LA FÊTE NATIONALE

LA ‘FÊTE NATIONALE’ QUICKLY APPROACHES: ‘JE ME SOUVIENS’ OF WHAT EXACTLY? OUR PATRON SAINT, JOHN THE BAPTIST, AND THE ONE-TIME FIDELITY OF HIS PEOPLE? OR THE SECULAR, NATIONALIST-SECESSIONIST RHETORIC OF OUR POST-MODERN ELITES?

Well, one politically-charged and controversial national holiday has come and gone in our country. But lo and behold, here comes another one! This time it’s of another type of ‘national’ coloration: ‘La fête national’. Yes indeed folks, the holiday in our province once known as ‘St. Jean Baptiste Day’, in honour of the patron saint of French-Canadians, has now been re-baptized by the Québec government’s secular-nationalist elites as ‘La fête nationale’, or simply ‘The National Holiday’.

On this occasion, on the eve of June 24th, it is well-known and almost expected for every red-blooded French-Canadian male or female young adult and aspiring wannabe French-Canadian visitor or half-breed such as myself, to go to a designated place of pilgrimage, ideally the Plains of Abraham, which has deep spiritual and political significance for the average French-Canadian, being the site of the fateful battle between the armies of France and Britain in 1759, wherein the fate of France in North America was categorically sealed, and to, for one brief and shining moment, ‘reconquer’, the place.

There they get thoroughly soused, as well as getting their minds psychotropically altered on all sorts of illicit substances, whilst listening to all manner of loud and raucous francophone music and nationalist rhetoric, interspersed liberally with ample doses of secessionist sabre-rattling, and often not so oblique anti-English language and anti-Canadian jabs, usually culminating with some designated nationalist-secessionist spokesperson coming out onto the stage, to the tune of some loud, pre-recorded, triumphalistic-sounding music, to chant the praises of the language of Molière, whilst intoning almost Messianically about a ‘nation’s’ ultimate march towards its ‘destiny’ and ‘self-determination’, or other such forms of euphoric secular religiosity.

All the while the crowd chants wildly in a state of alcoholically- and drug-induced madness and near-crazed euphoria. One has to wonder if at such a strategic juncture in the proceedings, that if the organizers of the event did something ever so Biblical as to trot out the proverbial golden calf of Old Testament fame, that the well-lubricated and pumped up peons of la belle province would cheer just as lustily.

I have attended several of these blowout affairs in my youth. Several times in the 1980s they were fairly primitive affairs with only a large bonfire lit in the middle of the field, and no musical entertainment to keep the hoi poloi’s attention transfixed for sometime before getting too blitzed. We’d then proceed to get thoroughly crocked and then have to figure out where we were to relieve ourselves, because the event planners had supplied zero facilities such as chemical lavatories. So for a couple of years we amused ourselves by urinating off the top of the walls of the Citadel onto the pavement below, until one year, the off-duty soldiers came and threatened us not to do such a thoughtless act, since they were the ones after all who had to clean up all our urine the next day.

The event got so out of control in the early 1990s, that one year, due to an overuse of drugs such as PCP, caused by a shortage of hashish and marijuana in town caused by the curtailing of supply by large narcotics dealers so as to bring prices back up, one fellow who was so out of his mind on PCP threw himself into the bonfire and ruined the party for everyone.

Ever since then, the event has been much-better organized, with a proper stage show, strict security measures to control access in and out of the site, and to keep out dangerous things such as beer bottles. However, it remains an annual drunk fest for the youth of Québec city and across the province. It’s sort of a rite of passage from spring to summer, as well as a once a year event which allows the local population to let their hair hang down and to involve themselves in some borderline public rowdiness without getting completely out of control.

All good fun, and the garbage is all picked up within 24-48hrs by local officials and things return to normal. What irks me, though is the continuing nationalist-secessionist bent to the event, even after French-Canadians have become prosperous and have caught up to the rest of Canada in regards to our quality of life and level of public services.

This province has been the biggest net beneficiary of Confederation, with most manufacturing industries being built here and in Ontario, even going so far as to prompt Nova Scotia to move to secede soon after Confederation by voting for mostly secessionist MPs in the first couple of federal elections from 1867 onwards. This was because the railway which was to link them with Québec was going to destroy their own industries, which did business a lot with Britain and New England, by encouraging industry to relocate to Québec and Ontario, then supply Nova Scotia with goods manufactured in Québec and Ontario via the new railway.

