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Prior to Britain’s control over all of what was to become British Canada (in the run up to confederation and independence), much of what was New France was governed by administrators based in Québec City and Montréal.
It is well known that the reach of New France extended from Labrador in the North, to New Orleans in the South.
But surprisingly, today, what were the “westernmost” reaches of New France rarely receive attention in the media or elsewhere outside of the Prairies (especially in Québec itself). It is a history which is better known to students from Western Canada than to those elsewhere (much of this history is mandatory learning material for high school students in the Prairie provinces).
When I first moved to Eastern Canada way back when, I was surprised (even shocked) to learn that very few people in Eastern Canada knew anything about the pre-British, pre-1763 New France influence throughout Manitoba, into the heart of Saskatchewan, and even into Alberta.
Coming from Alberta and having lived in all four Western Provinces, at the time I simply took it for granted that was a part of history which everyone everywhere knew about.
Funny how it is “Louisiana” which primarily manages to
disproportionately steal everyone else’s thunder garner so much attention when it comes to talking about the “far-reaches” of New France and subsequent turns-of-events… but whatever… damned Cajuns, Zachary Richard & Louisiana!!! I suppose Louisiana is cool too 🙂
As an aside, I believe it was from the New France era that the word “Soyeu” became part of Prairie French in Western Canada, and particularly Albertan/Saskatchewan French. It’s an old word from Old Picard and old Wallon French which literally means to saw something in half… ie: “Wednesday” (which saws the week in half).
In Québec and Ontario, the closest might be the French expression “nombil de la semaine”, but “soyeu” is more of a direct translation for “Wednesday” than it is an expression.
When I moved to Québec at the beginning of the 2000s, I told a friend that I would call her on “Soyeu”. It was only when I saw the look her face that I realized that nobody outside of Western Canada knew what “soyeu” meant… Lundi, mardi, “soyeu“, jeudi, vendredi, samedi, dimanche — NOPE… just blank stares in both Québec and Ontario.
Nowdays, young Francophones in Alberta generally just say mercredi. However it is still interesting to know that there continues to be somewhat of a direct New France influence on Prairie French.
At least two French forts (and possibly two others) were built in Saskatchewan in the 1750s.
(The HBC established their own “Fort Espérance” after the British hand-over, but it is speculated that a New France fort existed at the same site in Saskatchewan much earlier)
At least one French fort (Fort la Biche) and possibly one other (Fort la Jonquière) were built in Alberta in the 1750s.
After the change of administration from New France to British North America, many of the forts in Western Canada continued to be administered by Francophone-ran trading companies, mostly as trading outposts (with an administration based in Montréal).
Others were converted to new regime military installations.
Yet others were abandoned.
Some have been restored and exist as museums today.
(ABOVE: Restored Ft. Rouge)
(ABOVE: Restored Fort Bas de la Rivière)
Some New France-era forts have since become major urban centres or modern-day communities. For example:
- Fort Rouge became Winnipeg,
- Fort Dauphin became Dauphin (MB),
- Fort la Reine became Portage La Prairie (MB).
Of those forts which were abandoned, their locations are generally known, and markers have been placed where they once stood (such as the case for Fort Bourbon II, Fort à La Corne, or Fort Maurepas II). Yet many (perhaps most) have not undergone archaeological excavation (a fact which completely baffles me – but which could mean that many new and exciting discoveries are yet to come).
Of all the New France-era forts, the location of Fort à La Corne (in Saskatchewan) is the westernmost confirmed location. It was also the first place grain was grown in Western Canada. Its exact location was on an unstable sandy spit of land on the banks of the confluence of the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers. The spit of land was presumably washed away generations ago, and the earthen cliffs above the land began to fall into the river in 2009. The road and the trails leading to the exact location have now been closed.
For all you Google Streetview enthusiasts, you can view the viewpoint above the site by clicking here: https://firstname.lastname@example.org,-105.086365,3a,66.8y,44.32h,86.78t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sIubHklZaehf7EkWsfM19wg!2e0?hl=en
Fort La Biche and Fort la Jonquière
Yet there were two forts further West of Fort à La Corne, and their locations remain mysteries. I find it surprising that the fate, location, and historic roles of these two westernmost forts do continue to remain a major mystery.
Fort La Biche on the “La Biche River” in Alberta (the “Red Deer River” in English) was established at an unknown location. Many speculate it was actually established on or near the actual site of Red Deer Alberta, but I have not seen any proof that Red Deer was the actual location. The internet is almost silent on the issue (offering no proof of location).
