Group’s plans to re-enact de Gaulle’s ‘Quebec libre’ speech thwarted by city

Group’s plans to re-enact de Gaulle’s ‘Quebec libre’ speech thwarted by city

MONTREAL — Charles de Gaulle may have made history when he shouted “Vive le Quebec libre” from the balcony of Montreal’s city hall in 1967, but 50 years later the city doesn’t seem keen on re-creating the iconic moment, a sovereigntist group said Wednesday.

The Societe Saint-Jean-Baptiste said it had wanted to re-enact the former French president’s famous speech in its original location on July 24, but its request for access to the balcony was denied.

Former Quebec premier Bernard Landry, an honorary president of the group, said de Gaulle’s call for a free Quebec was important not only for the nationalist movement but for the province as a whole.

Before the speech, “a large part of humanity had never heard of Quebec, nor of the Quebec question,” Landry told a news conference to announce details of events marking the July 24 anniversary.

“(The speech) was good for Quebec, it was good for Montreal, and the city should have taken into account its own interests to be known across the world,” said the ex-premier.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Denis Coderre’s office noted the city is organizing its own week-long exhibit to mark the 50-year anniversary of the speech, and plans to open the balcony to the public for 30-minute guided tours on July 24.

“Let’s not forget that city hall is neutral and apolitical,” Noemie Briere-Marquez said in an email.

“Montrealers would never agree to it being exploited (for political purposes).”

De Gaulle made the famous proclamation at the end of a fiery seven-minute speech.

“Vive Montreal,” he told the packed crowd below. “Vive le Quebec. Vive le Quebec…libre. Vive le Canada francais.

“Et vive la France,” he concluded.

The speech provoked an international incident with then-prime minister Lester B. Pearson, who retorted that no Canadian or Quebecer needed liberating.

The French president’s visit was cut short and he was on a plane back to France within a few days.

Having been denied the balcony, the Societe Saint-Jean-Baptiste says it intends to hold its event in front of city hall instead.

Current president Maxime Laporte says an actor portraying de Gaulle will make his entrance in an electric car — a nod to the former French president’s interest in technology.

“The deplorable refusal of Montreal’s mayor to give us acess to the famous balcony on the evening of July 24 won’t stop us from holding… a worthy commemoration for the benefit of all citizens,” Laporte told the news conference.

The group is also planning to highlight the date by participating in other activities, including an exhibition, a book launch and a conference.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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