Saint-Jean vs. Fête nationale

Celebrating the summer solstice has been a tradition in many cultures. The first French settlers in North America were among these cultures and they quickly gave this tradition a religious twist by associating it to the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, celebrated on June 24.

In 1834, Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day takes a patriotic tone. Inspired by the celebrations of the first St. Patrick's Day in Montréal, several attending Patriotes got the idea of organizing something similar for all the Canadiens and their friends.

In 1880, the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste organizes a gathering of all francophone communities across North America. The event was the first Congrès national des Canadiens-Français. On Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day that year, the citizens of Québec City are the first to hear Calixa Lavallée's "Ô Canada", based on a poem by Adolphe-Basile Routhier. The song had been commissioned by the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste. 

In 1908, coinciding with Québec city's 300th celebrations, Pope Pius X officially designates St. John the Baptist as the patron saint of all French Canadians across the country.

In 1977, on the advice of René Lévesque, an Order-in-Council by the Lieutenant Governor declares June 24 the Fête nationale du Québec to encompass all residents of the province. Since then, June 24 has two meanings:

  1. Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day: a holiday celebrating Canadians of French origin across the country.
  2. Fête nationale du Québec: a holiday celebrating the Québécois of all origins across the province.

So... that's roughly where we're at right now. And things aren't that clear in the mind of most Canadians. Outside Québec, there seems to be a dissociating trend between French Canadian celebrations and Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day. The Festival Franco-Ontarien, for example, hasn't included June 24 events in its program since 2006. On the other hand, cultural communities have contributed to the Fête nationale du Québec in many languages. Anglo performers like Jim Corcoran also have, but not in English.

Two years ago, I stumbled on a TV interview with Stéphane Archambault; he's the lead singer of Mes Aïeux. He submitted that Anglo performers singing in English should also join the celebrations. I must admit I was a bit puzzled at first thinking: "That's weird, but he's right!... I wonder when we'll be ready for this..."

I got part of my answer last weekend. Lake of Stew and Bloodshot Bill were all set to play at an alternate Saint-Jean concert in Montréal until a few hardline sovereigntists rocked the boat and almost had it capsized. Voices were raised. Among them, Pierre Curzi, PQ critic for culture, communications and language, denounced the situation stating that an inclusive Québec must welcome Anglophones wishing to participate in the celebrations.

That's the brand of nationalism I like. We're talking about welcoming Québécois artists whose mother tongue is English; we're not talking about acknowledging Anglo wannabes.

I assume it will take some time before we see such performances at le grand spectacle au parc Maisonneuve on June 24th, but, simply put... there's no logic in denying any kind of contribution to our already rich heritage. And in fact, Anglo-Québécois have been doing it for quite some time. Need it be remembered?

Those who don't agree should bear in mind that you can't build a nation while alienating one of its important communities. Canada tried when it patriated the constitution without Québec's consent in 1982. It doesn't work.

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