This Day. The Summer Solstice and Quebec’s National Holiday

186 years of National Day celebrations

On June 24, 1834, 186 years ago, Ludger Duvernay, founder of the patriotic institution Aide-toi le ciel t’aidera (God helps those who help themselves) inaugurated this day as the National Day of the fledgling Quebec nation and dedicated the first toast to “the people, the primary source of all legitimate authority.” Ever since, “this celebration, the purpose of which is to cement the union between Canadiens,”[1] is the occasion to celebrate, through music and song, gatherings, parades and neighbourhood activities, who we are as a people, where we come from and where we are going. It is a multi-dimensional celebration of the season, very much like the summer solstice and celebrates the need for us all, of diverse social and national backgrounds, to come together and take stock of our common history and social relations.

This year, National Day is adapting itself to the physical distancing measures imposed by the pandemic. A performance with over 40 artists, accompanied by 14 musicians, a chorus and dancers will be filmed and televised on June 23 by Quebec’s four main television networks. This year’s theme is “All of Quebec Joins Together,” and the poster, as described by the organizers, represents “two people two metres apart, looking towards the future hopefully and in solidarity, under the rainbow that so aptly depicts this historic moment we are experiencing in spite of ourselves. The painting effect crystallizes the poster’s protagonists so that one day we can recall that during these times of great vulnerability, all of Quebec came together to better envision a promising future and happier days.”

The ruling elite claims that “Quebec is united” in the fight against the pandemic. In fact, the people are united but the rulers make decisions which go against the interests of the people. Evidence of this are the ministerial orders giving full power to the government’s executive branch to undo previously negotiated arrangements with health and social services workers to unilaterally change their working conditions, which are the conditions that ensure the health and safety of all. The conflict between the Conditions and the Authority has become even more acute. This brings forward as never before the need to establish a modern state of Quebec and a new basis, one in which power is vested in the people to decide upon all matters of concern to them.

National Day is an opportunity to reflect on how to ensure the building of a modern Quebec that defends the rights of all, one which is at the forefront of inspiring the Canadian people as a whole to move forward and build a new society that vests the sovereign power in the people and defends the rights of all.

On the occasion of Quebec’s National Holiday, the Marxist-Leninist Party salutes the people, especially the youth, for the determination with which they defend the rights of all, irrespective of the colour of their skin or the religious beliefs of any of the human beings who make up this modern Quebec. The determination to speak out in one’s own name and defend the path of social progress for the people of Quebec, Canada and all the peoples is strongly expressed and is cause for celebration on this National Day.

By drawing on their own rich history and profound expression of what it means to live together, the peoples of Quebec and Canada and the Indigenous peoples are moving towards renewal. What must be dealt with is the issue of how to empower the people to decide upon all matters of concern to them. Finding a solution to the problem of who decides is the most unifying quest there is.

Happy National Day!

Note

1. La Minerve, June 26, 1834.


Quebec Patriots inaugurate National Day in 1834

June 24: 1834: Ludger Duvernay and the members of the Aide-toi, le ciel t’aidera Society establish June 24 as Quebec’s National Day | http://www.fetenationale.qc.ca

Referring to a banquet held on June 24, 1834, the patriot newspaper La Minevre, whose purpose was to “spread education especially in the agricultural class and defend the Just Claims of Canadiens,” published an article which said: “This celebration, the purpose of which is to cement the union between Canadiens, will not be fruitless. It will be celebrated every year as the National Day.” Ludger Duvernay, founder of the patriotic organization Aide-toi et le ciel t’aidera (God helps those who help themselves) and publisher and editor of La Minerve, led the initiative. 

An explicitly political celebration, the first National Day was established within the context of the struggle of the inhabitants of Lower Canada to affirm their rights against the British Crown. In fact, in February 1834, 92 resolutions were passed by the House of Assembly of Lower Canada demanding greater control by citizens over the economic and political decisions made in the colony.

Without waiting for a decision from London, the celebration of the first National Day was organized in the garden of the lawyer MacDonnell. More than 37 toasts and speeches were made, all of them saluting the enlightened ideas of the time and the people defending them. The first toast was to the people as “the primary source of all legitimate authority, and the day we are celebrating.”


