May 22, 2017 § 2 Comments
Today is the Journée nationale des Patriotes in Quebec. The date commemorates the 1837 Patriote Rebellion in what was then Lower Canada, when a rebellion against the British Empire erupted in first, Saint-Denis, and then other nearby locales in November and December of that year. And while it started off well for the Patriotes, it did not end well, with the British routing them and then ransacking the village of Saint-Eustache before martial law was imposed on Montreal.
But the rebellion only tells a part of the story of the Parti patriote. The Patriotes, led by Louis-Joseph Papineau, were a group of middle-class radicals, largely based in the urban centres of Lower Canada (Quebec). They took their inspiration from the French Revolution, and from the wave of liberal radicalism across the Western world, from France to the United States. They were frustrated with the corrupt politics of the Governor and his cadre.
From the early 1830s on, they formed the majority of the colonial legislature, which met in the capital of Quebec. The Patriotes sought, essentially, responsible government. They demanded accountability from the legislature and the governor. And they demanded economic development for the disenfranchised, disgruntled French Canadian majority of Lower Canada, as well as the working-class, predominately Irish, in Montreal and Quebec.
In other words, the Patriotes were not a French Canadian nationalist movement. I read an article in the Montreal Gazette yesterday that encapsulated my frustration with the memory of the Patriotes and 1837. The article was a discussion about what to call today in Quebec. The journalist noted that in the Montreal suburb of Baie d’Urfé, the citizens wish to call it La journee nationale des Patriotes/Victoria Day. This is not, obviously, an actual translation. The article then tours around the West Island and some off-island suburbs of Montreal that have a large Anglo population. The results are more of the same. And then there’s the title of the article, “Our Annual May Long Weekend Is Here. But What Should We Call It?” This, of course, is typical West Island Anglo code for their exclusion from the nation/province of Quebec, at least officially.
This is also a mis-remembering of the Patriotes. And not just by the West Island Anglos, but by almost every single Quebecer, whatever their background. And it is one that is rooted in our education system, not just in Quebec, but nationally. I learned, in school in British Columbia, that the Patriotes were only interested in French Canadians and were nationalists. When I taught in Quebec, my students had learned the same thing. I remember reading Allan Greer’s excellent book, The Patriots and the People, in grad school and being surprised at what I read.
Greer, in addition to noting the multi-ethnic background of the Patriotes, also is the one who made the argument that what 1837 was was a failed revolution in Quebec. That had the Patriotes succeeded, Quebec would’ve looked politically more like France or the United States. Indeed, it is in the aftermath of 1837 that the Catholic Church in Quebec came to be so powerful, as it became a member of the state in the province/nation, and gained great political, moral, economic, social, and cultural power over Catholic Quebecers, both English- and French- speaking, until the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s.
To return to the multi-ethnicity of the Parti patriote and its supporters, Papineau’s lieutenant was Edmund Bailey O’Callaghan, who was the member of the legislature for Montreal West. O’Callaghan succeeded the radical Dr. Daniel Tracey as the MLA for Montreal West and the right-hand seat at Papineau’s table. Both were Irishmen. Tracey died treating his compatriots in the fever shacks on Pointe-Saint-Charles during the cholera epidemic of 1832. Montreal West was the riding that contained Griffintown and other Irish neighbourhoods in what was then the west end of Montreal (now it’s the sud-ouest). The Griffintown Irish were radicals. They kept voting for Tracey and O’Callaghan over the wishes of their more genteel compatriots.
And then, there is the simple fact of the Brothers Nelson, Robert and Wolfred. They were the sons of English immigrants and members of the Anglo Protestant Lower Canadian bourgeoisie who were also major players within the Patriote movement. Wolfred led the rebels at the first battle of the Rebellion, at Saint-Denis on 23 November. This was the battle the Patriotes won. Robert, meanwhile, was amongst a group of Patriotes who were arrested and then freed in the autumn of 1837, which caused him to flee to the United States, where he was further radicalized. He led the 1838 Rebellion, which fizzled out pretty quickly. Both Nelsons survived the rebellions. Wolfred went on to become the Mayor of Montreal in the 1850s. Papineau, for his part, returned to the legislature after being granted amnesty in the 1840s.
