By 1960, 17 African nations had obtained their independence by revolution. A successful Marxist revolution had also been carried out in Cuba.
Three years later, in early March 1963, three separate Canadian Army barracks – two in Montreal’s center and one in Westmount were bombed.
A communiqué, entitled “Notice to the Population of the State of Quebec”, was released which went on to say “Students, workers, farmers, form your secret groups to fight Anglo-American colonialism. Independence or death.”
A few weeks later on April 20, 1963, Wilfred Vincent O’Neil, went to work as a night watchman at an army recruiting centre in Montreal.
He was a month away from his pension.
Little did he know that earlier in the evening two men under the cover of darkness had placed a crudely made bomb amongst garbage cans at the rear of 772 Sherbrooke Street West near the entrance to McGill University.
As he made his rounds and performed his duties, Wilfred O’Neil dislodged the package and died in the blast.
His death and the previous explosions awakened the rest of Canada to the fact that Quebec had gradually been changing.
It no longer fit the idea of a rural, agrarian, Church-led society and Quebec was not willing to remain subservient either.
While the rest of the country caught up to what was perceived as a quick change in values, the fact is that it took decades to get there.
I’m Craig Baird, and this is Canadian History Ehx!
and today we look at the Quiet Revolution, the most transformative time in Quebec’s, and possibly, Canada’s history.
In researching and writing this episode, I was struck by something I rarely encounter with this podcast.
I didn’t know where to start.
The Quiet Revolution is such a deep and complex subject that finding a starting point was difficult.
Do I start with New France and its relationship with the Catholic Church?
What about starting with Confederation in 1867? That seems logical right? It is when the Province of Quebec was officially formed. Of course, Quebec has existed in some form or another for centuries.
How about starting with the first year of the 20th century? Why this year? Well, it is the first year of the 20th century, the century that saw a total transformation of Quebec.
You see the problem. Too many options.
The Quiet Revolution didn’t have a definite start date.
It was more like a snowball, with a variety of events and things coming together to build it until everything reached critical mass and rolled down the hill as an unstoppable avalanche with a force that changed everything in its path.
So, I decided that to do this episode right, I needed to go through a quick recap but first…we need to go back to the beginning AAAAAAALLLLL the way back…. to the Vikings
Catholicism arrived in Canada, if we are being technical, when Lief Ericson landed in present-day Newfoundland around 1000 CE.
Five centuries later in 1497 CE, John Cabot claimed Newfoundland for King Henry VI of England, while also raising the Papal banners on the island.
Skip to 1608, when Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec City, the first Catholic colony in what became New France.
The Catholic Church soon became the dominant force in New France, particularly after the death of Samuel de Champlain in 1635.
Over the decades, communities were established along the shores of the Saint Lawrence River, and most of the settlers were Catholics.
The Jesuits also moved across the land, converting the Indigenous Population to Catholicism.
The Company of One Hundred Associates was formed in 1627 as a colonization company for New France. Under the second article of its charter, New France could only be Roman Catholic. This led over 15,000 Protestants to settle in New France while hiding their religious background.
Fifteen years later, in 1642, the Catholic Church sponsored a group of settlers from France, and they founded the community of Ville-Marie, which became Montreal.
Then almost twenty years later, in 1661, King Louis XVI enacted several anti-Protestant conventions throughout the French Empire which forced the conversion of Protestant children to Catholicism in New France. At the time, England and France were not friendly. The Anglo-French War had happened from 1627 to 1629, followed by the Anglo-French War from 1666 to 1667. England had also become Protestant the previous century, while France remained Catholic. With people settling in New France, the home country of France wanted to make sure that everyone there were Catholics.
Eventually, anyone believed to be Protestant was banned from settling in New France.
Protestants would only be allowed to summer in New France and could not spend the winter there.
Fast forward a century to the Seven Years’ War.
New France was conquered by the British during the war in 1759 with the Battle of the Plains of Abraham and subsequent attacks on Quebec City and Montreal.
New France was officially ceded to the British with the Treaty of Paris on Feb. 10, 1763.
New France was now part of the British Empire, itself overwhelmingly Protestant, but the people living in Quebec were allowed to practice Catholicism.
This decision ensured that those living in what was previously New France wouldn’t have to practice their religion in secret, as a side effect the power of the Catholic Church in Quebec solidified and grew.
Then…. When the British North America Act of 1867 came into effect and formed the Dominion of Canada, it preserved the Roman Catholic confessional school system of Quebec.
