One of Canada's Assets, the Habitant
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 27 Apr 1922, p. 149-163

Taschereau, Hon. L.A., Speaker
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The French-Canadian farmer, "the habitant," as one of Canada's greatest assets, both from a moral and national standpoint. Characteristics of the habitant. A description of Quebec and the habitant, quoted from the writing of a Torontonian. 60,000 French-Canadians, mostly habitants, who stayed here after Canada was ceded to England in 1763. The appeal of the love of the fields they had cultivated, the lure of the mighty rivers and the dense forests. The habitant as the first Canadian and as a resistor of American penetration and American absorption. Progress and customs of the habitant. The myth of priest-ridden Quebec and its negative connotations. Feelings of mutual respect, active co-operation, good understanding and true friendship between all creeds and all races in Quebec. Response to the charge that we have lost the valour and fighting blood of our ancestors. Peaceful pursuits of the habitants. Education and agriculture. How Canadianism is understood and practised in Quebec. The habitant as the bulwark of our nationality and to what that is due. Summary remarks in praise of the habitant.
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27 Apr 1922
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Full Text
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto,
April 27, 1922.

THE PRESIDENT, Sir William Hearst, introduced Mr. Taschereau who was received with three cheers and a tiger.


Mr. President and Gentlemen,--Some time last year, I signed a promissory note. It ran about as follows: "Three months after date, for no value received, I promise to deliver an address to the Empire Club, at Toronto." I had no endorser, otherwise he would have paid the note. However, I cannot complain; the note was renewed three times. But I felt that to ask for another renewal would mean the ruin of my credit here. My only hope is that, after I am through, I shall not be told that the renewal should have been granted even without any request from me.

I said, "for no value received," but I expect something in return, and the object I have in view will appeal to the spirit of true Canadianism which, I am


Mr. Taschereau was educated at Quebec Seminary and Laval University (LL.L., 1889; LL.D., 1908), and called to the Bar in 1889. He was a partner of Chief Justice Fitzpatrick and of Hon. S. N. Parent, and later Minister of Public Works and Labour in the Gouin administration; he is now Premier of Quebec. An able lawyer, a good administrator and a pronounced imperialist.


sure, fills your hearts and will make you kind and lenient towards a son of a sister province, who has French blood in his veins, whose mother tongue is not yours, but who, during all the days of his life, has been pleading for unity, good-will, toleration and mutual respect among all Canadians.

I have often been told that in this country of magnificent distances, this land of high mountains, great lakes and mighty rivers, we should know one another better and live in closer contact, and that Canadian unity will be achieved only by constant and cordial intercourse between the different provinces and races.

With this end in view, I wish, in the few moments at my disposal, to dwell upon what I consider one of Canada's greatest assets, both from a moral and national standpoint. I refer to the French-Canadian farmer, the habitant, as he is called.

I will tell you of his marvellous development, of his honest, frugal and laborious life, of his respect for law, religion and authority, of his love for his country. I will attempt to dispel, in your minds, some false ideas that may have found lodgment there and, if I successfully make my case, I shall be fully rewarded for having imprudently signed my promissory note:

Let me confess, at the outset, that in no place do I feel more at ease in dealing with the life of our Quebec farmers than in Ontario, blessed as you are with a farmers' government.

But let us go back to Quebec.

The best description of that province and of the habitant which I ever read was written by one of your people. Allow me to make a short quotation.

"Quebec is the last refuge and asylum of the ancient liberties of the people on this continent. It is bounded on the South by the Benighted States, on the East by a late spring, on the West-I think my friend said--by the Methodist regime, and on the North by the bowels of the earth.

The people of Quebec are chiefly engaged in minding their own business, an attitude which arouses the resentment and occasionally the mirth of the rest of the continent. It makes them so very conspicuous.

The individual in Quebec is known as the habitant, a simple creature who hath an abiding and childlike faith in God, and for this reason is regarded by the rest of the hemisphere as practically helpless. He does not believe that the legislature can save his soul and actually puts a reverent and adoring faith in the mighty church to which he belongs. He breeds the finest orators, the best poets, the most capable politicians and the most subtle statesmen on the continent. He goes to Mass in the morning and then goes fishing in the afternoon, in spite of the injunction: 'Thou shalt keep holy the Sabbath Day.'

