Sketches of Quebec


If you love a certain country, for its natural beauty, or for the friends you have made there, or for the happy days you have passed within its borders, you are troubled and distressed when that country comes under criticism, suspicion, and reproach.

It is just as it would be if a woman who had been very kind to you and had done you a great deal of good were accused of some unworthiness. You would refuse to believe it. You would insist on understanding before you pronounced judgment. Memories would ask to be heard.

That is what I feel in regard to French Canada, the province of Quebec, where I have had so many joyful times, and found so many true comrades among the _voyageurs_, the _habitants_, and the _coureurs de bois._

People are saying now that Quebec is not loyal, not brave, not patriotic in this war for freedom and humanity.

Even if the accusation were true, of course it would not spoil the big woods, the rushing rivers, the sparkling lakes, the friendly mountains of French Canada. But all the same, it hurts me to hear such a charge against my friends of the forest.

Do you mean to tell me that Francois and Ferdinand and Louis and Jean and Eugene and Iside are not true men? Do you mean to tell me that these lumbermen who steer big logs down steep places, these trappers who brave the death-cold grip of Winter, these canoe-men who shout for joy as they run the foaming rapids,--do you mean to tell me that they have no courage?

I am not ready to credit that. I want to hear what they have to say for themselves. And in listening for that testimony certain little remembrances come to me--not an argument--only a few sketches on the wall. Here they are. Take them for what they are worth.



September, 1894

In one of the long stillwaters of the mighty stream that rushes from _Lac Saint Jean_ to make the Saguenay--below the _Ile Maligne_ and above the cataract of Chicoutimi--two birch-bark canoes are floating quietly, descending with rhythmic strokes of the paddle, through the luminous northern twilight.

The chief guide, Jean Morel, is a _coureur de bois_ of the old type--broad-shouldered, red-bearded, a fearless canoeman, a good hunter and fisherman--simple of speech and deep of heart: a good man to trust in the rapids.

"Tell me, Jean," I ask in the comfortable leisure of our voyage which conduces to pipe-smoking and conversation, "tell me, are you a Frenchman or an Englishman?"

"Not the one, nor the other," answers Jean in his old-fashioned _patois._ "M'sieu' knows I am French-Canadian."

A remarkable answer, when you come to think of it; for it claims a nationality which has never existed, and is not likely to exist, except in a dream.

"Well, then," I say, following my impulse of psychological curiosity, of which Jean is sublimely ignorant, "suppose a war should come between France and England. On which side would you fight?"

Jean knocks the dottle out of his pipe, refills and relights. Then, between the even strokes of his paddle, he makes this extraordinary reply:

_"M'sieu, I suppose my body would march under the flag of England. But my heart would march under the flag of France."_

Good old Jean Morel! You had no premonition of this glorious war in which the Tricolor and the Union Jack would advance together against the ravening black eagle of Germany, and the Stars and Stripes would join them.

How should you know anything about it? Your log cabin was your capitol. Your little family was your council of state. Even the rest of us, proud of our university culture, were too blind, in those late Victorian days, to see the looming menace of Prussian paganism and the conquer-lust of the Hohenzollerns, which has plunged the whole world in war.



February, 1917

The "Schools" building, though modern, is one of the stateliest on the Main Street. Here, in old peaceful times, the university examinations used to be held. Now it is transformed into a hospital for the wounded men from the fighting front of freedom.

Sir William Osier, Canadian, and world-renowned physician, is my guide, an old friend in Baltimore, now Regius Professor of Medicine in Oxford.

"Come," he says, "I want you to see an example of the Carrel treatment of wounds."

The patient is sitting up in bed--a fine young fellow about twenty years old. A shrapnel-shell, somewhere in France, passed over his head and burst just behind him. His bare back is a mass of scars. The healing fluid is being pumped in through the shattered elbow of his right arm, not yet out of danger.

"Does it hurt," I ask.

"Not much," he answers, trying to smile, "at least not too much, M'sieu'."

The accent of French Canada is unmistakable. I talk to him in his own dialect.

"What part of Quebec do you come from?"

"From _Trois Rivieres,_ M'sieu', or rather from a country back of that, the Saint Maurice River."

"I know it well--often hunted there. But what made you go to the war?"

"I heard that England fought to save France from the damned Germans. That was enough, M'sieu', to make me march. Besides, I always liked to fight."

"What did you do before you became a soldier?"

