Home » Uncategorized » Québec’s own “Happy Birthday” song / de facto Anthem – Part 2 of 4 (#320)

Québec’s own “Happy Birthday” song / de facto Anthem – Part 2 of 4 (#320)

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This particular post will tie together several posts and details which I have covered over the past year.  If you follow this blog regularly, you will have already noticed every little detail forms part of a much larger puzzle.

Although this post is still in the same series as the last one, you will note I changed the title a little.  I added the words “de facto anthem” to the title.

The cute and little “Birthday song” I introduced you to in the last post is actually part of the main refrain for a longer, much more serious song, written by the very famous singer, Gilles Vigneault, entitled “Gens du pays.”

A few blog posts ago, I wrote a blog post which introduced you to Gilles Vigneault, and a couple of his better known songs (of which “Gens du pays” was one of them).    Gilles Vigneault was voted by internet users as being their #23 most favorite Francophone Québécois (click the former).

If we go waaaaaay back in this blog, I wrote a post entitled The Mythic Three.  In that post I explained that there are three music groups and musicians whose music and cultural significance are forever tied to the Québec nationalist political movements which spanned the 1970s, and the early 1980s (that being Robert Charlebois, Beau Dommage & Harmonium).

In that post, I inserted a graph I made to illustrate the emotional times their music is forever associated with.


If we took things a bit further, and shifted the genre of music towards a more “traditional” genre, then we could also include the singer and song writer Gilles Vigneault in the above category.

However what differentiates Gilles Vigneault from the above three is that

  1. His music genre was never really considered contemporary, rock or pop (which is how the music of the above three has been classified)… Rather it was considered ballad-folk or revival-folk, and
  2. Unlike the music of the above three, Vigneault’s music did not lose much of it’s political “umph”… in the sense that his fan-base did not “de-politicize” him to the same extend as the other singers from the 1970s.   When people see or hear Gilles Vigneault, they know (and expect that) they are getting a dose of nationalist passion

Although Vigneault is still king of the hill for nationalist music associations in people’s minds, I will say that much of it seems to be taken with a larger and larger grain of salt as the years go by.

Today, he is probably respected by people of all political stripes for being as a musical legend and as an “elder statesman of Québec culture” — one who has never lost a grasp on his convictions (rather than as a rallying cry for the masses).

Nonetheless, to this day Vigneault continues to talk passionately and very publicly about his nationalist convictions and desire for Québec independance.  But he somehow has a knack for doing so in a very respectful, gentle and dignified way.   He is respected for that (even by those who do not agree with him).

If I were to superimpose Gilles Vigneault and his music on the above graph (which ties artists to nationalist events), Vigneault would probably take the cake — right up to the present day.

Gens du pays 1

You’ll note a few things:

  • Vigneault has been more present, during a longer period of Québec’s major nationalist political events than Charlebois, Harmonium, or Beau Dommage,
  • His music is politically relevant up until the present (we regularly see him perform at the most nationalist of events, including Parti Québécois, nationalist or pro-independance-related events),
  • I included the timeline for his famous song Gens du pays.

Gens du pays (People of the country)

During the height of Québec’s nationalist fervour in the mid-1970s, two major rallies took place in conjunction with the Fête nationale (or St-Jean-Baptiste celebrations).

For reference, I wrote a post a few weeks ago describing the Fête nationale, and its contemporary “depoliticization”.   You can read it by clicking:  24 June: La Fête nationale du Québec / La Fête St-Jean Baptiste (#293).

The first of the 1970’s major political Fête Nationale rallies was in 1975, in front of Mont Royal (the mountain behind Montréal’s downtown core).   Huge crowds turned up to listen to the above mentioned singers and groups such as Gilles Vigneault.  Unlike today, the celebrations at the time were synonymous with hard-core nationalist rallies — and battle cries for Québec independance.

Gilles Vigneault took to the stage with the famous comedian Yvon Deschamps, and the famous singer Louise Forestier.

Because the Fête nationale is considered Québec’s birthday party, they presented the crowd with a song by Vigneault which was to be the new “Happy Birthday” song for Québec:  “Gens du pays”.

Here is the complete rendition of the song (note:  It was NOT me who inserted the Canada flag into the video at the end.  So don’t go thinking I’m mucking around with the YouTube images to score political points.  I only chose this tract because the audio was better, and the lyrics were included — that’s all).

This had two effects:

1.  The crowds loved it and went wild for it.  It became an instant beacon for Québec nationalism, and by default, Québec’s de facto “national anthem” was born.

2.  Because it was Québec’s “birthday” song, ordinary people also quickly adopted the main refrain as a new made-in-Québec version of the normal “Happy Birthday” song (this latter effect did not – and does not – generally hold political significance in people’s minds).

I covered the “Happy Birthday Song” portion in the last post (entitled Québec’s own Happy Birthday Song).

With all the political fervour generated from the 1975 Fête nationale, the following year’s 1976 Fête nationale in Montréal attracted huge crowds (over 300,000), and served to forever cement “Gens du pays” in the public’s psyche.

The next two posts will feature some concert footage from the above Fête nationale, as well as a contemporary interview.    I’ll provide texts which you can also use as a language-learning exercise.

Hopefully it will be an interesting cultural experience for you, allowing you to see and experience a part of Québec’s culture which most Anglophone Canadians rarely see and hear.


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