He is given to large families, another eccentricity which makes many people tired. They get married and the Lord looks after them till the cows come home. They get married with a recklessness that fills the rest of the world with dismay and wonder. But it works out all right. . . We would all love Quebec better if she did not look down on the rest of us. She is out of patience with us for sending her missionaries. She objects to being put in the same category with the heathen Chinee, the man-eaters of the Cannibal Islands and the Head Hunters of Borneo. . . There's the trouble, you can't understand Quebec!"

I have helped you to this dainty little dish, prepared by a Torontonian, as an entree. I will now myself take care of the balance of the menu.--When Canada was ceded to England in 1763, by the Treaty of Paris, 60,000 FrenchCanadians, mostly habitants, remained here and passed under British rule. The love of the fields they had cultivated, the lure of the mighty rivers and of the dense forests was stronger than the appeal of old France. Having been the first Canadians they wished to remain Canadians for ever and ever. Quebec was their home. Some of you perhaps, when sailing to England, will say that you are going home. The habitant knows no other home than the bit of Canada where he was born, where he raised his children, where the old folks sleep in peaceful rest under the shadows of the little country church. He was the first Canadian, and, bear well in mind, he will be the last, because, better than any of his fellow-countrymen, he will resist one of the great national dangers; American penetration and American absorption.

And See His Marvellous Progress.

When France left us, we were 60,000. France's population was then 20,000,000, and has about doubled in 150 years. But, thanks especially to the habitant, the French population on this continent is now over 3,000,000; it has increased fifty fold.

Although he is not a Mormon, the habitant's family, in respect to numbers, is second to none of those which are the State of Utah's pride. I have been told that one of my ancestors had thirty-six children. Families from twelve to twenty are frequent.

I do not know what the present census will show, but are you aware that the census of 1911 tells us that Ontario, with a population of half a million more than Quebec, had 32,000 children under five years less than her sister province.

Some years ago, Mr. Mercier, the then Prime Minister of Quebec, gave a grant of 100 acres of public lands to each father of twelve living children. After a short time, the Legislature had to repeal the Act, as the whole public domain would have passed into the hands of those enterprising fathers who, at a later period, might have been called profiteers.

In my own county of Montmorency, I obtained for a good habitant the 100-acre grant. The next year he again renewed his application, and when I reminded him that he had already received his reward, he very calmly handed me the baptismal certificate of his twenty-fourth child. He claimed that he, or at least his good wife, was entitled to a second grant.

These large families are one of the best assets of our province. From six or seven to fourteen years of age the children go to the village school and afterwards the boys work with the father on the farm.

Some economists will claim that birth control and smell families are the signs of an advanced civilization. I do not wish to Gross swords with them, but I think that large families are the indication of something else. They are God's reward to a studry, contented and happy people who welcome every little comer as a new settler who will open up the forest, till the land and help the old folks, some day, when hard work and life's miseries have bent their heads and broken their strength.

Girls marry at an early age and make of the stork a rather busy bird. Hs is never told to make himself scarce.

Some of the boys, too many perhaps, go to the cities, but a very large percentage keep to the land. The father and mother usually select one of their sons and make him a gift of the homestead with all its equipment. It is one of the most touching customs of our country life. The old farm is thus never divided; for centuries some of them have remained in the same families. The old folks reserve for themselves a room in the house, the use of a cow, some clothing and a few delicacies. The donee agrees to take good care of his parents, feed them at his table, drive them to church, bury them with many prayers for the repose of their souls, and thus, as in the fairy tale, they lived happy until the Reaper raps at the door. But death has no terror for those good people. They have been taught since childhood and they believe that death is not the end, but the beginning of better and happier days.

The life of the habitant is a strenuous one. The eight-hour day is unknown to him. He works hard and the first years of a new settler are particularly difficult. He has an instinct, stronger than his will, that his mission is to open new lands and always go deeper and farther into the forest. Many a young man, with his wife, his axe and barely anything more, leaves the homestead, buys a government lot, builds a log cabin, for several years makes a living out of the wood that he cuts, and finally finds himself the lord of a well cleared farm, with good buildings; abundant crops and scores of head of cattle. You have here the secret of the miraculous foundation of most of our new and prosperous settlements.