Eventually the railway was built, and industry in Nova Scotia did decline, but federal monies did increase to the region, thereby staving off secessionist sentiment. We haven’t heard of Nova Scotian secessionism since the 1880s, and they are now looking at developing offshore oil.

Newfoundland and Labrador used to be their own country in the 19th century up until the 1930s, when the fishery collapsed, and British rule was briefly reinstigated until they voted on two occasions after WWII to join Canada, a smart move if you ask me.

Ukrainian immigrants, over 6000 of them, found themselves on the wrong side of the war in WWI and many of them were dispossessed of their citizenship and sent to internal exile camps in northern Ontario.

Japanese immigrants and even some second generation Japanese Canadians were all rounded up in British Columbia, had their property expropriated, and were all sent into internal exile camps in BC and Alberta in WWII.

The Sikhs who first came here in the early 1900s were so discriminated against by racist Canadian immigration laws that we wouldn’t even let them get off the boat. We sent them back to Asia, where some of them were killed in a gun battle trying to get off the boat back in their homeland.

So when I hear French-Canadians in Québec with their shrill ‘patriotic’ nationalist-secessionist rhetoric and ethno-linguistically-charged arguments for saying how badly treated and disadvantaged they are in Canada and why they should separate, it makes my blood boil. It’s as if they think that they have a monopoly on suffering and being mistreated. The fact of the matter is that Canada has gone through many painful and tragic steps in our process of nation-building. The situation of the French-Canadians in Québec is but one special, but one nonetheless, piece of the greater puzzle which comprises the great experiment that is Confederation, which was entered into with great hope and expectations on July 1st, 1867.

Maybe we’ve forgotten once again the fidelity of our Catholic ancestors, who swore by St. John the Baptist as the patron Saint of the French-Canadian people. We’ve replaced the spiritual pillar of our society, with a secular panacea which in the end, rings hollow. So, ‘Je me souviens’, I remember what exactly? This is the motto of our province. I know that I was born under the Fleur-de-Lys, raised under the rose, and came to be reconciled under the maple leaf. Maybe I’m being asked to celebrate the wrong ‘national holiday’?

Maybe I should just sit this one out and wait a week later for July 1st and go see the raising of the flag downtown for Canada day? But then again, that group of secessionists might show up again and start shouting. No matter, I’m going anyways. I know where my allegiances lay first and foremost.

See you on Canada Day, eh?

PS After all was said and done, St. Jean Baptiste day turned out to be a lot tamer this year than in previous years. The organization ‘Educalcool’, which lobbies for moderation in alcohol consumption, had a big ad campaign in the media, including big banners on the transit commission buses depicting a woman, with fleur de lys in her hair on one side of the billboard, symbolizing the purity and virtue of the French-Canadian Nation, and a drunken male on the other side, with his facial features distorted in a sort of demented form of drunken stupor, with one of those baseball batter’s helmet-type of apparatus’ that young males have a tendency to purchase when they visit Old Québec, which have a beverage container on each side of the helmet, and tubes leading down into the party-goers mouth. The caption under the billboard reads something to the effect of ‘It our pride (as in National Pride), that taking a hit’, the word ‘hit’ in French having a double meaning: ‘to take a hit’ as in ‘to be diminished’, and ‘to take a hit’ as in ‘to get drunk.’

The message seems to have ‘hit home’, in the sense that far fewer youth in the typical late teens to early 20s demographic chose to go out on the evening of the 23rd of June, many also being scared off by the massive Police presence which was deployed for the occasion, every single office on the force having been called up for the occasion, with all leave and vacations being cancelled for members of the force for this very special operation, which had been planned well in advance. Mother nature also put a damper on things, with a healthy and steady downpour and showers hitting the city for most of the evening, leaving but the heartiest of die-hard revellers to whoop it up on the Plains despite all of the countervailing factors.

Well, we shall see next year if we have a repeat of this year’s events. Maybe things are actually changing in Québec. Maybe public opinion is finally turning against this outrageous display of public drunkenness and nationalist-secessionist ranting? I think a lot of people just want to move on and not be bothered with shrill nationalist sabre-rattling, especially in light of the fact that most French-Canadians are much better off now materially than they ever were in the past, which has all been accomplished by staying in Canada.

Heck, even William and Kate were quite well received here, despite a few party-poopers who showed up. So carry on, Canada!!! See you at next year’s St. Jean Baptiste party on June 23rd, and be sure not to miss the flag raising at City Hall for Canada Day on July 1st!

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One comment on “LA FÊTE NATIONALE
  1. Great writing Peter.. I love your perspective, since we grew together I can relate to all of it, Thank You my friend !

    Like

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