"I was a lumberjack."

(What he really said was, _"J'allais en chantier,"_ "I went in the shanty." If he had spoken in classic French he would have said, _"J'etais bucheron."_ How it brought back the smell of the big spruce forest to hear that word _chantier_, in Oxford!)

"Well, then, I suppose you will return to the wood-cutting again, when this war is over."

"But no, M'sieu', how can I, with this good-for-nothing arm? I shall never be capable of swinging the axe again."

"But you could be the cook, perfectly. And you know the cook gets the best pay in the whole shanty."

His face lights up a little.

"Truly," he replies; "I never thought of that, but it is true. I have seen a bit of cooking at the front and learned some things. I might take up that end of the job. _But anyway, Im glad I went to the war."_

So we say good-by--_"bonne chance!"_

Since that day the good physician who guided me through the hospital has borne without a murmur the greatest of all sacrifices--the loss of his only son, a brave and lovely boy, killed in action against the thievish, brutal German hordes.



The wild little river _Sainte Marguerite_ runs joyously among the mountains and the green woods, back of the Saguenay, singing the same old song of liberty and obedience to law, as if the world had never been vexed and tortured by the madness of war-lords.

A tired man who has a brief furlough from active service is lucky if he can spend it among the big trees and beside a flowing stream. The trees are ministers of peace. The stream is full of courage and adventure as it rushes toward the big sea.

We are coming back to camp from the morning's fishing, with a brace of good salmon in the canoe.

"Tell me, Iside," I ask of the wiry little bowman, the best hunter and fisher on the river, "why is it that you are not at the war?"

"But, M'sieu', I am too old. A father of family--almost a grandfather--the war is not for men of that age. Besides, it does not concern us here in Quebec."

"Why not? It concerns the whole world. Who told you that it does not concern you?"

"The priest at our village of _Sacre Coeur,_ M'sieu'. He says that it is only right and needful for a good Christian to fight in defense of his home and his church. Let those Germans attack us here, _chez nous_, and you shall see how the men of _Sacre Coeur_ will stand up and fight."

It was an amazing revelation of a state of mind, absolutely simple, perfectly sincere, and strictly imprisoned by the limitations of its only recognized teacher.

"But suppose, Iside, that England and France should be beaten down by Germany, over there. What would happen to French Canada? Do you think you could stand alone then, to defend your home and your church? Are you big enough, you French-Canadians?"

"M'sieu', I have never thought of that. Perhaps we have more than a million people--many of them children, for you understand we French-Canadians have large families--but of course the children could not fight. Still, we should not like to have them subject to a German Emperor. We would fight against that, if the war came to us here on our own soil."

"But don't you see that the only way to keep it from coming to you on your own soil is to fight against it over there? Hasn't the English Government given you all your liberties, for home and church?"

"Yes, M'sieu', especially since Sir Wilfred Laurier. Ah, that is a great man! A true French-Canadian!"

"Well, then, you know that he is against Germany. You know he believes the freedom of Canada depends on the defeat of Germany, over there, on the other side of the sea. You would not like a German Canada, would you?"

"Not at all, M'sieu', that would be intolerable. But I have never thought of that."

"Well, think of it now, will you? And tell your priest to think of it, too. He is a Christian. The things we are fighting for belong to Christianity--justice, liberty, humanity. Tell him that, and tell him also some of the things which the Germans did to the Christian people in Belgium and Northern France. I will narrate them to you later."

"M'sieu'," says Iside, dipping his paddle deeper as we round the sharp corner of a rock, "I shall remember all that you tell me, and I shall tell it again to our priest. You know we have few newspapers here. Most of us could not read them, anyway. I am not well convinced that we yet comprehend, here in French Canada, the meaning of this war. But we shall endeavor to comprehend it better. And when we comprehend, we shall be ready to do our duty--you can trust yourself to the men of _Sacre Coeur_ for that. We love peace--we all about here _(nous autres d'icite)--but we can fight like the devil when we know it is for a good cause--liberty, for example._ Meanwhile would M'sieu' like to stop at the pool _'La Pinette'_ on the way down and try a couple of casts? There was a big salmon rising there yesterday."

That very evening a runner comes up the river, through the woods, to tell Iside and Eugene, who are Selectmen of the community of _Sacre Coeur,_ that they must come down to the village for an important meeting at ten o'clock the next morning.

