On June 24, the people of Quebec officially mark their National Day established in 1834 by the Quebec patriot Ludger Duvernay and the members of the Aide-toi, le ciel t’aidera Society (“God helps those who help themselves”). The Society was founded on March 8 of the same year with the aim to “provide a designated place for thought to discuss the country’s state of affairs” and “to rekindle the burning desire of love of country, either by shedding light on the deeds of those governing us, or by paying fair tribute to the eloquent and brave defenders of our rights.” Led by patriot and elected representative Ludger Duvernay who was the publisher and editor of the patriot newspaper La Minerve, the Society organized a banquet on June 24, 1834 in the garden of the lawyer MacDonnell to institute a national celebration for Canadiens of all origins (today, the term Quebeckers is used). It was the first celebration of the people of the nascent Quebec nation, in which Duvernay, the patriots, their elected representatives and their party recognized the people as “the primary source of all legitimate authority,” and in doing so also recognized their sovereignty.
This national celebration established by Duvernay and the elected members of the Patriot Party fell on the same date as Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day but was not the same. In fact Saint Jean Baptiste Day had been introduced long before by the King of France and the Catholic high clergy in the colonies of the French empire in opposition to the June 21 summer solstice celebrated by the Indigenous peoples.
The Church, through the Council of Trent (1545-1563), attempted to Christianize the solstice celebration – a celebration of light around a joyous bonfire – by replacing it with a portrayal of submission in the person of Saint John the Baptist, “the lamb of God.” In the same vein, in 1702, Monseigneur de Saint-Vallier in his Catechism for the Diocese of Quebec, intended for the Canadiens, noted that the Catholic Church in the New World (i.e., the colonies of the French empire) considered that ceremony acceptable so long as the “dances and superstitions” of the Natives were banished. It was not until 1908 that Pope Pius X – advocating the division of the Canadian people into so-called French Canadians and English Canadians, which the British empire was so determined to impose – named Saint John the Baptist as the patron saint of “French Canadians.”
Sixty years later, on June 24, 1968 and 1969, at a time the resurgence of Quebec’s movement for independence and people’s sovereignty was in full swing, this symbol of division and submission was swept aside and, once again, the National Celebration saw the people joyfully dancing around a bonfire.
It is noteworthy that today on June 21, National Aboriginal Day, a “Solstice of the Nations,” also takes place. It is “an expression of exchange and friendship amongst nations living in Quebec.” The Fire Ceremony is held by the Indigenous nations “to encourage closer ties amongst the peoples living on Quebec territory,” so that “the coals of that fire light up the bonfire of the Great Show of Quebec’s National Celebration, on the Plains of Abraham.”
The celebration of the National Day of the people of Quebec includes the celebration of the patriots, who fought for independence from Britain in the mid-19th century: Nelson, De Lorimier, Côté, Chénier, Duvernay and O’Callaghan, amongst others, who fought to establish an independent homeland and republic which vests sovereignty in the people. It includes celebrating all those who have espoused and continue to espouse the cause of the Quebec Patriots, in particular all those committed to elaborating a nation-building project commensurate with the needs of the times.
Source: TML Weekly, June 25, 2016 – No. 26. See also Chantier politique, June 24, 2016, English Edition No. 14