Quebec joined Confederation in 1867, and the power of the Catholic Church had reached a zenith.
In the province The Catholic Church and its supporters promoted values of a traditional society by pushing the importance of family, God, rural life, and the French language citizens.
Due to their efforts to preserve French culture and the French language, the Catholic Church remained popular, especially in rural areas.
Meanwhile, in the rest of Canada, there were initiatives to remove French and French culture, as seen in Ontario’s Regulation 17, which sought to limit the instruction of the French language in the province’s Catholic Schools.
Then came the Conscription Crisis during the First World War which further solidified the desire of Francophones to protect their culture.
Conscription was implemented nationwide to bolster the Canadian military in the war, despite overwhelming opposition to it in Quebec.
Many in the province felt ignored by the rest of Canada.
In the wake of the Conscription Crisis a new man emerged, who personified the defense of Quebec’s provincial autonomy.
He was also a staunch defender of French heritage and the Catholic Church.
Maurice Duplessis, known as Le Chef, or The Boss.
As Premier of Quebec, Duplessis led the province longer than anyone else in its history, and he held near total control.
He led Union Nationale, a conservative party, which often had the support of the Catholic Church.
During election campaigns, Union Nationale leaned into religious imagery with its slogan of Heaven is blue, hell is red.
Back then, as with today, blue was the colour of conservative parties, and red the colour of Liberal parties.
As soon as Duplessis was elected premier in 1936, he hung a crucifix in the Quebec Legislature to show his commitment to the church as the province’s leader. So much for the separation of church and state…
In Duplessis’ Quebec, the church was everywhere.
The Roman Catholic Church oversaw primary and secondary education in the province.
That meant there were 1,500 Catholic school boards in the province, and each set their own curriculum.
Also, there was no provincial oversight because there was no Minister of Education and little government involvement.
Teachers typically came from the Roman Catholic clergy, or members of Catholic religious orders.
In Quebec, 11 per cent of Francophones finished grade 11, and only three per cent of Francophones went to university. Many young people began working in their teens, rather than finish school. Due to the control of the schools by the Catholic Church, only the elite tended to move on to university. I was unfortunately unable to find the figures for Anglophones in Quebec.
Claude Brouillet, who taught at a classical college near Montreal, stated,
“Our mission was to train the elite. We had some sons of working-class people. To be able to get financial help, they had to have a recommendation from the parish priest.”
The three Francophone universities in Quebec, located in Laval, Montreal, and Sherbrooke, all had Roman Catholic charters.
And the church’s control went beyond education.
Most hospitals were run by Roman Catholic religious orders. Francophone nurses formed a major part of the medical workforce of the province.
The Roman Catholic Church dominated almost every facet of the province.
Social and welfare services, charitable organizations, orphanages, and family services were governed by the church.
The government funded social services, but the Church was the administrator.
Unions were allowed but only if the union was Catholic.
Even the media was heavily influenced by the church.
If you remember from my episode about the Laurier Palace Theatre Fire, the Church demanded that children be banned from theaters…. than ban lasted for FOUR decades.
This incredible consolidation of power by the Church was allowed and encouraged under Premier Duplessis, who briefly lost powers and went became the Opposition from 1939 to 1944, but then returned to power in 1944 and never lost another election for the rest of his life.
Critics call Duplessis reign The Great Darkness, and during this time is when the first rumblings of a Quiet Revolution began.
In 1945, a former school teacher, Gabrielle Roy, released her debut novel Bonheur d’occasion.
To say that this novel sent shockwaves through Quebec would be an understatement.
The story takes place from February 1940 to March 1940, following Florentine Lacasse, a nineteen-year-old waitress at the Five and Ten Restaurant.
And it gave a stark and realistic portrait of those living in the Saint-Henri neighbourhood of Montreal.
In the novel, Florentine Lacasse supports her large family, including her mother Rose-Anna who has 11 children.
Rose-Anna is Catholic and not allowed to use birth control, leading to many pregnancies which take a mental and physical toll on her.
Florentine’s father struggles to maintain a job, making him feel like he doesn’t measure up to the Francophone ideal of a man.
As the story progresses, Florentine falls in love with Jean, a well-off electrician who dates her but casts her aside. However, he introduces her to Emmanuel, a soldier on leave.
Emmanuel falls in love with Florentine, however she’s still in love with Jean who callously sexually assaults her, and she becomes pregnant.
Trapped by Jean’s actions and hoping to avoid the stigma of being an unwed mother, she keeps the pregnancy secret and marries Emmanuel.