Indeed, the major impetus for the formation of the St. Patrick’s Society of Montreal on 17 March 1834 was exactly this: the radical nature of the Griffintown Irish was hurting the larger ambitions of the Irish-Catholic middle class of the city. In those days, Montreal was not all that sectarian or linguistically divided. It was class that cleaved the city. Thus, the middle-class Anglo-Protestants, French Canadians and Irish all formed a community within the larger city, give or take the radicals. And they stood in opposition to and apart from the working classes, who tended to be more radical. Thus, the St. Patrick’s Society was created to separate the middle class Irish from these radicals. The Society was originally non-sectarian, it had both Catholics and Protestants within its ranks. It was not until the sectarian era of the 1850s that the Protestants were ousted.
It does all of us a dis-service to so clearly mis-remember the Patriotes. While Papineau is commemorated on streets, schools, highways, buildings, and a métro station in Montreal, the Nelsons, Tracey, and O’Callaghan are not. They have been removed from the officially sanctioned story of the Patriotes, let alone the 1837-8 Rebellions. Meanwhile, the Anglo community of Quebec seems to prefer to forget about the existence of these men entirely, to say nothing of the ancestors of many of us who voted for Tracey and O’Callaghan in Griffintown. Remembering the Patriotes for what and who they were would help with the divide in Montreal and Quebec.
February 22, 2017 § Leave a comment
Historians tend to take the long view of everything. We tend not to be make rash judgements of the world. We are just trained not to. And so, of late, I have been thinking of the longue durée of government and society. One of the truisms of history is that the government really has no bearing on the lives of the majority of any given state. Kings, queens, presidents, dictators, and prime ministers have come and gone and for the overwhelming majority of society, life carried on.
Sometimes the government’s policies came home, such as when a village’s young men marched off to war. Or a particularly oppressive government came to power and instituted surveillance. But even then, whether in medieval France or Ancient China, or Nazi Germany, for most people, the sun still came up, the fields still got tended, the factories still produced.
But all the while, something arose from Enlightenment thought. And this was the idea of the rationalization of government. By this, I mean the standardization of government and the state, and its attempts to impose itself in the lives of its citizens/subjects. Quite often, the growth of the state was met with resistance. In the early 1850s in rural Quebec, the guerre des éteignoirs broke out against the attempts of the Canadian government to impose a standardized, compulsory education on the children of the country. To call it a ‘war’ is a misnomer, it was a collection of violent acts of resistance. Still, it was a very dogged resistance. Yet, it was ultimately fruitless. State-sponsored education had arrived.
The mid-19th century was a period of massive state growth in Canada and the United States. Both nations got the idea from the British, where the growth of the state and government surveillance may have staved off the spread of the French Revolution to the British Isles. In the United States, of course, this process was both interrupted and sped up by the Civil War, as the federal state grew exponentially during the conflict, and has only continued to grow since.
This mid-19th century state building occurred through the imposition of the state into communities, through the construction of courthouses, post offices, and the like. And the buildings followed a standardized form, designed by the same architects. The Catholic Church had already figured out the value of standard design by this point, the state was a bit of a latecomer. But the effects were the same. Newly designed and constructed courthouses brought the state into a community. The uniformity of the buildings from one town to a next reinforced the impartial eye of the state. Back at the centre, the state also underwent tremendous growth, as new departments were created and new bureaucrats appointed to oversee this growth.
The process of the expanding state picked up from there, to the point now where it is nigh-on impossible to escape it. It is in our wallets in the form of our driver’s licenses and our Social Insurance/National Insurance/Social Security cards (to use the Canadian/British/American terms). It is on our cars as license plates and in the dashboard as registrations. It knows where we live. It knows where we work. It knows how much we work and how much we make. It knows intimate details of our lives.
You can see the effects of this and the various periods of state growth in any mid-size town to large city. For example, post offices tend to look the same, built either in the late 19th century or the mid-20th. Courthouses follow a similar plan, whether built in the late 19th century, the early 20th, or the late 20th, though they follow different plans based on era.
For example, Government Center in Boston is a massive neo-brutalist construction in the centre of downtown. Government Center houses Boston’s city hall, federal courts, state courts, and government offices at all three levels (city, state, federal). The building style is familiar.
