Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Le Rocket vs. Le Père de la Nouvelle-France

Le chroniqueur humoristico-sportif Olivier Niquet commente dans sa chronique dans Métro, offrant "Sept raisons pourquoi Maurice Richard est meilleur que Samuel de Champlain".  Elles sont tellement bonnes que je ne peux résister à la tentation de les recopier in extensio :

1. Samuel de Champlain n’a jamais joué pour Canadien.

2. Samuel de Champlain n’a pas compté cinq buts après avoir déménagé de Honfleur à Québec. Il n’en a même pas compté un.

3. Maurice Richard, en participant à l’insu de son plein gré à la révolution tranquille, a rénové un Québec bâti tout croche sur les bases de Samuel de Champlain.

4. Samuel de Champlain a peut-être fondé Québec, mais Maurice lui, il a coaché les Nordiques. Pendant deux matchs. Mais c’est deux matchs de plus que Champlain.

5. Samuel de Champlain a fait la guerre aux Iroquois pendant 14 ans. Maurice Richard a fait la guerre aux Blackhawks pendant 18 ans.

6. Samuel de Champlain n’a jamais été nommé gouverneur de la Nouvelle-France alors que Richard a été capitaine de Canadien.

7. Samuel de Champlain patinait sur la bottine (selon des sources).
Ha!  Merci, Olivier Niquet.



Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Bridge Too Far

A digital rendering of the as-of-yet-non-existant "Maurice
Richard" or "Champlain" bridge.  Image: Infrastructure Canada.

On November 1st, it was announced that the federal government would likely name the new bridge which will be built across the St. Lawrence River, linking the Island of Montreal to the south shore, in honour of hockey legend Maurice "Rocket" Richard. Fine.  Trouble is, though, that this bridge is set to replace another one which has borne the name of Samuel de Champlain since 1962. 

Let's be clear: federal spokespeople insist that the name has not been finalized yet.  Still...  The rumour that the new bridge might be given a name other than Champlain's had been circulating for the last two years or so.  Because this is a federal bridge, the choice of its name rests with the federal -- i.e. Harper Conservative -- government.  You would think that they might have thought long and hard about the thorny politics of naming, and taken good care to consult widely, but no.  That is not the governing party's style.  Neither historians, nor experts in toponymy, nor provicincial nor local politicians, nor the people were consulted.  The announcement earlier this week that the federal Minister of Transport, Denis Lebel, prefers the name "Maurice Richard" was accordingly met with generalized outrage.

Henri Dorion, who has long presided over the Commission de toponymie du Québec, put it well: "Donner le nom d'un ouvrage d'une telle importance à un joueur de hockey, je n'en reviens pas. C'est comme dire que Maurice Richard est aussi important que Champlain."  Political scientist Alain-G. Gagnon also summed it up neatly, saying that « le ministre Lebel opte pour le spectacle plutôt que la longue histoire ».  Historian Denis Vaugeois too offered a thoughtful analysis of the situation, noting that a lot of important place names have been lost and gained over the years, and that if a new name was truly necessary, "Maurice Richard reste le moins pire des choix".  But it's rather strange, he points out, that the federal government seems to remember the Rocket's abundant goals, and not so much the massive rioting that was provoked by the intersection of his fame with tensions across the linguistic divide in 1950s Montreal. 

The governing Parti libéral du Québec tried to wash its hands of the whole affair at first, saying that the choice of name was up to the federal government, but now seems to have come around to condemning the imprudence of the likely choice.  Philippe Couillard, the provincial premier, deplored quite rightly that "Ce qui est regrettable dans cette polémique, c’est qu’on met en opposition un peu artificielle deux personnages importants pour des raisons différentes".

François Hollande, the president of France, who happens to be touring Canada this week, has meanwhile been alluding to Champlain in his speeches, but has not dared to enter the fray. 

My favourite comment though was by a commenter who wrote in to La Presse, joking that Americans have not yet thought it wise to rename Lake Champlain "Babe Ruth Lake".  Indeed. 