The location of Fort La Jonquière also remains a mystery, but one with a potentially more exciting story, and perhaps a much more significant role in history.
There are four suspected locations for Fort La Jonquière:
- Prince Albert, Saskatchewan,
- Edmonton, Alberta
- Calgary, Alberta (within view of the Rocky Mountains)
- There is a 4th possibility that it could have also been built in the Foothills of the Rocky Mountains, meaning that the men of Pierre Gaultier de Varennes et de La Vérendrye would have been the first Europeans to have seen and possibly set foot in the Rocky Mountains.
With the exception of Fort La Biche (Alberta), Fort La Jonquière could have been the westernmost post of the French Empire.
Furthermore, if it was located at Edmonton or Calgary, it would have begun a trading tradition with the local aboriginals which possibly could have given rise to later decisions by British explorers and trading companies to establish more modern forts at the same locations (such as Fort Edmonton, which has since become the major Canadian city of Edmonton and the capital of Alberta).
In fact, some have speculated that Fort La Jonquière could have possibly been on or near the site of actual Fort Edmonton (now the site of the Alberta legislature – the seat of Alberta’s provincial government).
(ABOVE: A photo between 1905 and 1912 in Edmonton, with the Alberta provincial legislative (government) building in the background, and Fort Edmonton in the foreground — possibly the original site of Fort La Jonquière).
Considering the impact these Québec-administered forts have had in founding Western Canada, I find it amazing that the story, locations, and relevance of two of the most historically significant forts (Fort La Biche and Fort Jonquière) remain a mystery to this day – especially if they were instigating factors in spurring trade, which subsequently lead to later decisions to found Edmonton or Calgary.
Some info for additional reading: following the change of administration from New France to British North America, the Hudson’s Bay Company became the de facto government of what was Western and Northern Canada. It quickly established dozens and dozens of subsequent forts across the land. Yet many (perhaps most) continued to be Francophone-administered (despite being under British control).
This was a major reason why French continued to be Western Canada’s primary language until the last half of the 1800s (and even into the 20th century in many communities — a legacy of much of Western Canada’s current French regions).
Here is a link for the HBC forts: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Hudson%27s_Bay_Company_trading_posts
Here is the only open-source map I could find of the HBC forts (although it’s not very good):
If Fort La Jonquière does turn out to be the original foundations of Edmonton… why couldn’t they have found some place warmer, like Florida, or Singapore !?!?!
But at least there’s no or little humidity in the Western part of the Prairies. I’ve never found the winters there much colder than Toronto, Ottawa, Montréal or Québec City (where it is quite humid). -25 degrees Celsius with no humidity in the Prairies = -10 degrees in Toronto / Montréal with humidity.
Anyway, we can see the New France heritage to this day in the Prairies. For example, there are those in Edmonton who still keep those ‘ole Prairie Voyageur traditions alive and well (Alberta through-and-through)…
And also in Winnipeg…
You’ll even find French advertising in the Prairies if you look for it (here is an example)…
But fancy new trains don’t mean that it’s all urban-urban.
Here’s the part of the West’s traditions which I can identify with from my own youth — and it started in no small part with the legacy of our New France heritage back in the 1700s…
Even in the most conservative and Anglophone regions of Canada (such as inAlberta’s deep rural South, in the small town of Brooks), we continue to see the legacy of New France’s Prairie. Almost 300 years later, it continues to make in-roads at all levels of government.
These are points of pride for people on the Prairies (both Anglophones and Francophones) — otherwise we wouldn’t be seeing such gestures such as the one you’re about to see at City Hall in Brooks.
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!!
There are a number of readers who have been following my blog for a few months. I’m happy to have been able to offer some insight, and I enjoy reading some of your emails.
It takes time to get a sense of another culture when there is a linguistic barrier or physical distance. However, for those of you who are regular readers, if you were to visit Québec, if you were to watch some Montréwood television, or even listen to some of the news, you would probably already notice that the pieces are now starting to fall into place, bit by tiny bit. Much of what you encounter should now be making much more sense.
I was recently in Montréal and I walked by Théatre St-Denis. It is one of the most famous stage theatres in Québec. It features acts of all types. Some of the biggest names in Québec’s pop-culture have seen their careers launched at Théatre St-Denis, and it continues to feature some of the biggest stars.
A quick glance at the sign made me realize just how much ground has been covered in just the few short months of blogging about Québec, its pop-culture, and many other topics related to Québec and Francophone culture in Canada.
