Fête Nationale au Québec

Today is June 24. For many, this simply is another day in the first days of official summer (northern hemisphere) month of June. In Quebec, it is something else entirely. It is supposedly celebrated by French Canadians across Canada and the few stragglers in the States as well – I have no proof of such celebrations so shall take Wikipedia’s word for it.

It is the feast day of St John the Baptist, a Jewish preacher who baptized Jesus in the River Jordan. So how the hell did he become the Patron Saint of Quebec?  And when did the patriotic and political tone for French Quebecers start? And why in the name of all that is holy did I choose to work in a place that is not only open, but is celebrating the anniversary of their opening business?

For many Quebec Anglos, it is simply a statutory holiday. I am one of the lucky ones who has both French and English, well, actually it is Scottish, blood flowing in my veins.  I don’t do that whole “barricade yourself in your house until it passes” thing. Actually, until I worked in a certain company, I had never heard of such a thing. Whatevs, I digress. I party like a Pea Soup on this day – coz I am.

So, because inquiring minds (me) want to know, I went a-digging to get the facts and figures and share with you, my readers, the whole story behind the Fête Nationale du Québec.

The Feast of Saint John the Baptist, or Midsummer, was a happening thing in the Ancien Régime (middle ages) of France. Stands to reason when the first French colonists came over to what became Acadia, they needed a reason to keep the party going. Let’s face it, life was not an easy thing over here in the wilds of Canada. Just think, the first recording of celebrations happened on the shores of Newfoundland in 1606 and then things got ever so more wild on June 23rd, 1636, on the banks of the St. Lawrence River when a bonfire was created and five cannon shots were fired.

In 1834, Ludger Duvernay, a journalist of influence for the newspaper La Minerve, and other patriotes, attended at St. Paddy’s Day parade in Montreal and said hey, if the Irish can have a day, why can’t the French Canadiens also?  And so, the charitable Association Saint-Jean Baptiste was formed and that following June 24th, there was held a grand banquet with 60 francophones and anglophones of Montreal where was sung the song Ô Canada! Mon pays, mes amours (Oh Canada, My country, my loves) – not to be confused with today’s national anthem “Oh, Canada”. The Canada in this song refers to Lower Canada, i.e. today’s southern Quebec. They repeated the celebrations in ’35, ’36 and ’37.

Of course, the English-French thing has been going on forever and a day here in Quebec and way back in those years, there was the Lower Canada Rebellion between les Patriotes québécois and the British so no celebrations happened again until 1843, when the official Saint Jean Baptiste Society, backed by the Catholic Church was formed and officially charted by 1849. Bonfires became a tradition and the first parades started happening.

Ah yes, the Patron Saint part… That happened in 1908.  This helped to re-enforce the connection between Saint Jean Baptiste Day and French-Canadian patriotism. By 1925, this day was declared a provincial holiday in Quebec and during the turbulent political 1960’s, this holiday became very political and by 1977 the holiday became known as La Fête Nationale du Québec, and was completely separated from the church.

Bonfires have been replaced by fireworks and the parades still take place (though, I for one, am not really a parade-goer so I refrain).  Last night from the windows of golf club (around 10 pm), I could see the fireworks happening. Could have been from my town of Boucherville, or the town of Ste-Julie or, nah… I don’t think we would have seen the ones from Montreal!

There were definitely fireworks happening in my home town and off a Facebook Page, I got the following beautiful shot

©Alain Lemay

Guess I’ll be participating in the celebrations vicariously through others once again this year.

Bonne Ste-Jean mes amis!

Till then, I leave you with one of my (many) favourite québécois chanteurs, one that brings me right back to my last year of high school, Paul Piché