Letter: Quebec moved on after 1759

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Sir: The summary of history given on your Letters page by Pierre-Louis Mallen of the Institut de France (" `Foreign occupation' drove Quebeckers into the arms of Petain", 7 December) - with English Canadians as occupants of Quebec ever since the 1759 Battle of the Plains of Abraham - is inadequate.

True, there was a military victory at Quebec City in 1759, and it resulted in a British occupation of New France. However, the demographics of Quebec have changed since 1759 and 20th-century Quebeckers, many of mixed French and English ancestry, are getting a little bored with this simplistic interpretation of over two centuries of subsequent history.

Imagine how much more irritating it must be to the descendants of the people who were already living in north-eastern North America when the first French settlers (or should we call them occupants?) arrived.

De Gaulle's visit caused great excitement among Quebeckers - many of them hoping for a future in a Quebec national state - who were rightly proud of their culture and their historic links with France. His dramatic speech, with its offensive allusion to the Nazi occupation of France, proved him an ardent champion of la francophonie mondiale but a lousy historian of Quebec.

Those of us who have recently heard too much of the expressions Quebecois pur laine or Quebecois de souche are only too aware how seductive such an oversimplification of Quebec history can be.

Even in the context of an analysis of pro-Petain feeling in Quebec in the 1940s, it is irresponsible to reduce the rich complexity of modern Quebec to this "us and them" duality.

If M Mallen takes a short walk from the Institut to the Protestant library in the rue des Saint-Peres, or a longer walk to the former Jewish school in the Marais, he can see for himself how dangerously easy it is to teach people to regard their neighbours as foreigners, and what the appalling consequences can be.


London NW3