The same sort of neo-brutalism exists very far away from Boston, in a different country. Winnipeg, Manitoba’s city hall is also a neo-brutalist construction. And this architectural style is repeated for government buildings (and university campuses) in nearly every city I can think of in North America. The style is immediately recognizable as the state, whether it’s Winnipeg’s City Hall or the campus of the University of Massachusetts — Amherst. We see this style of architecture and we instantly know its purpose.
These buildings are designed to be immovable and permanent, to show us the permanence of the state, and the implied power behind it. These are overwhelming buildings. Standing in Government Center, Boston, or Nathan Philips Square, Toronto, is an exercise of feeling one’s insignificance in the face of the state. When I went for my interview to receive my Green Card at Government Center, I thought about this, how insignificant my individual power was in the face of the state. Whether we think about this implicitly or explicitly, it is there. And that is the point (just as Edwardian era bank buildings make their point)
So we are left to believe that the state is unmoving and immovable. And so it is. But, something else has happened in the wake of this massive growth of the state, as it has invaded our wallets, our dashboards, and more. The power of the state has continued to grow, its presence in our lives in inescapable.
And thus, now, when government changes hands through the democratic process and a new one takes control, whether it is in Olympia, the capital of Washington state, or Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia, or Washington, DC, or Ottawa, there is a very real possibility that it will change the lives of the people of that state/province/nation. Major governmental policy shifts on everything from foreign affairs to net neutrality to consumer protection laws to immigration laws impacts nearly everyone.
And this is something to think about as we enter the era of the Trump Administration in the US.
December 6, 2016 § 2 Comments
Today is the 27th anniversary of the École Polytechnique Massacre, also known as the Montreal Massacre. On this morning, 6 December, in 1989, an armed gunman walked into the École Polytechnique, separated the men from the women, and shot 28 people, executing 14 female students. Why? Because they were women and he felt that feminists had ruined his life. As per usual, I refuse to name him. He should be forgotten, he does not deserve infamy (he killed himself at the scene). His suicide letter contained the names of 19 other Quebec feminists he wished to kill.
For Canadians of my generation, the Massacre was and remains deeply shocking. It resonates. I remember where I was when I heard the news, I remember the shock I felt, and then the anger. I grew up in a violent household, my mother the target of my step-father during drunken outbursts. His violence appalled me. All violence against women appalls me. Deeply.
And here we are, 27 years on, and violence against women is still prevalent. For this reason, name and remember the victims of the Massacre in Montreal 27 years ago, to honour them. May they continue to rest in peace:
- Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student, age 21.
- Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student, age 23.
- Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student, age 23.
- Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student, age 22.
- Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student, age 21.
- Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student, age 29.
- Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department, age 25.
- Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student, age 23.
- Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student, age 22.
- Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student, age 28.
- Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student, age 21.
- Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student, age 23.
- Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student age 20.
- Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student, age 31.
August 25, 2016 § 8 Comments
So 16 towns and cities in France, all on the Mediterranean Coast, have banned the so-called burkini, a body-covering garment that allows devout Muslim women to enjoy the beach and summer weather. France, of course, has been positively rocked by Islamist violence in the past 18 months or so. So you had to expect a backlash. But this is just downright stupid.
There is a historical context here (read this whole post before lambasting me, please). French society believes in laïcité, a result of the French Revolution of 1789 and the declericisation of French society and culture in the aftermath. To this end, French culture and the French state are both secularised. Religious symbols are not welcome in public, nor are the French all that comfortable with religious practice in public. Now, this makes perfect sense to me, coming as I do from Quebec, which in the 1960s, during our Revolution tranquille, also underwent a process of declericisation. Quebec adopted the French model of a secular state.
But, in Quebec as in France, not all secularism is equal. Catholic symbols still exist all over France as a product of French history, to say nothing of the grand cathedrals and more humble churches that dot the landscape. But other religious symbols, they’re not quite as welcome, meric.
Nonetheless, it is in the context of this laïcité that the burkini ban arises.
But in practice, it is something else entirely. This is racism. This is ethnocentrism. And this is stupid. Just plain stupid. French Prime Minister Manuel Valis claims that the burkini is a symbol of the ‘enslavement of women.’ The mayor of Cannes claims that the burkini is the uniform of Muslim extremism. It is neither. And the burkini bans are not about ‘liberating’ Muslim women in France. They are not about a lay, secular society. They are designed to target and marginalize Muslim women for their basic existence in France.
