Protègera nos Foyers et nos Droits: Not Just Words you Sing Before a Public Event!


We often hear how the French language is threatened in Canada, and how supposedly Sovereignty is the only way to protect it and to guarantee its long-term viability.

But let’s look at the facts. Ever since the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, the Americans have tried to conquer Canada twice, and the Rebellions of the Patriotes in 1837-38 would’ve also left us vulnerable to US annexation if it had succeeded.

Let’s start with the first American attempt on Québec. They were angry that, in the wake of the defeat of France, the Ohio valley was to be put aside for the Indians to trade furs, and to therefore keep the economy going, since these same Indians had sided with France, and needed to be compensated for having been so badly decimated.

This didn’t sit very well with George Washington and his buddies, who were big land speculators in the Ohio valley, and wanted to push across the Appalachian mountains into the Ohio valley, seize these lands, and make a lot of money selling them off to colonists for farming and to supply these farmers with the material they needed to get started in their new life on the frontier.

Also they found out that Britain had granted concessions to French Canadians in the form of the Québec Act, which gave protection to the French language, Civil Law, and Catholic Religion. Sir Guy Carleton, or Lord Dorchester, as he was known back then, knew that the American colonists were about to rebel, so he wanted his French-speaking subjects to at least stay neutral if ever the Yankees came calling trying to convince them to join them in their grandiose schemes.

As such, that’s exactly what happened. The Continental Congress sent an army up the Kennebec river to conquer Québec. Montréal was occupied and only the timely intervention of French-Canadian and British soldiers, as well as a blinding snow storm, stopped the Americans. You can go down onto Rue St. Pierre at Rue de la Barricade in the Old Port of Québec where the American attack was repulsed and see for yourself.

So the British Crown and French-Canadians cooperated, along with the Catholic clergy, to stop Québec from becoming American. Otherwise French would’ve disappeared from this part of the world within a couple of generations!

The next time was in the war of 1812. The Americans felt that their revolution was incomplete, and attacked again. This time they were stopped near Montréal. Again, French Canadians cooperated with British soldiers and defeated the Americans.

The next time was during the Rebellions of the Patriotes. Louis-Joseph Papineau wanted us to separate from the British Empire and found our own Republic, and had even mounted a very efficient trade embargo of British merchants to prove his point. (The now famous Patriotes flag is a symbol of French-Canadian self-sufficiency in manufactured goods, depicting a French-Canadian dressed all in locally-produced products.)

But what would’ve happened if Mr. Papineau’s words had succeeded in stirring up enough people into a state of armed insurrection? What if a French-Canadian republic had emerged out of such an insurrection? The results can only be guessed at, but a good indication of where we were headed was demonstrated by something called the Annexation Manifesto of 1849. It was signed by a group of mostly powerful English-speaking Montréal businessmen, and  French-Canadian nationalists,amongst them Papineau. The Manifesto proposed political union with the US because the merchants had lost their system of preferential tariffs on certain products and were angry at the legislature’s passage of the Rebellion Losses Bill, which compensated people, mostly francophones, for physical and property damage suffered during the Rebellions, and was perceived by Anglophones as condoning disloyalty.

Papineau and his followers on the other hand, were in favour of annexation because they favoured US-style Republican institutions of democracy. So what would’ve happened to the French language then if we would’ve been annexed to the USA because some businessmen wanted to make more money and Papineau and his buddies didn’t like the system of Constitutional Monarchy? Probably we wouldn’t even speak French in Québec or anywhere else in Canada for that matter!

Lastly, around the time right after the Rebellions, the Roman Catholic Church sort of laid down the law and said to French-Canadians: Look what happens when you disobey your King, your priests, and embrace this entire Republican, individualistic ideology? It leads to perdition, and you risk losing everything. So from now on we want you to listen to your priest, your King and this way your language and culture will survive.

We may complain all we want against the price we had to pay for ‘La Survivance’, but the fact remains essentially ‘incontournable’ that the two most important factors that have guaranteed the survival of our language and culture, are the two institutions which Sovereignists denigrate the most: Our partnership with Canada, and the Roman Catholic Church!!!

Let’s not forget the context within which O Canada was first sung: It was first  performed on June 24,1880, either on the Plains of Abraham during a huge patriotic rally of French-Canadians organized by the Societé St. Jean-Baptiste, which included a Mass, or at the skaters’ pavillon in Québec city later that evening at a banquet attended by the Governor General the marquess of Lorne . This was because so many thousands of French-Canadians had begun leaving Québec to go to the USA and Ontario to work, and many were not coming back and were getting assimilated. So a huge rally was organized on the Plains, and French-Canadians were brought in by train from all over Canada and the US to be sold on the idea of coming back to Canada, because it was here that French was protected. That’s why our National anthem finishes the way it does in French.

So the next time you hear them sing O Canada at a public event, just remember the long history behind those pivotal words: ‘Protègera nos foyers et nos droits’. Hopefully you won’t ever think the same way again about your country!!! I know I don’t.

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