Looking Back: Where have we come from?

Hello everyone,

I apologize for my absence over the past two or three weeks. I have had the whirlwind experience of moving in Montréal. I have moved from an area that was primarily Anglophone to an area that is much more of a mix. There are interesting challenges that I am experiencing now that you will be reading in these plays.

On excursions into our new neighbourhood, my partner and I have interacted with both French and English Montréalers. While I generally begin my conversations in French, he speaks in English. I have noticed a distinct difference in how we are treated when this happens. This has not been my experience everywhere in the city, but we now live in St. Henri, which is one of the older areas of town. Rue Vinet is just a mere two blocks away from us and that was the main artery for business until the 1960s when the city decided to level most of the surrounding area.

There is a pain here, a wound that has not healed. But there is also a sense of hope and a deeply rooted sense of community and courage. The area is being gentrified and revitalized. And so is the history. Museums, markets, squares, parcs, they are all named after someone in Québec’s vibrant history and the locals who have lived in the area for generations are more than happy to tell you all about it. It’s wonderful.

That is a long and personal introduction to an article that I am inviting you to read before I discuss the October Crisis, which will be in my next post. After a lot of thoughts, I have decided that it is better for me to focus on context in these entries rather than on playwrights and plot. Heather is doing such a great job talking about the plays and the authors, and Google can fill in the missing biographical information. But the context, the nuances of the political situation, and resources to help you better understand what was going on – that’s what I can help with.

And so, without any further ado, I am offering to you Quebec’s Theater of Liberation by Edwin Joseph Hamblet. This article was published in Comparative Drama in 1971, so just following the October Crisis of 1970. I would normally prefer to cite (or suggest) more recent articles, but as I am looking through the historical lens, this one is actually the right article to read. Hamblet provides an overview of the theatre situation with regards to nationalism and the politics of the times from Gratien Gélina’s Ti-Coq (1948) to Robert Gurik’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic into Hamlet, Prince of Québec (1968). His article takes the historical context I have provided in my blogs thus far and applies it to the major theatrical works of the mid 20th century.  It will solidify for you what both Heather and I have been discussing in our posts. ~AB, Dramaturg


The Quiet Revolution – Part Two: Our Nation’s Capital? But I thought that was Ottawa…

Nations Capital SignWhen you drive into Québec City, you see a sign welcoming you to “The Nation’s Capital”. Considering Ottawa is the capital of Canada, and the province of Québec is not its own country, this seems a bit odd, right?

To understand this, we have to think back to the early history that I went through in my first blog. By the end of the 18th century, Québec was controlled by the British. By the mid-nineteenth century, Québec was attached permanently to the Anglophone part of the country in the Union Act. Not only that, the legislature surrounding the ability to be a member of a governmental body and the language of the proceedings, limited the positions of power mainly to the English-speaking citizens even in Québec.

This dynamic continued and by the 1960s, the slow simmer came to a boil. Built-up resentment caused by English control over business and politics led to a generation of young Québecois feeling restless and seeking change. In response, Lesage and his government sought to give more autonomy to Québec, having the provincial government develop various provincial programs, such as welfare, health care, and state universities and colleges.

The question of unity with Canada was also a very fraught topic during the Quiet Revolution. There were two clear opposing sides: those who believed Québec’s place was as part of Canada and those who believed Québec should separate and become its own entity.

The Parti liberal du Québec (PLQ), under Lesage, sought to reform the government and social systems in Québec, giving the province more power and more autonomy. But they campaign was about change, not revolution. They were not advocating for the separation from Canada.

The Union Nationale Party, which had been in power for 18 years prior to the defeat by the PLQ under Lesage, also did not advocate for separation from Canada. The party was formed initially as a coalition between the Action libérale nationale and the Conversative party, and so their policies supported conversatism (which is what the PLQ opposed). The Party was led by its founder, Duplessis, until his death in 1960. The Party won one more election in 1966, but was defeated by the Liberal Party with Robert Bourassa at its helm in 1970.

The Parti Québecois (PQ) was formed in 1968 and quickly became the new nationalist party of the province. Led by René Lévesque, the Party pushed for independence from Canada and in 1980 held a referendum to determine sovereignty. (As Québec is still part of Canada, it is clear that it was not successful.) We’ll get more into the PQ in the 1970s.

Finally, we have the Front de liberation du Québec (FLQ). This was the most radical political group and we will hear a lot more about them in 1970 when we touch on the October Crisis. The organization was created by Raymond Villeneuve, Gabriel Hudon and Georges Schoeters and was influenced by international political movements, such as the decolonization of Algeria. They sought to ‘decolonize’ Québec through any means necessary. In 1963 FLQ activists placed bombs placed throughout the Anglophone community of Westmount. The violent attacks and public political activity increased through the rest of the 1960s.

