Vive le Québec! Vive le Québec libre!
The influences that formed Acadiana are multiple. The arrival and establishment of the French, Creoles, Acadians and non-French speaking people, such Africans, Germans, Italians, Irish, Anglo-Americans, and many Native American tribes already there, are often mentioned. A Quebec friend recently brought to my attention that among all these links, we tend to forget those with La Belle Province. I had to admit that despite the crucial support that Quebec gave us to the beginning of the movement for the revival of French in Louisiana, we hardly mention their contributions. We must rectify this omission.
When Louisiana was founded as a colony in 1699, it was under the auspices of Iberville, born in Ville-Marie in New France, now Montreal, Quebec. New France existed from the arrival of Jacques Cartier in 1534 until the end of the Seven Years’ War and the Treaty of Paris in 1763. It consisted of Canada, Acadia and Louisiana. Admittedly, the vast Louisiana territory was part of this same zone, of this great American dream à la française, New France.
Since it was connected by the Mississippi, many of these French Canadians followed its course down to our present home. Menards and Larivieres, among others, arrived in Louisiana by this route. Among them were the coureurs des bois, or trappers, famous for their fur trade with the Indians. The difference between them and the Voyageurs (Travelers), also known as providers of animal pelts that satiated the appetite for the fashion of that time, is that the trappers did not have a hunting license from the King of France. Our habit of hunting out of season and without permission did not start yesterday.
Jumping ahead in time, we arrive in the Sixties. Quebec side, like elsewhere, these are pivotal years. The Quiet Revolution was a period in Quebec history marked by rapid social and political change. The election of Jean Lesage as Prime Minister in July 1960, followed by the creation of the Office of the French language the following year and that of the Minister of Education in 1964 are regarded as milestones. Almost overnight, a new identity was forged, fueling a separatist movement. The 1967 World Expo puts Montreal and all of Quebec on the international stage. But the year’s event that was going to shine a spotlight on Quebec took place on July 24. General De Gaulle, then president of the French Republic, appeared on a balcony in Montreal during an official visit and said these words that sent out a shock wave, “Vive le Québec! Vive le Québec libre!” The sentence instantly went around the world and put the name of Quebec on everyone’s lips, to the point that even the Chinese, according to the documentary that chronicles the visit The King’s Road, had to invent a new ideogram.
There probably is a strong connection between this declaration and the beginnings of CODOFIL. Several eyewitnesses told me the story of a slightly mysterious Frenchman who was alongside General in Montreal that day and, shortly thereafter, would have advised Mr. Domengeaux. I have heard several different versions. I was even told that it was he who prompted De Gaulle to utter his legendary words. It is certain that the Louisiana activists heard this cry from the heart and, without wanting to form a separate government as in Quebec’s case, were encouraged to continue the struggle for the survival of the French language in Louisiana. Quebec was one of the very first partners, along with France, to send French teachers beginning in 1972. A Quebec delegation, not quite a consulate because of its status as a Canadian province but almost, was present in Lafayette until the early Nineties. Since then, we have maintained close ties with Quebec, even if we do not talk as much about them as those with France and Acadia. The Mississippi River is a long but not always tranquil river that reminds us of our belonging to this great North American Francophone family.