet some regions of the country wish to reignite a much more grandiose feel to the festival season. Therefore Ontario has broken from tradition and has enlarged the St-Jean Baptiste. In addition to the St-Jean Baptiste, there are now two other major events: The 4-day long Fête Franco-Ontarian the beginning of June, and the week-long Franco-Fête in July. Both events attract crowds of tens of thousands of people in as diverse of places as Toronto and Ottawa, as well as many other towns and cities.
Where is this heading?
I don’t know, but I have some guesses.
It is obvious that there is no longer as strong a sovereignist grip on La Fête Nationale in Québec. Indications are that the sovereignist grip will continue to become loser with time (unless Canada hits some sort of constitutional or national crisis spurred by messy politics provoked by one side or the other).
It is also obvious that other areas of Francophone Canada are asserting a greater regional ownership over similar events.
As all such events across Canada become more an more neutral (first religious, and now political) we may one day see a convergence of like minds among event organizer across Canada. The legacy of the original St-Jean may one day become a unifying event cross the country, involving Francophones and Anglophones alike – with Francophones as the bridge (regardless of politics).
A future pan-Canadian reunification of the event may also become the catalyst for an official reunification of the Francophone Canadian family across Canada (take a moment to read the two posts I mentioned earlier above if you have not already done so).
It may be a while before we get there… but nothing is impossible. Surprises come in small doses. And if you have been reading this blog for some time, you will have noticed that there have been a number of pleasant surprises during the last while.
The main event is the 24th of June. But regardless of where you are in Canada, you can watch the live concert on television on Tuesday, June 23rd, at 9:00pm. It is broadcast live in French, and everyone in Canada has Radio-Canada.
There usually is a re-broadcast. It should be re-broadcast on 24 June both on Radio-Canada, and across the world in 200 countries on TV5.
Check it out.
If it is your first Fête nationale / St-Jean, I wish you a happy holiday & festival !!
Peu importe où vous êtes ou qui vous êtes, bonne Fête Nationale, et bonne St-Jean!!