In the New York Times this week, Asma T. Uddin notes the problem with these bans when it comes to the European Court of Human Rights and symbols of Islam. Back in 2001, the Court found that a Swiss school teacher wearing a head scarf in the classroom was ‘coercive’ in that it would work to proselytize young Swiss children. I kid you not. And, as Uddin reports, since that 2001 decision, the Court has continually upheld European nations’ attempts to limit the rights of Muslims, especially Muslim women, when it comes to dress.
Then there was the shameful display of the police in Nice this week, which saw four armed policemen harass a middle-aged Muslim woman on the beach. She was wearing a long-sleeved tunic and bathing in the sun. The police, however, issued her a ticket for not ‘wearing an outfit respecting good morals and secularism.’ Again, I kid you not.
Laïcité is supposed to be not just the separation of church and state, but also the equality of all French citizens. Remember the national motto of the French republic: ‘liberté, éqalité, et fraternité.’ These are lofty goals. But the attempts to ban the burkini and attack Muslim women for their attire is not the way one goes about attaining liberté, nor égalité nor fraternité. Rather, it creates tiered culture, it creates one group of French who are apart from the rest. It is discriminatory and childish. And let’s not get on the subject of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who wants to run again, and promises to ensure that Muslim and Jewish students in the lycées eat pork.
I understand France’s concerns and fears. But attacking Islam is not the way to defeat terrorists who claim to be Muslim. It only encourages them. It is time for France to live up to its own mottos and goals. And Western feminists (and pro-feminist men) need to speak up on this topic.
News comes this evening that the Deputy Mayor of Nice, and President of the Regional Council of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, has threatened to sue people who share images of the police attempting to enforce the burkini ban on social media. I kid you not. Christian Estrosi states that the images cause harm to the police (if that is true, that is not right, of course).
It is worth pointing out that it would be very difficult for Estrosi to find legal standing to launch a lawsuit, as French law allows citizens and media outlets to publish images and videos of the police and that, without a judicial order, French police cannot seize a photographer’s camera or phone.
June 6, 2014 § Leave a comment
As I noted in yesterday’s post on Frank Hanley, we really do live in a different era today. In one of the chapters of The House of the Irish, I talk about hockey in Griffintown in the 1950s and 60s. I interviewed Gordie Bernier, an old Griffintowner, a few summers ago about his life and growing up in Griff and his thoughts on it today. The previous weekend, he was playing in an old-timers hockey tournament in Pointe-Claire, so clearly it was a major part of his life. I can relate.
Bernier recalled playing with the Christian Brothers who ran the School for Boys in Griff and who liked to play hockey against the young men:
Keep your head up. But the league we had, we were only young…I was only, I think 17 or so, and we were playing against men, so some of the guys were older. It was a good experience….You keep your head up [laughs]. We used to go there, I think 8 in the morning to the rink on Basin, I lived other on Duke, we used to walk with our skates on, by the time we get over there if there was snow, give us the shovels, we had to clear off all the snow, and we’d play from 8 in the morning ‘til closing time, 10 at night. We were still there, play hockey all day at the weekend. Walk back, your ankles [were all swollen and sore].
Don Pidgeon, a man who has done more than anyone to create the memory of Griff as an Irish neighbourhood, also remembers playing the Brothers, and smashing one over the boards of the outdoor rink on Basin Street Park in Griffintown, with a hip check.
The Brothers, obviously, played hard, and they played to win. And the lads of Griffintown were not about to give any quarter, as David O’Neill recalls, the Brothers were
great athletes, and a lot of them liked the rough stuff just as much as the boys, and the older boys used to try to establish themselves among their own friends, and there were a few of the priests who used to give and take as good, or better. That generated the respect from the local community towards the priests, and a lot of people respected the priests for their ability to give and take without any complaining. No punishment, except that you got decked back when you weren’t looking.
Certainly, then, this was a different era, when decking a priest, or getting hit back as hard, if not harder, was a means by which the young men and priests earned each others respect, and that of their friends and colleagues, and the wider community.
