Patriotes or Victoria Day?

Patriotes or Victoria Day?

This article came in too late to be published before Victoria Day / Fête des patriotes, however, the author explains about the recent long weekend and its historical origins and it’s well worth a read.


This long weekend in May is yet another example of the disconnect between the political elites of our country, the private sector, and the citizenry. In Québec, it has become known as ‘La journée nationale des Patriotes’, whereas, in English-speaking Canada, including most areas of English-speaking Québec, we still celebrate the old holiday of ‘Victoria Day’, originally in honour of Queen Victoria, and later, to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s actual date of birth. 

Beginning in the 1960s, Victoria Day was briefly rebaptized ‘La fête de Dollard’, in honour of Dollard des Ormeaux, a hero of pre-Conquest Canadian history during the French period, who, along with several other of his compatriots, had sacrificed themselves by fighting to their deaths at what has become known as the Battle of Long Sault.  Dollard and his men, during this battle, had been on an expedition westward from present-day Montréal, and had gotten themselves surrounded inside a stockade by some hostile Iroquois Indians, who were greater in number. 

According to legend, Dollard and his men fought them off, but were eventually all slaughtered. This battle, however, severely depleted the strength of the Iroquois, who decided not to continue further down river to attack Ville Marie (present day Montréal), thereby, in some historian’s opinion, saving that part of the colony, making Dollard a hero. 

At the turn of the 21st century, however, with historical revisionism gaining even more momentum in our province, this holiday was eventually taken over even more fully by nationalist-secessionist ideologues, who felt they should be peddling their agenda more fully. The holiday was therefore re-baptized in honour of the ‘Patriotes’, a group of mostly French-Canadian and Irish dissenters, who, according to the post-modern nationalist-secessionists who have monopolized the public discourse concerning their legacy, were supposedly mostly a group of self-styled proto-secessionist Republican freedom fighters seeking to ‘liberate’ us from the ‘tyranny’ of British rule, and to lobby for a greater measure of democratic governance. 

The latter half of the idea I can go along with: Many Patriotes were fed up with the legislature of Lower Canada not having the final say over the conduct of colonial affairs. The fact of the matter was that the Governor and what would be today considered the cabinet, or ‘Executive Council’ as it was known then, was not responsible to the legislature, but, in the case of the Governor, he answered directly to the Colonial Office, and the Executive Council members, as well as Legislative Council members (today’s Senators), controlled all the patronage appointments and import/export trade with Britain.

So it was quite normal that there was discontent, which by the way was not limited to Lower Canada, but spilled over into Upper Canada (present day Ontario) as well. However, the conflict took on a distinctly more ethno-linguistically-charged bent to it in this part of Canada, and British troops were called out to crush the insurrection. Some Patriotes leaders were hanged in 1839, some were sent to the Australian penal colony, and the leader of it all, Louis-Joseph Papineau, fled to the U.S. 

However, a group of reform-minded politicians, including Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, and Robert Baldwin, ended up cobbling together a compromise arrangement between what is today Québec, and Ontario, and, along with the achievement of responsible government in 1849, which, by the way was achieved by Lord Elgin giving Royal Assent to the Rebellion Losses Bill, an Act to give compensation to mostly French-speaking people in Lower Canada who’d suffered physical and material losses to person and property during that very uprising against the Crown 11-12 years previously, thereby prompting the English-speaking population of Montréal to riot and burn down the parliament building in protest, Canada moved inexorably towards becoming the prosperous Parliamentary democracy that it is today. 

So I find it just a bit irksome, that we’ve got a political elite in Québec, still peddling the Patriotes’ message of ‘liberty’, and ‘liberation’, and ‘defence of the French fact’, when in fact, their leader, Mr. Papineau, the very year that full parliamentary democracy was achieved in Canada in 1849, thereby realizing one of the main goals of the Patriotes 11-12 years earlier, supported  a document which was signed and supported by not only the English-speaking business class of Montréal, but by French-speaking members of his own family, called the Annexation manifesto, calling for Canada to be annexed to the U.S., so that Montréal merchants could gain access to U.S. markets for their grain exports, which had been wiped out by Britain’s new free trade policies of 1846, when they revoked the Corn Laws, so as to flood the British Isles with cheap grain to assuage the rising cost of living demands of British labourers. 

Papineau and his family thought it would be great to join the U.S., since we’d get rid of the British Monarchy and become a Republic. But did he give some thought as to what would become of the precious language of Molière, which was in fact being protected by the Crown, and would soon be engulfed if we had joined the ranks of the Great Republic. 

This is why I see more hope for Canada amongst its business leaders than its politicians. The Desjardins credit union, the biggest financial institution in French Canada, a multi-billion dollar operation, is now reaching out across Canada to English-Canadian credit unions all across the country, offering strategic partnerships in the sharing of information and data on Desjardins’ computer network, as well as sharing a common platform of financial products and services. 

All of this is in preparation for the almost certain near-future mergers between Canada’s big chartered banks, which everyone knows is going to cause many branches in small communities of our country to shut down in a push to consolidate operations. This has actually already begun, and Desjardins has already started reaching out to build the cross-Canada network of credit union infrastructure of the future, all of which is predicated upon there being a Canada with a common currency, economic, customs and political union to make it all function. 

So it’s no wonder our politicians are all out to lunch on this one. We can’t even have a holiday to start the summer that everybody agrees on: One part of the country celebrates the Monarchy, whereas another part celebrates those who tried, and continue to try and disestablish it. 

It could only happen in one place: Canada. No wonder I saw a young lad outside my place of work the other day walking by with a T-shirt emblazoned with the following inscription: ‘I love my country’ it’s the government I don’t trust!’ Wow, when the duly-constituted representatives of a country’s government, which are supposed to embody that country in all ways, are held in such poor esteem, what does that say about the state of democracy? 

Well, I know what democratic system I’m going to celebrate this long weekend. It’s the system which gave us the Magna Carta, the rule of law, Parliament, the Writ of Habeas Corpus, The Glorious Revolution, Confederation, Responsible Government, free speech, freehold tenure, universal suffrage, equality, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of conscience, and above all, a system of governance which has stood the test of time for close to one thousand years, and shows no signs of flagging: Constitutional Monarchy. 

So may I intone a time-honoured, yet perhaps much-maligned phrase which, unfortunately has fallen into disuse and disrepute in la Belle Province: God Save the Queen! And happy Victoria Day, by the way.

Article: Peter Stuart

About the author:

Peter Stuart is a freelance journalist and writer based in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. He has a degree in Canadian Studies from the University of Ottawa.
He has written Op-Ed pieces for the last ten years for publications including: Le Soleil, La Presse, Quebec Chronicle Telegraph and Impact Campus.
Peter writes in both French and English, and is currently working on the publication of his first book. 
You can read more of Peter’s work by visiting his blog.

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