Far from division on the basis of language or national origin – which has been imposed on us by the past and present Anglo-Canadian state arrangements – participants highlighted the contribution of the Irish patriots such as Daniel Tracey, founder of the Irish Vindicator and Canada General Advertiser, who supported the demands of the people of Lower Canada seeking to exercise control over their destiny.

The struggle of William Lyon Mackenzie and of the “other reformers of Upper Canada” to assert the rights of the nascent nation of the day was also toasted. The arrival of British citizens in Lower Canada was also welcomed. The Patriots who were present at the banquet, La Minerve reported, celebrated “Emigration: May the thousands of British subjects who come every year to seek asylum on our shores against the abuses and oppression they are suffering in their native country, such will not take place amongst us and may they find the welcome they deserve! They will form with the people of Canada an impenetrable and irresistible phalanx against tyranny.”

A specific toast was also raised to the “artisans and working classes of Montreal and of this country in general. May education continue to spread among society’s useful members; may they procure the well-being and ease that their work deserves.”

The first National Day also began another tradition that is alive and well today – that of offering songs and poems to celebrate Quebec’s nationhood.

Note

1. La Minerve, February 12, 1827.


Summer Solstice and Quebec’s National Day

Originally, Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day was intimately tied to the celebrations surrounding the summer solstice. On the days between June 21 and 24, the longest of the year, activities were organized to pay tribute to the sun as they had been since time immemorial. A tribute to the light, bonfires served as public rejoicing in what was Gaul and northern Europe. The summer solstice is still celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, Iceland, England, Peru, Ecuador, Canada and other countries

In what was to become Quebec, the bonfire tradition was noted by the Jesuit Louis LeJeune on the banks of the St. Lawrence in 1636. In 1646, the Journal des Jésuites reported that “on the 23rd of June a bonfire is lit on Saint-Jean’s Day at eight-thirty in the evening. Five cannon shots were fired and the muskets were fired two or three times.” New France was largely rural at that time. The rhythm of work was linked to the seasons, and the solstice provided a few moments of respite and entertainment before the start of the big haymaking and harvest work.

The Church, through the Council of Trent (1545-1563), attempted to Christianize the solstice 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 that was intended for the Canadiens, noted that the Catholic Church in the New World – the colonies of the French empire – considered that ceremony acceptable so long as the “dances and superstitions” of the Indigenous peoples were banished.

When Ludger Duvernay and the elected members of the Patriot Party inaugurated the National Day of the nascent Quebec nation, they did so within a spirit very different from the orientation desired by the Church. Historians like Leopold Gagner, quoted in Denis Monière’s biography of Duvernay, said that Duvernay had been influenced by St. Patrick’s Day, which for the Irish is “a precious instrument for the reclamation of their freedom and rights.”

Today, it is noteworthy that on June 21, National Indigenous Peoples Day, a “Solstice of the Nations” takes place. It is “an expression of exchange and friendship amongst the nations living in Quebec.” The Fire Ceremony held by the Indigenous nations is “to encourage closer ties amongst the peoples living on Quebec’s 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 Quebec people’s National Day celebrates the Patriots who fought for independence from Britain in the mid-19th century: Nelson, De Lorimier, Côté, Chénier, Duvernay, O’Callaghan and many others. They fought to establish an independent homeland and republic that vests sovereignty in the people. It includes celebrating all those who have espoused and those who 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.

Summer Solstice Celebrations in Kinawit, Val d’Or, June 21, 2019.

More summer solstice celebrations on the occasion of National Indigenous Peoples Day 2019 Top: Quebec City; bottom: Saguenay

Note

With files from:

– La Saint-Jean-Baptiste, 1634-1852, in Mélanges historiques Études éparses et inédites de Benjamin Sulte, compiled, annotated and published by Gérard Malchelosse; and

– Le réseau de diffusion des archives du Québec.

(Photos: Val d’Or Native Friendship Centre, Quebec City Native Friendship Centre, Saguenay Native Friendship Centre)

TML Weekly, Volume 50 Number 22 – June 20, 2020

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