Thursday, 3 June 2010

Catholic Quebec

Blogging Note: the following historic article appeared in LIFE magazine dated October 1942.

"FRENCH CANADA: The War Makes Trouble For Catholic Quebec

LIFE Magazine 19 October, 1942

In the heart of North America, Protestant and English speaking, flourishes a single province with 3,000,000 Catholic Frenchmen. That is Quebec. It is more foreign to Americans than is France, for it is essentially foreign also to the 20th. Century, philosophically and religiously it stems from the Catholicism of the 16th. Century. It despised the France of the French Revolution and of the Third Republic. Now its youth admires the France of Pétain.

Quebec is a testament to the tolerance of Imperial Britain, which reformed after deporting the French Acadians of Nova Scotia in 1755 and watched 65,000 conquered Frenchmen in Quebec expand between 1763 and 1942 to a total of about 6,000,000 in all Canada and the Northern U.S. Today the British Crown is a very small part of the life of the province of Quebec. The test of British policy has come today in Quebec's contribution to a world war for all free men everywhere. In last April's plebiscite Quebec voted over 70% against conscription for overseas service.

The French Canadians are among the nicest people in the world, sweet tempered and amiable, virtuous, frugal, industrious and honest, very sociable and hospitable. The church and the farm dominate most of their lives. Sitting at the gateway to Canada, it is the most un-progressive of the settled provinces. Its infant mortality rate has been consistently high and one town (Trios Rivieres) has a rate higher than Bombay. Quebec City's diphtheria death rate has been the highest in the world.

Actually rural Quebec is run by the Catholic Church, which exacts a 4% tithe on all grain harvests. Non-payment of tithes brings seizure of property. The Church controls education in Quebec . The Church controls education in Quebec. Permission to attend a non-Catholic school may be given youths (never children) by the bishop. Girls may marry at 14 but may not go to the movies until they are 16.

This gentle and pious world, bordering the U.S. is examined in the village of Saint-Fidelè on the St. Lawrence River, on the following pages, by LIFE Photographer John Phillips. All Photographs of Saint-Fidelè were taken with the help of the village curé, L'Abbé Thomas Louis Imbeault.

Note: The caption under the cure's photograph (L) reads: Village curé of Saint-Fidelè is Thomas Louis Imbeault. He may be consulted on whether to marry, whether to go to a doctor, how to vote, how to answer a summons for conscription.

Peasants of Quebec Live By The Church
God is always very close to the little people of Saint–Fidelè and the Church is even closer. As shown at left, devotion is a function woven deeply into everyday existence. It affects every part of village life, in both a spiritual and a temporal sense, for more than it does life in Quebec's cities. It is exceedingly uncomfortable for anyone in Saint–Fidelè who would defy the village curé.

Under the last premier, a man's house could be padlocked on the mere identification to the attorney general that he was suspected of having "radical" thoughts. If he broke in to get out his belongings, he could be sentenced to several years in jail. This "Padlock Law" is still on the books but under Premier Godbout is no longer enforced.

The people of Saint–Fidelè are not "radical." The educated read Corneille and Racine. They feel that it is their sacred duty to combat "Communism or Bolshevism" which may include almost anything from State allowances for mother to American atheism. This makes them more than a little troubled by a world war being fought by Russian Bolsheviks, Chinese Buddhists and English-speaking Protestants against, among other places, Rome, the home of the Church.

Big Families Hope To Populate All Canada

The Gigantic families of Quebec have given an estimated 150,000 of their men so far to this war for service at home and abroad. The village of Saint–Fidelè has probably given fewer than most. The non-Catholic Canadians are being realistic about Quebec, and last week a French Canadian, Major General LaFleche, was put in charge of getting soldiers for all Canada.

Nationalist Quebec's objections to "fighting Great Britain's wars" go back to the Boer Was and the First World War But whenever Britain was fighting the U.S. French Canada fought the U.S. too, often with great gallantry, usually in exchange for more concessions made to the Church in Quebec. Thus came the Quebec Act of 1774, in which the Church established its ascendancy and old French civil law in Quebec.

The French Canadians really expect some day to be the vast majority in Canada. Canada today is 45% Catholic, 37% French. The Church forbids birth control and out of Quebec's 3,500,000, it has an impressive total of 3,000,000 regular Church members. The flock is kept firmly, Catholic, compact and productive.


What has held Catholic Quebec together is the Church's lasting fear of English-speaking Canadians and rambunctious Americans. Other Frenchmen have been absorbed by Britain and the U.S. but not the Canadiens. The ancestors of these Normans fought the English from 1066 to 1763, usually with success.

A voice of commonsense is raised by Premier Adélard Godbout, (below), a man truly Canadien in his farm and church origins. He believes Canada has its own stake in World War II and urges full cooperation. He is for the reform of the Church's educational system. The strongest of his proposals is that more English be taught in Quebec schools. Chief point of his reforms is to help French Canadians to qualify for jobs in modern English-speaking civilization. But above all, he is remorselessly against Hitler, "whose villainy is beyond the power of words to describe.""

Liberal Godbout's frame of mind is probably close to the true sentiments of most French Canadians who in a Gallup Poll last August voted Canada's Liberal Prime Minister Mackenzie King the greatest living Canadian by vote of 50% against 4 % for the Cardinal.


Probably the most powerful man in Quebec is the Cardinal benign Archbishop J.M. Rodrique Villeneuve, O.M.I. Whereas the low clergy of Quebec oppose the war, Cardinal Villeneuve undertakes to support the war, thus placate the Ottawa Government. This naturally makes for confusion in Quebec. In his early days, he spoke of "the break-up of that great and ostentatious empire" [Britain], of "the covetousness of the neighboring Ogre" [the U.S.] and "the wild, lying atheistic democracy which reigns today in almost all the countries of the world." But he has courageously faced the fact that Hitler is even worse and that the war must be fought by French Canadians far from Quebec. His moral position on individual freedom was expressed in 1938: "It is never permitted . . . to grant freedom of thought, writing or teaching, and the undifferentiated freedom of religions, as so many rights which Nature has given to Man."


Not even the clergy of Quebec can entirely keep out the swelling forces of the modern world, as more and more Quebec youths go to the cities and hear radio broadcasts, see U.S. movies, join labour unions and lose touch with their village curés. One Church solution is the set of youth organizations shown on this page, the J.A.C., J.E.C., J.I.C. and J.O.C., covering farm, student, middle-class and labor youth. Justification for these are two Papal encyclicals, the Rerum Novarum in 1891 and the Quadregesimo Anno in 1931, sometimes read as sponsoring the corporative society. The youth organizations are built on the principle of "cells," four or five men in a cell, each of whom leads another cell. At top of this structure is the Council of Bishops of Quebec. Cell leaders meet once a week with the curé for "study class". They pass on instruction to their groups and so on. Members are aged from 16 to 25. They have stopped wearing uniforms since war began. Slogans are: Proud, pure, cheerful, triumphant," "Family, work, leisure." Their aim is "bloodless revolution."

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