Parkman on New France and the French Canadians

With the Peace of Paris (1783) ended the checkered story of New France; a story which would have been a history if faults of constitution and the bigotry and folly of rulers had not dwarfed it to an episode. Yet it is a noteworthy one in both its lights and its shadows: in the disinterested zeal of the founder of Quebec [Champlain], the self-devotion of the early missionary-martyrs, and the daring enterprise of explorers; in the spiritual and temporal vassalage from which the only escape was to the savagery of the wilderness; and in the swarming corruptions which were the natural result  of an attempt to rule, by the absolute hand of a master beyond the Atlantic, a people bereft of every vestige of civil liberty. Civil liberty was given them by the British sword, but the conqueror left their religious system untouched, and through it they have imposed upon themselves a weight of ecclesiastical tutelage that finds few equals in the most Catholic countries of Europe. Such guardianship is not without certain advantages. When faithfully exercised it aids to uphold some of the tamer virtues, if that can be called a virtue which needs the constant presence of a sentinel to keep it from escaping: but it is fatal to mental robustness and moral courage; and if French Canada would fulfil its aspirations it must cease to be one of the most priest-ridden communities of the modern world.

Francis Parkman, writing in 1884, in Montcalm and Wolfe.

While the French Canadians may possibly have exchanged the rule of priests for that of sociologists, environmentalists and new-age gurus, they seem to have escaped the priestly regime that governed until 1960. Indeed so thoroughly have they fled the Church that formerly gave them their self-definition that attendance in Quebec hovers around 2 or 3% of the population.

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