At the time, most Quebecois literature was about working-class families who worked hard and were rewarded, as rural life was celebrated.
A book like Bonheur d’occasion was not something seen in the province before and those who read it found themselves taking a hard look at their situation, often for the first time.
This new form of protest marked the beginning of a profound social transformation about to hit Quebec because after all the pen is mightier than the sword and the revolution was going to be printed.
On Aug. 9, 1948, Refus Global was published.
The anti-establishment and anti-religious manifesto was signed by 16 prominent young Quebecers, eight men and seven women, mostly consisting of artists.
It called for an end to the traditional values of Quebec, stating,
“to hell with the holy-water-sprinkler and the tuque.”
The manifesto was met with harsh criticism.
Over 100 newspaper and magazine articles were published from August 1948 to January 1949 condemning it.
One man who signed the manifesto, Paul-Emile Borduas, lost a teaching job he had held for 12 years, and he went into exile in the United States.
While the impact of the manifesto was small, it did show a strong desire for change in Quebec’s youth who were enjoying the post-war economic boom.
That boom produced more university-educated individuals who attended school outside Quebec, and they embraced the modern urban commercial and industrial values they saw elsewhere.
Even those who were not university educated, were looking for change.
In 1949, thousands came together to create one of the most important moments in Quebec history.
For much of Quebec’s post-Confederation history, there was a major divide in the province which could be traced back to the Treaty of Paris in 1763.
The province’s working class was primarily Francophone, while the upper class, which held most of the wealth and ownership of companies, were Anglophone.
Francophone workers were paid less, and often worked in dangerous conditions.
This situation came to a head on Feb. 14, 1949, when 5,000 miners from four asbestos mines in the Eastern Townships walked off the job. The mines were owned by American and English Canada companies.
The asbestos strike, as it came to be known, was a major turning point in Quebec’s path toward the Quiet Revolution.
The demands of the strikers were simple and very reasonable.
They wanted a 15 cent an hour general wage increase, the elimination of asbestos dust in and outside the mine, a five-cent increase per hour for night work, a social security fund and double time payment for work on Sundays and holidays.
The workers were represented by the Canadian Catholic Federation of Labour and the National Federation of Mining Industry Employees.
The companies, and the provincial government, saw these demands as radical.
The owners immediately rejected them.
Premier Maurice Duplessis sided with the companies, due in part to his intense hatred of unions and, more generally, communism.
The problem for Duplessis was that his biggest ally, the Catholic Church, was not unified in its opposition to the strike.
Many in the church supported the workers, as did most of the population of Quebec and the media.
The strike raged for months and featured several violent clashes between strikers and police sent in by the provincial government.
With each clash, support for the workers increased across the province.
On March 5, 1949, the Archbishop of Montreal, Joseph Charbonneau, delivered a pro-union speech calling for all Catholics to donate to help the strikers.
Duplessis immediately asked that the Church transfer the archbishop to Vancouver, but the Church refused.
This was a dramatic shift for Duplessis.
While the strikers eventually compromised, and most lost their jobs, the strike’s impact on Quebec society was immense.
Three men played significant roles in the strike, they would go on to influence the Quiet Revolution and the future of Canada itself.
Jean Marchand, a labour unionist, was the leader of the strike. He later served in Parliament from 1965 to 1976.
He was even considered as a prime replacement for Lester B. Pearson for the Liberal party leadership but was passed over because it was considered that his English was not good enough.
Instead, another significant person in the strike was chosen as leader and eventually he became Prime Minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
Long before that happened, however, a young Trudeau traveled the world to find a sense of purpose. Upon his return to Quebec in 1948, he became a leading figure in opposition to Premier Maurice Duplessis.
In 1949, he supported the workers in the Asbestos Strike and marched alongside them looking less like the distinguished politician we have come to know and more like a young man with a scraggly beard, a head cloth and shorts which lead to the nickname St. Joseph. Trudeau was arrested while marching with the strikers and it had a profound impact on him.
The events of that strike led him to act as a legal counsel to unions in the province for the next decade.
In 1956, he released La greve de l’amainte, where he stated that the asbestos strike was a seminal event in Quebec’s history.
The strike also inspired him to co-found Cité Libre; a publication highly critical of Maurice Duplessis.
The journal was anti-clerical and criticized the hold the Catholic Church had on the province.
The publication and Trudeau’s work helped revive the Quebec Liberal Party which had lost power decades earlier, in 1944, to a fresh resurgence in the 1960 election.