For a taste of the media storm, just type "Pont Champlain" or "Champlain Bridge" in GoogleNews and hang on tight.

Given the strength of the opposition and the federal's insistence that no official decision has been made yet, I expect that the old name will be retained for the new project.  Soon all of this will be... water under the Champlain bridge.  Groan.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Naufrage au Bullock


La Belle de Cavelier de Lasalle est de retour dans les nouvelles: ici, ici et ici.  Le Bullock Museum, à Austin au Texas, vient d'inaugurer son exposition "La Belle: The Ship That Changed History".


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Some shipwrecks you probably didn't know about

Design for "La Macrée".  Photo: L'Avantage and Alain Ross.
Shipwrecks, shipwrecks, shipwrecks.  Lately, it's been the lost ships of the Franklin expedition of 1848, especially the lost-no-more HMS Erebus.  Earlier this year, it was the Empress of Ireland, which sank in the lower St. Lawrence in 1914.  And you might recall the ongoing searches for Cavelier de La Salle's Griffon and d'Iberville's Pélican.  In case you haven't had enough yet, let me turn you on to the story of L'Aigle.  Bet you haven't heard about that one yet.

It was in the news this week because a fouresome of artists are currently working on a monument, entitled "La Macrée", to be built in Rimouski.  The local paper, L'Avantage, has the story here.   I quite like the preliminary design, show above.  The challenge will be to raise the $50,000 necessary for its construction.  Money, money, money.

In 1758, following the fall of Louisbourg, France sent a fleet of twelve ships to contribute to Canada's defense against the impending British invasion.  The admiral ship, L'Aigle, with three hundred troops on board, was wrecked at a place called Gros Mécatina along the Basse Côte-Nord, aka. the lower north shore of the St. Lawrence.  The two ships which Intendant Bigot sent to undertake salvage operations met the same fate.  They crashed into each other, actually.  Another ship, which may or may not have been called La Macrée, was more sucessful and managed to ferry the survivors to the small settlement of Rimouski where they spent a difficult winter.

This story is particularly interesting, because -- if I may dig a little deeper than L'Avantage's reporter -- it turns out that it is partly grounded in and clouded by oral tradition.  Well before traces of this event were found buried in the colonial archives, journalist and politician Jean-Charles Taché collected its echo from old timers in his native Rimouski and published it in the magazine Soirées canadiennes in 1865.  Charles Guay's Chronique de Rimouski (1875) republished Taché's text, adding a few other details apparently also drawn from local lore.  These accounts quickly get confusing, but Béatrice Chassée does the best job of untangling the facts and reconciling the archival and oral records in her Rimouski et son île (2003, pp. 32-35, available online here).  Worth a peek, if you like this sort of stuff.

Incidentally, Joseph-Charles Taché was the nephew of Étienne-Paschal Taché, who presided over the momentous Quebec Conference precisely 150 years ago this week.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Les Ursulines et l'Évêque en pélerinage

Le 2 avril 2014, le pape François canonisait Marie de l'Incarnation et François de Laval (voyez ce que Charlevoix en disait ici).  Un groupe de fidèles vient d'entreprendre, ce dimanche, un pèlerinage sur les traces des deux personnages.  Plusieurs Ursulines de Québec ainsi que le cardinal Lacroix, évêque actuel de Québec, sont eux-mêmes du nombre des pèlerins.  Après Paris, Montigny sur Avre, Chartres, La Flèche, Solesme et Tours, le groupe prendra la direction de Rome, où le pape célèbrera le 12 octobre une messe d’action de grâce en l'honneur des nouveaux saints.  Les intéressés pourront suivre leur trajet "virtuellement" grâce au portail ECDQ, celui de l'Espace Média de l'Église catholique du Québec, qui propose de suivre le groupe dans une série de vidéos : le départ, visite à St-Germain-des-Prés, etc.