For the regular readers of this blog, the signs (below) should give you an idea just how much you have already learned about Québec’s culture in the last few months. Give yourself a pat on the back for wanting taking the initiative to learn more, and for your desire to acquire a greater cultural context of what Québec and Canada are all about.
Simply from having regularly read the blog posts, a good number of you will certainly recognize some of these names. You now likely know who they are, what they’re about, and how they fit into Québec’s overall culture. Here are four which might jump out at you:
- Stéphane Rousseau
- Véronic DiCaire
- Lise Dion
- Rachid Badouri
The last time I was in Québec City, I also snapped a photo of the performance sign hanging in front of the Le Capitole (the most famous performance theatre in Québec city, and also one of the most famous stage theatres in Québec).
Again, some of the names you’ll likely recognize are
- Ginette Reno
- Véronic DiCaire
- Mario Pelchat
This could be proof that learning about Québec, its culture, and Canada’s Francophone culture in general is not an insurmountable task – even if you don’t speak French. I’m trying my best to cover topics which are relevant, and which pertain to what normal people see in the media, on the street, as well as what everyday common people talk about over meals, at work, and at home.
I would even venture to bet that should you travel to Québec, that you would already be in a position to begin to feel like you are in familiar territory (from a cultural standpoint) – regardless of your French language level. Regardless where you live in Canada, hopefully you’re even beginning to feel that aspects of Canada’s Francophone culture are part of your own culture, at a very personal level. That is a very commendable feat, and I’m quite humbled to know there is a good number of people who are regularly following my posts.
So to those who are faithfully reading this blog, thank-you. I’ll do my best to keep bringing you new topics as time allows. Let’s keep moving forward, and let’s keep building bridges! 🙂
The official websites for
- Théatre St-Denis is http://theatrestdenis.com/en/
- Le Capitole is http://www.lecapitole.com/en/index.php
Should you travel to Montréal or Québec City, these websites (in English & French) have performance information, showtimes, and tickets.
The snow finally let up, and you know the sun is out when the sidewalks of Montréal are invaded by… well… holiday elves and raindeer (you know, just the usual same old, same old…) 🙂 (and no… the pic is not of Marina Orsini, unless you think I look like her… which I don’t! lol 🙂 )
This post is about one of those actresses who has filled some of the best known roles in Montréwood television drama series.
Marina Orsini is currently a radio host of one of Montréal’s more popular easy-listening radio stations, Rouge FM. But she’s better known for her roles in some of the hottest, and highest rated TV drama series of the past 20 years.
One such series was Lance et compte, about a fictitious hockey team and the lives of those associated with the team. The series was aired over the course of two eras… an initial block of seasons on TQS (now Télé-Québec) in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and then as a come-back series on the TVA network from 2006 to 2012. Its TV viewership rarely dipped below 1,000,000 viewers, and on occasion it would surpass 3,000,000 viewers.
Marina Orsini was also one of the main stars in the TV drama Les filles de caleb which aired on Radio-Canada in the early 1990s (as well as in France). It was about a fictional family’s rural hardships in early 20th century Québec. This program is said to have attracted one of the highest television viewer audiences of all time in Québec, surpassing 3,600,000 viewers (with only La Petite Vie, and Star Académie having garnered more viewers). In France, an average of more than 4,000,000 people followed the series.
I personally was a big fan of her other series; the Radio-Canada drama series Urgence which ran from 1995 to 1997. These were my first couple of years in university and there was a small group of us who would occasionally get together in our university dorm to watch the weekly episodes back in Edmonton. It was set in a Montréal hospital, and featured the dramatic lives of hospital staff.
Orsini also starred in many other television series of varying degrees of success.
In the “Qui êtes-vous?” family history program, she traced her family roots to Italy, the US, Ontario and Scotland. This was one of the episodes of the program which, again, debunked the false belief that Québécois and France geneology are synonymous with each other. You can’t get much more Québécois than Marina Orsini, despite her having no French roots. The episode of the program featuring Orsini was particularly touching – her mother was suffering from cancer, and just before her mother passed away, both Orsini and her mother made the on-camera trip to Italy to find their roots – one of the last major mother-daughter moments they spent together.
When Orsini was speaking to Scottish genealogists in the episode, I was surprised to notice that she didn’t have a French accent when she spoke English (she spoke with a Standard English Canadian accent). Only later did I find out that she attended high school in English in Montréal – I found that quite interesting. I’m always impressed when I see people who can effortlessly transcend the linguistic divide in this manner.