The Liberal Party of Canada, under Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, believed in a unified Canada, and that Québec should be a part of Canada. So, in 1963, he established the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (the Bi and Bi Commission). The Commission reviewed the relationship between French and English Canada and considered the role of Québec within the country as a whole. The Commission ultimately advised that unless a new and equal partnership between French and English Canada could be formed, Québec should separate.

In was under these conditions that playwright Michel Tremblay was writing. I will introduce you to him in my next blog!

In the meantime, The Canadian Encyclopaedia (available online) does an excellent job of summarizing each of the parties I have discussed and who their major participants were.

Here is a useful article on the Royal Commission: https://slmc.uottawa.ca/?q=change_course_rights

~A.B., dramaturg

The Quiet Revolution – It was so quiet we never heard it… so what happened?

Over the next few entries, I am going to do my best to help you understand the questions and the players involved in the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s in Québec. I will also pause at times to introduce you so some of the playwrights we will encounter in this period. I am going to keep these as short as possible.

The term Quiet Revolution was coined not because there was little change, but because there was an incredible amount of change that happened, and there was very little revolt.

The Revolution began in 1960 when the Liberal government, led by Jean Lesage, was elected and took over from the Union Nationale party. The Liberal party’s campaign tag line was “Il faut que ça change” (Things must change). The previous government, led by Maurice Duplessis, promoted conservative, traditional ideals and rejected contemporary thought. Lesage led Québec into a period of intense modernisation.

In particular, there were drastic changes with regards to the church and economic systems. Previously the church had significant influence over many political and cultural systems. During the Quiet Revolution, that began to change. By the 1980s, in fact, it was the state that symbolized Québec cultural in Canada; it was no longer the church. This is an important thing to keep in mind as you read through these various plays.

In 1964, Paul Gérin-Lajoie was appointment the first Minister of Education in Québec in almost 100 years. The church until that time had been responsible for administering the education system. Schools maintained their designation as Catholic or Protestant (which at one point meant Catholic French and Protestant English), but the education system was secularized. Laws around marriage and the roles of women also changed during this period, widening the gap between Church and State (legal recognition of equality of spouses and divorce being allowed!). Here are some good resources discussing the secularization of Québec:




Economically, Québec began to see itself as more self-reliant in the 1960s. Large government-controlled and public companies became symbols of Québec’s autonomy, its nationhood. One example is the centralization and expansion of Hydro-Québec that happened beginning in 1962 under René Lévesque, Lesage’s Minister of Natural Resources. The Quiet Revolution was a catalyst for plans to build more dams and turn Hydro-Québec into a literal powerhouse for the province. Here are some resources to help understand the economic reforms (the first one is a very good overview of the whole Quiet Revolution):



The book “Recent Social Trends in Canada 1960-2000” edited by Lance W. Roberts, Rodney A. Clifton, Barry Ferguson, Karen Kampen and Simon Langlois provides a broad overview of the changes that have occurred in those 40 years and is a good reading companion for these plays to get a sense of their contexts. – A.B., dramaturg


Indigenous Peoples in Canada: A vital piece of history that should have been included in my first post

I was planning to write my first entry on the more modern history of Québec today, but yesterday I was reminded of something that was much more important that needs to be addressed first. I took part in Montréal’s annual Museum Day. 34 museums across the city open their doors and allow people to come in for free. Considering I work in the arts, this was an excellent opportunity to experience a lot of art and history without breaking the bank. So a plan was formed and executed to maximize the number of museums I would get to see. I got to ten museums in just over 7 hours. It was an intense experience, but one that reminded me how rich my country’s heritage is. It also reminded me that I MUST NOT take anything for granted, including the euro-centric path that our discussions will likely take.

Many of the plays that we will be reading focus on the tensions and relationship between the French and English, i.e. the colonists, the settlers, the Europeans. But that does not mean the discussion of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada is any less important; in fact, it is vital to highlight it.

Montréal’s motto is “Concordia Salus”, which translates to “salvation through harmony”. The crest, designed by former mayor Jacques Viger and adopted in 1833, includes a rose (for the English), a thistle (for the Scots), a clover (for the Irish), and a fleur de lys (for the French). Viger designed the crest to in say that these peoples of four different backgrounds should and need to be able to live in harmony.

But what about the Indigenous Peoples?

In elementary school we are taught several of the myths and legends from the Indigenous cultures in our local areas. At my school, we were taught how to make moccasins and were bussed out to Saint-Marie-Among-the-Hurons to see an “authentic native settlement”. Efforts were made to make sure our nearly 100% school population was aware that the Indigenous Peoples were here first and were important, but it was cursory and has me now scratching my head wondering what to say next.