So they set off, quite as a matter of course, for their thirty-five mile tramp through the forest in the dark. They are good citizens, as well as good woodsmen, you understand. On the second day they are back again at their work in the canoe.

"Well, Iside," I ask, "how was it with the meeting yesterday? All correct?"

"All correct, M'sieu'. It was an affair of a new schoolhouse. We are going to build it. All goes well. We are beginning to comprehend. Quebec is a large corner of the world. But it is only a corner, after all, we can see that. And those damned Germans who do such terrible things in France, we do not love them at all, no matter what the priest may say about Christian charity. They are Protestants, M'sieu', is it not?"

"Well," I answer, hiding a smile with a large puff of smoke, "some of them call themselves Protestants and some call themselves Catholics. But it seems to me they are all infidels, heathen--judging by what they do. That is the real proof."

_"C'est b'en vrai, M'sieu',_" says Iside. "It is the conduct that shows the Christian."



The famous citadel of Quebec stands on top of the steep hill that dominates the junction of the Saint Charles River with the Saint Lawrence. That is Cape Diamond--a natural stronghold. Indians and French, and British, and Americans have fought for that coign of vantage. For a century and a half the Union Jack has floated there, and under its fair protection the Province of Quebec, keeping its quaint old language and peasant customs, has become an important part of the British Empire.

The Upper Town, on the high shoulders of Cape Diamond, with its government buildings, convents, hospitals, showy new shops, and ancient gardens, its archiepiscopal palace, trim theological seminary, huge castle-like hotel, and placid ramparts dominating the _Ile d'Orleans_ with rows of antiquated, harmless cannon around which the children play--the Upper Town belongs distinctly to the citadel. The garrison is in evidence here. A regimental band plays in the kiosk on Dufferin Terrace on summer evenings. There is a good mixture of khaki in the coloring of the street crowd, and many wounded soldiers are seen, invalided home from the front. They are all very proud of the glorious record that Canada has made in the battle for freedom. Most of them, it seems to me, are from English-speaking families. But by no means all. There are many of unmistakable French-Canadian stock; and they tell me proudly of the notable bravery of a certain regiment which was formed early from volunteers of their own people--hunters, woodsmen, farmers, guides. The war does not seem very far away, up here in the region of the citadel.

The Lower Town, with its narrow streets, little shops, gray stone warehouses, dingy tenements, and old-fashioned markets, is quite a different place. It belongs to the slow rivers on whose banks it drowses and dreams. The once prosperous lumberyards are half empty now. The shipping along the wharfs has been dwindling for many years. The northern winter puts a quietus on the waterside. Troops, munitions, supplies, must go down by rail to an ice-free port. The white river-boats are all laid up. But a way is kept open across the river to Levis, and the sturdy, snub-nosed little ice-breaking ferry-boats buffet back and forth almost without interruption. There is a plenty of nothing to do, now, in the Lower Town; pipe-smoking and heated discussion of parish politics are incessant; an inconsiderate quantity of bad liquor is imbibed, _pour faire passer le temps._

Suddenly--if anything can be said to happen suddenly in Quebec--bad news comes from the Lower Town. A riot has broken out, an insurrection of the French-Canadians against the new military service act, an armed resistance to the draft. Windows have been smashed, shops looted. A mob, not very large perhaps, but extremely noisy, has marched up the steep curve of Mountain Hill Street, into the Upper Town. Shots have been exchanged. People have been killed. The revolution in Quebec has begun.

That is the disquieting rumor which comes to us, carefully spread and magnified by those agencies which have an interest in preventing, or at least obstructing the righteous punishment of the German criminals in this war. Can it possibly be true? Have the French-Canadians gone crazy, as the Irish did in 1916, under the lunatic incantations of the Sinn-Feiners? Are they also people without a country, playing blindly into the hands of the Prussian gang who have set out to subjugate the world?

No! This riot in the old city is not an expression of the spirit of French Canada at all. It is only a shrewdly stupid trick in local politics, planned and staged by small-minded and loud-voiced politicians who are trying to keep their hold upon the province. The so-called revolutionists are either imported loafers and trouble-makers, or else they are drawn from that class of "hooligans" who have always made a noise around the Quebec hotels at night. They shout much: they swear abominably: but they have no real fight in them. They can be hired and used--up to a certain point--but beyond that they are worthless. It is a waste of money to employ them. The trouble below Cape Diamond froths up and goes down as quickly as the effervescence on a bottle of ginger beer. Before you can find out what it is all about, it is all over. It has not even touched the real French-Canadians, the men of the forests and the farms. They are loyal by nature, and slow by temperament. You have got to give them time, and light.