June 5, 2014 § 1 Comment
I met Frank Hanley a couple of times back in the early aughts, including one afternoon in Grumpy’s on lower Crescent St. He was holding court, drinking, I think, a club soda. He was, at this point, already in his 90s. But he was irrepressible. Even though he was 96 or 97 when he died in 2006, I was still surprised to hear the news. He got the nickname sometime back in the 1920s or 30s when he was a minstrel player in Montreal, or so he told me. He didn’t know how to play the instrument. Hanley is the kind of guy that doesn’t exist anymore, which is kind of sad. He was the city councillor for St. Ann’s Ward from 1940 until 1970. He was also the MNA for St. Ann’s from 1948-70. He didn’t belong to any parties, he was always an independent. He tended to side with ‘Le Chef’, Maurice Duplessis, in the National Assembly during the 1950s. But I just never could hold that against him. He also despised Jean Drapeau, Mayor of Montreal from 1954-7 and from 1960-86.
Griffintown was left to die in the 1960s whilst the other neighbourhoods of the sud-ouest were given makeovers, mostly in the form of slum clearances and the building of housing projects in the Pointe, Burgundy, and Saint-Henri. Griff got the rénovations urbaines part, but that was it. Nothing was built to replace what was torn down. And it was not because of the 1963 re-zoning of the area as ‘light industrial.’ All of St. Ann’s Ward was, as were other parts of the sud-ouest. Griffintown, quite simply, did not attract the attention of hôtel de ville and Drapeau’s team of rénovationistes as a site of investment. The only voice demanding Griff get some love was its councillor: Hanley. Local legend has it that Griff was left to die to hurt Hanley’s re-election chances, such was Drapeau’s enmity for him.
Anyway. Hanley was an old school populist politicians, his first real concern was his constituents. And his constituents tended to be poor in Griffintown and the Pointe. He raised money for an emergency fund to help out his constituents when they ran into trouble. Most of this money was raised from other constituents. Occasionally, of course, a few dollars would fall into his own pocket. While today we would shake our heads at this or perhaps bring Hanley up on charges of corruption, in his era, no one had any problem with that.
In the summer of 1967, Hanley ran into trouble with Revenue Canada. He had been handing out over $150 per week to his constituents in trouble for much of the past decade, maybe longer. And, of course, he took a bit for himself. So Revenue Canada threatened to take his house at 500 Dublin St. in Pointe-Saint-Charles. His constituents from Griffintown and Pointe-Saint-Charles had other ideas, and they showed up one morning in Hanley’s yard and proclaimed the ‘Republic of Hanley’ in his front yard.
In the end, Hanley and Revenue Canada reached a settlement.
May 12, 2014 § 6 Comments
This will be the first of a series of posts on Griffintown this week. I was in Montréal last week, mostly to finish up a bit of research on the Griffintown book, which, at least has a title, ‘The House of the Irish’: History & Memory in Griffintown, Montreal, 1900-2013. The last chapter of the manuscript deals with what I call the post-memory of Griffintown, the period of the past half-decade or so of redevelopment and gentrification of the neighbourhood. Griffintown was in desperate need of redevelopment, so let’s get that out of the way first and foremost. A large swath of near-vacant city blocks next to the Old Port, along the North Bank of the Lachine Canal, and down the hill from downtown, it was inevitable that it would attract attention.
My problem was never with redevelopment per se, then. My problem was with unsustainable development, willful neglect of the environment, of the landscape of the neighbourhood, and with blatant cash grabs by condo developers, and tax grabs on the part of the Ville de Montréal. And so that’s what we now have in Griffintown, for the most part.
In between conducting oral history interviews with my former allies in the fight for sustainable redevelopment, I wandered around Griffintown, Pointe-Saint-Charles, and Saint-Henri a fair bit. This was both professional interest and because I lived in the Pointe and Saint-Henri. I also had an interesting discussion with a clerk at Paragraphe Books on McGill College. Then there were the interviews.
My friend Scott MacLeod says that many of the condos going up in Griffintown look like “Scandinavian social housing.” I think he’s onto something. This is a picture from a housing development in Copenhagen. It is quite similar to what’s going up in Griffintown, with one key difference. In Copenhagen, there is green space. In Griffintown, there is none.
Part of the genius of Montreal is an almost utter lack of urban planning on
the grand scale. And in the case of Griffintown, the city has been almost negligent in its approach. During its overzealous attempt to approve any and all projects proposed by developers in Griffintown from about 2006 to 2010, the Ville de Montréal overlooked a few key components for the new neighbourhood: parks and schools. It was only after 2010 that the city thought that maybe it should earmark some land for, you know, parks. Schools? Who needs them?