I do not want to short change this important discussion, but I am also very conscious of the fact that I know far less about this part of Canada’s history, and thus am going to direct you towards resources that I believe will provide more useful information than I will. I am also very conscious of the fact that you are hearing about this history through my voice, and not the voice of an Indigenous person. And so, the last link that I am leaving you with below is one that will lead you to find Indigenous theatre artists talking about their work and their history.

I will, however try to provide a brief overview. The Indigenous peoples have been in Canada for over 12,000 years. So in the grand scheme of things, Europeans have been here for less than a twentieth of that amount of time. They had trade routes, settlements and communities set up long before the European colonists arrived. The French arrived first in 1534 (see my previous post for more European settler history), followed by the British. Both colonial powers set up alliances with the First Nations (the Indigenous Peoples) and formed commercial trade relationships, most notably the fur trade. Competition between various groups, as well as different goals and interests between the First Nations and the Europeans led to violent outbursts throughout the 16th and 17th centuries.

In 1701, France and forty First Nations groups signed the Great Peace in Montréal, a treaty that ended the attacks and promised sharing of the lands and resources. The fall of Québec in 1760 ended this treaty as the British overtook the French rule of what is now Canada. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 (enacted by the British) established procedures for all commercial dealings with the First Nations, including a statute limiting the purchase of land from a First Nation to the Crown and the Crown alone. This was the first document that publicly (and governmentally) recognized the First Nations rights to land.

Expansion of the colonies in the early to mid-1800s led to more and more land being surrendered by First Nations, leaving them with less access to hunting grounds and resources. They became dispossessed peoples on their own land. By the time of the War of 1812 the British saw the First Nations, who were prosperous and independent, as a threat, so they were satisfied with taking more and more away from them. In 1836 Sir Francis Bond Head established Manitoulin Island in Georgian Bay as a reserve for First Nations peoples who had lost their land. This began the government’s not-so-subtle push to move First Nations away from “civilised” society and onto well-defined, colonially controlled reserves.

The First Nations are recognised in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, protecting their languages and their cultures. A charter of any sort, however, cannot protect their dignity and respect. Reconciliatory moves have been made, but we are still on the journey towards a place of mutual respect, acknowledgement and equality.

That being said, the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (ADDNDC – a division of the federal government) has put together some amazing resources that provide a good overview of the history of the First Nations, as well as information regarding the distinctions between the different aboriginal communities in the country, as there are almost as many unique groups as there are counties in the EU. Here is the link to their site: https://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1307460755710/1307460872523.

As this is a theatre conference, I also want to link you to the Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance of Canada (http://ipaa.ca/). There you can find information about current aboriginal artists, practices, and collaborations.

Finally, I encourage you to visit http://spiderwebshow.ca/cdncult and read the three short articles that make up Volume 3, Edition 5 of #CdnCult. They are reflections on indigenous performance practices and are written by artists and theatre practitioners that just participated in The Repast, a retreat at Manitoulin Island focussed solely on Indigenous performance in Canada. ** NOTE: These articles will be coming out tomorrow!!**

I hope that this provides at least a glimpse at this historical perspective. I hope that in my future blogs I can find a way to weave them together, as they should not live separately.

I also promise that my future blogs will be shorter. — A.B., dramaturg


Québec 1759 – 1867: Summing up over 200 years of French-English relationship in Montréal in one post? (Deep breath.) Here we go.

My name is Alison Bowie and I am a bilingual theatre artist and scholar working and living in Montréal, Québec. I want to begin my blogging for this project by positioning myself in the conversations regarding Canadian and Québécois theatre identities.

Let me be clear: I do not claim to be an expert in all things Québécois or French Canadian. I am originally from Kingston, Ontario – about a three-hour drive from Montréal. My family is Anglophone, but attended school in French until university through the French Immersion program. I attended Queen’s University, an English institution, for undergrad and studied history, including some Canadian history. I then moved to Mississauga, ON (near Toronto) and was immersed in the Franco-Ontarian culture and community, as my job was to develop a French educational arts program for an Anglophone arts centre. Through my research and the professional relationships I built, I learned a great deal about the history of the Franco-Ontarian struggle to maintain French in Ontario.

I decided to go back to school and entered the Dramaturgy MFA program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, another Anglophone institution. By stepping outside of my own country, I was able to get perspective on the rather similar pluralities of identity that exist within Canada and myself. I identify as culturally and linguistically bilingual. I do not see myself as having one singular identity. I have spent my life weaving my way between the French and English worlds that have existed around me and in me, and they both make up who I am today. This realization opened me up to seeing the identity crisis that has existed in Canada for most of its existence because of the settler culture and multiplicity of voices in Canada (French, English, First Nations), all of whom have been vying for language rights, cultural claims and power for centuries. My thesis project at UMass explored the linguistic and cultural stakes of translation in Canadian theatre texts. I have now returned to Canada, to Montréal specifically, to continue my research as a PhD student at Concordia University.