What is happening in Quebec now? Just what ought to happen. The draft is going forward smoothly and steadily, without resistance. Sons of the best French-Canadian families are volunteering for the war. Recruits from Laval University are coming in, stirred perhaps by the knowledge that forty thousand Catholic priests in France have entered the army which fights against the Prussian paganism.

The petty politicians who have sought to serve their own ends by putting forward the mad notion of secession and an independent "Republic of Quebec" have gone to cover under a storm of ridicule and indignation. M. Bourassa's iridescent dream of French-Canadian nationalism has disappeared like a soap-bubble. M. Francoeur's motion in the Quebec legislature, carrying a vague hint that the province might withdraw from the Dominion if the other provinces were not particularly nice to it, was snowed under by an overwhelming vote. The patriotic and eloquent speech of the provincial Premier, M. Gouin, was received with every sign of approval. The political cinema has shown its latest film, and the title is evidently _"Fidelite de Quebec."_

Meantime a Catholic missioner has been in the province. The visit of Archbishop Mathieu of Saskatchewan was probably made on the invitation, certainly with the consent, of the hierarchy of Quebec. That intelligent and fearless preacher brought with him a clear and ringing gospel, a call to all Christian folk to stand up together and "resist even unto blood, striving against sin"--the sin of the German war-lords who have plunged the world in agony to enforce their heresy that Might makes Right.

Such a message, at this time, must be of inestimable value to the humble and devout people of the province, attached as they are to their church, and looking patiently to her for guidance. The parish priests, devoted to their lonely tasks in obscure hamlets, may get a new and broader inspiration from it. They may have a vision of the ashes of Louvain University, the ruin of Rheims Cathedral, wrought by ruthless German hands. Then the church in Quebec will measure up to the church in Belgium and in France. Then the village cure will say to his young men: "Go! Fight! It is for the glory of God and the good of the world. It is for the Christian religion and the life of free Canada."

"Well, then," says the gentle reader, of a sociological turn of mind, who has followed me thus far, "what have you got to say about the big political problem of Quebec? Is a French-speaking province a safe factor in the Dominion of Canada, in the British Empire? Why was Quebec so late in coming into this world war against Germany?"

Dear man, I have nothing whatever to say about what you call the big political problem of Quebec. I told you that at the beginning. That is a question for Canada and Great Britain to settle. The British colonial policy has always been one of the greatest liberality and fairness, except perhaps in that last quarter of the eighteenth century, when the madness of a German king and his ministers in England forced the United States to break away from her, and form the republic which has now become her most powerful friend.

The perpetuation of a double language within a state, an _enclave_, undoubtedly carries with it an element of inconvenience and possibly of danger. Yet Belgium is bilingual and Switzerland is quadrilingual. If any tongue other than that of the central government is to be admitted, what could be better than French--the language of culture, which has spoken the large words, _liberte, egalite, fraternite?_ The native dialect of French Canada is a quaint and delightful thing--an eighteenth-century vocabulary with pepper and salt from the speech of the woodsmen and hunters. I should be sorry if it had to fade out. But evidently that is a question for Canada to decide. She has been a bilingual country for a long time. I see no reason why the experiment should not be carried on.

Quebec has been rather slow in waking up to the meaning of this war for world-freedom. But she has been very little slower than some of the United States, after all.

The Church? Well, the influence of the Church always has depended and always must depend upon the quality of her ministers. In France, in Belgium, they have not fallen short of their high duty. The Archbishop of Saskatchewan, who came to Quebec, preached a clear gospel of self-sacrifice for a righteous cause.

But the plain people of Quebec--the _voyageurs_, the _habitants_, my old friends in the back districts--that is what I am thinking about. I am sure they are all right. They are very simple, old-fashioned, childish, if you like; but there is no pacifist or pro-German virus among them. If their parochial politicians will let them alone, if their priests will speak to them as prophets of the God of Righteousness, they will show their mettle. They will prove their right to be counted among the free peoples of the world who are willing to defend peace with arms.

That is what I expect to find if I ever get back to my canoemen on the _Sainte Marguerite_ again.

SYLVANORA, July 10, 1918.


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