Letter: `Foreign occupation' drove Quebeckers into the arms of Petain

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The Independent Online
Sir: If it is pointed out that Quebec people were "Vichyists", or more precisely "Petainists" in the Forties, (report, 7 November; letter, 12 November) it may be interesting to mention that they gave De Gaulle a particularly warm welcome in 1967, leading him to respond with his famous call, "Vive le Quebec libre!"

In 1940, most French Canadians indeed placed their confidence in Marshal Petain, who assumed the tragedy of defeat. It was much the same in France. It was only gradually that the French acknowledged, as the great resistance fighter Colonel Remy put it, that if Petain was a shield, De Gaulle was the sword.

Quebec people went through a similar evolution. But another feeling, more particular to them, explains their first reaction. They had no sympathy for Hitler, but the British army, awaited in France as a liberator, was for Quebeckers one of the forces that had subjected their country to two centuries of foreign domination.

In 1967, De Gaulle observed it. While crossing the country from Quebec to Montreal he was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd and said that he felt an "atmosphere de la Liberation". English Canadians were offended: "He treats us as Nazis!" they said. Not at all, simply as occupants - what they had actually been since the defeat of the army of the King of France in 1759 on the Heights of Abraham.


Member of the Institut de France