That brings me to today. Professor Louis Patrick Leroux is my lead advisor for my PhD studies and he connected me with Heather for this project. I am excited to provide some context for the plays that you are going to read. I cannot emphasize enough that there is no one way of looking at the history of Québec. There is no way to look at each and every side to each and every event that has happened through the history of Québec and Canada. Therefore, I am not even going to try. My goal is to explain the political and cultural crises that were occurring around the time that these plays were written. I am going to explain what the ideas were and who were the main players. I am going to offer a way into these plays that is based in a historical context and seeks to spark conversation and questioning. I will provide a timeline of events and biographical information about the creators.

Now it is my turn to ask: Where do I begin? The cultural conflicts that exist in many of these plays, i.e. those plays that deal with French-English relationships, politics, and/or language rights, are rooted in the history of the French-English relationship from 1759 and the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. I can’t sum up two hundred years of history in one blog entry and even remotely do justice to the complexity of the issues at hand. But I will try to give you an understanding of what happened. Québec City and Montréal were founded in 1608 and 1642 respectively. The French set up trade roots, commercial enterprise, and their lives, in that area. On the eve of September 13, 1759 the British attacked Québec City – and won. A year later, in 1760, after several more battles, the French had been pushed back into Montréal and on September 8 Governor Vaudreuil officially surrendered to the British army on the terms of a treaty of capitulation. In 1763 as part of the Treaty of Paris (Seven Years’ War), France gave New France to the British.

Throughout the remainder of the 18th century, various acts were passed granting or withdrawing religious, political, language, and land rights to or from the French. Paired with an influx of British colonists, it was decided in 1791 and ratified by the Constitutional Act of 1791 that the colony be divided in two: Upper and Lower Canada (Ontario and Québec respectively). I would suggest looking at the terms of the Act, as they are far too complicated to explain here. The important cultural phenomenon that came out of the Act was that it created an English-Protestant province (Upper Canada) and a French-Catholic province (Lower Canada) each with their own separate governing bodies. This created an us/them dynamic with strict boundaries. The division of the province of Québec and the institution of two governing bodies did nothing to lessen the fissure between the French and the English. Not only were there two provinces in the same colony operating side by side under vastly different social, economic and political systems, but there was even disparity within the provinces themselves. In Lower Canada (Québec) in particular, the government’s Executive branch became known as the Chateau Clique, a small group of upper class families who controlled not only the government but also a great deal of the mercantile industry in the province. These families were primarily English even though the majority of the population of the province was French. The frustration with the government prompted the Rebellions of 1837, which took place in Upper and Lower Canada as they each had their own problems.

On November 1st, Seigneur Louis Joseph Papineau led the French Canadian nationalist group known as the Patriotes into a bloody battle in the streets of Montréal with British troops and English volunteers. The Patriotes were swiftly defeated, which led to widespread looting and burning of French Canadian settlements. Over three hundred people died during the rebellion and almost all of them were French. Although the Rebellions of 1937 seemed on the surface to have been failures (the rebel group in Toronto had no more success), they unsettled the British government and prompted the commission of the 1839 Report on the Affairs of British North America written by Lord Durham, which called for two things: responsible government and the union of Upper and Lower Canada.

This report led to the Act of Union of 1840, which once again united Upper and Lower Canada, placing French and English in direct cultural and linguistic conflict with one another. The Act of Union not only solidified the political structure, but also the cultural hierarchy. It determined that all government documents and proceedings would be written and performed in English. By the mid-nineteenth century expansion of the colonies required a change in structure, and prompted the British North America Act of 1867. This Act was designed to unite the provinces of Canada (Upper and Lower), Nova Scotia and New Brunswick into a single Dominion under the Crown of the United Kingdom. What began as Nouvelle France in the sixteenth century (Cartier first landed in Québec in 1534) had metamorphosed into the two independent provinces of Ontario and Québec as we know them today by the mid-nineteenth century. They were given separate provincial government systems, but were also subject to the rule of a central Canadian government controlled by the British Parliament.

Although a lot more could be said, I will leave this historical journey at this point. That does not mean that the conflict was over – far from it, in fact. Language rights, cultural oppression, and political influence continued to be (and continue today) sources of intense divergence and struggle, particularly in the multi-lingual and multi-cultural city of Montréal. In the upcoming blogs I will be focussing more on the crises of the twentieth century, particularly the 1960s and 1970s when many of the plays were written. I ask you, however, to keep this history in mind as we move forward towards the present.—-A.B., dramaturg