Trudeau entered federal politics in 1965 and served as Prime Minister from 1968 to 1979 and 1980 to 1984.
The third notable figure from the Asbestos Strike was Gérard Pelletier.
He worked alongside Trudeau and followed in his political footsteps by entering politics in 1965 and served in Parliament until 1975.
They were called The Three Wise Men by the media, and they were chosen by the Liberal Party to run in the 1965 election to bolster support in Quebec.
Meanwhile the paper, Cite Libre, was not the only anti-Duplessis media that emerged after the Asbestos Strike.
Le Devoir was an independent newspaper that criticized the premier, his government, the Catholic Church, and supported workers across the province.
Radio Canada also emerged as a progressive voice, with commentators like Rene Levesque, who also wrote for Cite Libre and eventually became premier of Quebec from 1976 to 1985.
By the mid-1950s, the Quiet Revolution momentum was growing, and it was about to get a very big boost from a Quebec icon, and one of the greatest NHL players of all time.
Maurice “The Rocket” Richard joined the Montreal Canadiens in 1942 and quickly became a star. By 1955, was more than a hockey player, he was a legend who led the Montreal Canadiens to three Stanley Cups.
He was the pride of Montreal and Quebec but that drive to win came with a very aggressive personality on the ice and opponents knew it, so they used it against him.
On March 13, 1955, Boston’s Hay Laycoe instigated a fight by hitting Richard in the head with his stick.
Richard responded by hitting Laycoe with his stick.
When Cliff Thompson, the linesman, tried to stop the melee, Richard punched him.
Two days later, NHL President Clarence Campbell suspended Richard for the rest of the season and the playoffs.
This divided the country as Anglophones praised the suspension while Francophones saw it as an injustice.
Many felt Clarence Campbell unfairly punished Richard because he was Francophone.
Campbell made the baffling decision to attend the next Montreal Canadiens home game.
On March 17 a canister of tear gas was thrown at Campbell inside the Forum sparking a riot that poured onto the streets.
[RICHARD RIOT CLIP 38 SECONDS]
Over 20,000 people were involved which left several businesses damaged as 50 establishments were looted and 37 people injured.
Total damages exceeded $100,000.
The riot was a clear indication of the growing tensions in Quebec, and a growing sense of nationalism and years later it led some to consider the event as another step towards the Quiet Revolution.
All of these events were leading Quebec to a tipping point in its history.
It just needed one more to push it over the edge.
That event came in the form of a foreseen death.
Maurice Duplessis was not a healthy man leading up to 1959.
From 1930 to 1942, he had two hernia surgeries, and was a heavy drinker until the mid-1940s.
He was a diabetic and saw complications with the illness by the late-1950s as his health deteriorated rapidly.
He was encouraged to pull back, but he refused.
On Sept. 2, 1959, while touring iron mines near Schefferville, Quebec, he suffered a bleeding stroke that left him paralyzed on his right side and barely conscious.
Over the next two days, he suffered three more strokes.
Even as he was on death’s door, Duplessis exerted control over the province, creating a news blackout.
Duplessis lived for two more days and died at 12:01 a.m. on Sept. 7, 1959. Three days after his death, Paul Sauve replaced Duplessis as premier.
On Sept. 10, 1959, while citing loyalty to Duplessis’ legacy s, Sauve knew that modernization was needed in Quebec if his party was to survive the 1960 election.
So, he outlined a 100 Days of Change campaign which would involve a sweeping review of the government.
He began to negotiate with Ottawa to get funding for higher education as he also tried to pry the controlling hands of the Catholic Church away from Quebec’s education.
But then, on Jan. 2, 1960, Sauve died suddenly.
He was quickly replaced by Antonio Barrette who took office on Jan. 8, 1960, and had little time to prepare as the province headed towards an election on June 22, 1960.
His opponent was Jean Lesage, a former lawyer and Member of Parliament who took over the leadership of the Liberal Party of Quebec almost two years earlier on May 31, 1958.
He believed that the province could modernize without losing its distinct identity and used the slogan of “It’s time for a change”, to win the election by an overwhelming majority.
As soon as Lesage became premier in 1960, he made good on his promise of change.
In 1961, Quebec joined the federal hospital insurance program, the precursor to universal health care.
Two years later, in 1963, the Boucher Committee was formed to study public assistance and when the report was released, it recommended increased state intervention in social services to provide greater social equality.