Saturday, October 4, 2014

Early Fall Varia

In an op-ed for Le Devoir, Michel Morin took up the challenge posed by Christian Néron's crazy denial of the Treaty of Paris, to which I alluded in an earlier post.  Morin, a law prof at Université de Montréal, demonstrates how this treaty was perfectly in accordance with international law.  That settles that, then.

On September 14, a solemn mass was held at the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Québec to commemorate its 350th anniversary.  Pope Francis had New France on the mind, naming an envoy to preside over the mass and issuing a statement about the significance of the event, urging this envoy to "sweetly exhort the priests and faithful present there to follow Christ with perseverance and to venerate His Mother piously, as was the custom in these rather large regions."  Sweet, sweet exhortations.

In early September, CBC News - Nova Scotia published a story on Troilus de Mesgouez's failed attempt at settling Sable Island in 1598.  Another ill-fated, short-lived sixteenth-century settlement is the subject of an ongoing controversy.  Its precise location has never been clearly identified. Archaeologists have long thought that René Goulaine de Laudonnière's Fort Caroline of 1564-1565 was located on the banks of the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, Florida -- there's a "Fort Caroline National Memorial" there.  Maybe it wasn't. The issue was stirred anew back in February when someone made a presentation during a conference at Florida State University claiming that the colony was actually far to the north, in Georgia.  This and other theories were debated by two groups of scholars at the University of North Florida a few weeks ago (see here, and here).  Fight, fight, fight!

What else?  The Ganondagan site, which interprets Seneca history near Rochester, NY, held a reenactment of Cavelier de La Salle's visit in 1669.  Down au Pays des Illinois, there is a project afoot to expand the Bolduc House Museum in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, into an "expanded and rebranded tourist destination", a complex to be called "New France ... The Other Colonial America."  Neato.  In fair Belleville, Ontario, there is meanwhile a plan for a monument to commemorate to the 400th anniversay of Champlain's visit. 

That's all for now.

PS: dear readers, thank you for your patience while we fiddle around with our look.  It was time to get rid of the old Blogger template background.  But damn it, Jim, Charlevoix is an historian, not a damn graphic designer or web developer.


Sunday, September 28, 2014


Rameau par Carmontelle, 1760.
Photo: Musée Condé.
Cette semaine, quand vous aurez un instant à vous, prenez-donc le temps d'écouter Les Sauvages de Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764).  C'est, cette année, le 250e anniversaire du décès du compositeur, dont l'œuvre marque l'apogée du classicisme français.  Le Centre de musique baroque de Versailles coordonne d'ailleurs une programmation chargée en l'honneur de "l'année Rameau".
Si Rameau mérite de figurer dans les petits papiers de ce blogue, c'est en raison de ses Sauvages.  Il compose un premier rondeau sous ce nom en 1725 afin d'accompagner une démonstration de danse exécutée par des diplomates autochtones venus de Haute-Louisiane à Paris.  Rameau en reprend ensuite la partition dans un recueil de pièces pour clavecin en 1728, puis dans un Ballet réduit à quatre grands concerts en 1735.  Il adapte enfin les Sauvages en l'intégrant l'année suivante aux Indes galantes, son plus célèbre opéra-ballet. 

Les Indes galantes relatent des aventures amoureuses dans plusieurs contrées exotiques : en Turquie, dans l'empire inca, en Perse et -- dans le cas de la quatrième entrée, ou acte, qui correspond aux Sauvages -- chez les autochtones de l'Amérique du Nord.  L’intrigue ténue des Indes galantes sert surtout de prétexte pour présenter des danses, des costumes somptueux, des décors et des machineries inusitées.  Entendons-nous qu'il s'agit de "bons sauvages" stéréotypés ayant fort peu de chose à voir avec les autochtones de l'époque.  Chantent ainsi les deux protagonistes, Zima et Adario :
Forêts paisibles, forêts paisibles,
Jamais un vain désir ne trouble ici nos cœurs.