That same year, the training of nurses was secularized.
A year later, in 1964, the Quebec Civil Code was changed to provide legal equality for spouses. This change also abolished a married woman’s judicial restriction where she was considered a minor under the authority of her husband.
And finally, there were major changes in education.
The same year Lesage became premier, Jean-Paul Desbiens, a teaching brother, wrote The Impertinences of Brother – Anonymous.
The book published in 1960 was a series of letters he wrote to the newspaper Le Devoir calling for an overhaul of the education system of the province.
It quickly sold 100,000 copies as it struck a chord with many in the province, unfortunately for Desbiens, he displeased the church and was sent to Europe for three years.
But it was too late. The floodgate of change had already been opened and educational reform was coming.
Premier Lesage formed the Royal Commission on Education, which appointed Monsignor Alphone-Marie Parent as the chair.
On recommendations of the commission, the Ministry of Education was finally created which reduced the number of Catholic School Boards from 1,500 to 55, and the curriculum was standardized. This also meant that teachers now had to be university trained.
The mandatory school age was also increased from 14 to 16.
The universities in Laval, Montreal and Sherbrooke all received secular charters for the first time, and the University of Quebec was established.
The next big change in the province came for unions, as a new labour code was adopted in 1964 which made unionization easier and gave public employees the right to strike.
And the control was pried away from the catholic church as unions under their control were secularized.
The government also created cabinet positions focused on cultural affairs and federal-provincial relations.
The electoral map was redesigned to give better representation to urban areas, while the provincial budget grew from $745 million in 1961 to $2.1 billion in 1966.
Lastly, Hydro-Quebec was formed and bought out nearly all of the private electrical distributors in the province. Then it planned to modernize Quebec’s power grid including the James Bay project.
That project, which covers an area the size of New York State, cost $20 billion to build and became the largest hydroelectric system in the world in the 1970s.
The drastic changes to the province were mostly accomplished from 1960 to 1966 and while they were welcomed by many, they created a divide between urban and rural Quebe.
That became apparent in the 1966 Quebec election when Jean Lesage and the Liberals lost, while Daniel Johnson Sr. and Union Nationale, the party of Maurice Duplessis, came back into power.
For the most part, rural Quebec voted for Union Nationale, while urban Quebec voted for the Liberals.
But there was going back The genie was out of the bottle and Quebec had changed for good.
And possibly the biggest change in the province was the sense of nationalism and a feeling that Quebec would no longer be subservient to the rest of Canada.
The societal and economic innovations of the Quiet Revolution empowered the province to seek political independence as a darker aspect emerged.
Remember the bombing at the top of the episode that killed Wilfred Vincent O’Neil, the night watchman that dislodged a bomb on April 20, 1963?
That was caused by a small fraction of sovereigntists who sought independence. From 1963 to 1970, the Front de libération du Québec or FLQ, conducted 160 violent attacks, including with bombs, which killed eight people including O’Neil.
Their activities reached a peak with the 1970 October Crisis, when members of the FLQ kidnapped British diplomat James Cross and Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte who was eventually killed.
The people responsible for the crisis were arrested and the movement died away because by then the Parti Quebecois was seeking independence through political means.
And the birth of the party can be traced back to Expo 67, when Quebec emerged onto the world stage as millions descended on Montreal including French President General Charles de Gaulle who proclaimed Vive le Quebec libre during a speech This call for Quebec independence gave the growing independence movement traction as the province had also opened Maisons du Quebec, or Quebec Houses, in Paris, London and New York. These were essentially provincial embassies in those cities.
And a year later, in 1968, the sovereigntist Parti Québécois was created, with René Lévesque, a former Liberal, as its leader and the party governed Quebec from 1976 to 1985, 1994 to 2003 and 2012 to 2014.
In 1977, the party enacted the Charter of the French Language, with the goal of protecting the French language by making it the official language & restricting the use of English on signs.
The party took Quebec through a referendum on independence, in 1980 and 1995, but lost both times.
This new sense of nationalism emerged during The Quiet Revolution, and Canada fought to keep the province within its borders by recognizing it as a distinct culture.
On Nov. 27, 2006, the House of Commons passed a motion officially recognizing the Quebecois as a nation within a united Canada.
And none of that would’ve been possible had it not been for the snowball effect of the Quiet Revolution.
Information from University of Toronto, Canadian Encyclopedia, Wikipedia, Montreal Star, Montreal Gazette, Biographi, Canadas History, CBC, Canada History Project, In Roads Journal