The habitant takes a law-suit with all the enthusiasm of a game. A crooked fence, a disputed boundary-post, or a trespass, anything will serve as a cause, so long as he can get into the court-room with all the excitement and matching of wits that is his delight. It is his favourite form of dissipation.

Quebec is not Priest-Ridden.

But, we are sometimes told: your habitants are uneducated, their methods of farming are primitive, antiquated; they have lost all the valour and fighting blood of their ancestors and--supreme reproach--they are priest-ridden. Some of you may have believed all this. On behalf of the habitants of my province I plead not guilty to all and each of those four charges, and I will try to dispel any misconception which you may have in your minds with respect to them. I will at once deal with the last.

"Poor priest-ridden Quebec!" will exclaim some of our sympathetic friends with a shrug of the shoulders and a wave of the hand, true symptoms of real compassion for us. If by priest-ridden is meant the sympathetic interest in the welfare of their people of a virtuous and educated clergy, who saved Canada to England in 1776 and 1812, then Quebec is priest-ridden.

Parkman, whose impartiality nobody will suspect, writing on the subject, says

"One great fact stands out conspicuous in Canadian history--the Church of Rome. More even than the royal power she shaped the character and the destinies of the colony. She was its nurse and almost its mother. Confusion; if not. anarchy, would have followed but for the pariah preists, who, in a character of double paternity, half spiritual and half temporal became more than ever 'of order throughout Canada."

Priest-ridden? But does the teaching of Christian virtues and loyalty to the King by those whose mission it is to educate the people deserve an appellation which is meant as a reproach? And let us look at the results.

I will give to Ontario the credit of being a religious, peaceful and moral province. But how does it compare with priest-ridden Quebec? Statistics are sometimes illuminating.

Ontario's population is about twenty percent larger than Quebec's. In 1919, criminal charges in Quebec numbered 4,823 and in Ontario 10,647. In the same year, condemnation for various offenses numbered 34,801 in Quebec and 53,215 in Ontario. Might I add that in our 1,400 municipalities, 1,200 have not even a peace officer. Nevertheless quiet and order reign better than elsewhere.

Are we not told every day that in priest-ridden Quebec labour conditions are such in regard to sanity, respect of law and property, that we are quoted far beyond our boundaries?

Any observer will tell you that the chief factor in the successful colonization of our province is the Cure. He groups the settlers, lives with them, shares their hardships, encourages them and helps them to build their schools. I will also venture to add that nowhere on this continent is there a better feeling of mutual respect, active cooperation, good understanding and true friendship between all creeds and all races than in Quebec.

Fighting Blood Not Extinct.

I now pass to the next charge. We have lost, we are told, the valour and fighting blood of our ancestors.

I will not deal with the incidents connected with the last war. History must not be written too soon. The recital of this dark period will be told some day when passions have died out. It will explain many events now too close to us. It will, I am sure, recall the deeds of the glorious Twenty Second Battalion whose ranks have been refilled ten times during the war. But let us go farther back into the past.

Who successfully resisted and fought the American invasions of 1775 and 1812? Who are the men who fought and died in 1837 to give to Canada the British constitution which is our pride today? Little bits of history are often very instructive.

Last year I made a pilgrimage to the small village of Saint Eustache, near Montreal, where in 1837 the battle of that name was fought. The church where the patriots, commanded by Chenier, took refuge, fought and died, still bears the scars of the cannon balls and bullets fired by the troops. After eighty-five years have rolled past, the good people of the village show you these marks which they keep as precious relics.

The battle was fought on a cold winter night. I happened to find a description of it by a habitant who took an active part in it. He tells it in his own way. I do not wish to excuse a rebellion, but the story is so simple and touching, it shows so well the spirit of the men of 1837, that I cannot resist the temptation to read it to you, sorry, however, that my translation does not do complete justice to the patriot's words. It runs as follows

"Before the arrival of the troops, about sixty patriots had hidden in the bush, on Mr. Ferri's farm. I went to the church with my two brothers. We located ourselves in the steeple. We cut the steps leading to the steeple, so that no one could leave his post. Many had no guns, but Chenier, Guitard and Deslauriers encouraged them. Chenier, our commandant, was the handsomest man of Canada and so brave!

Those who had no guns had scythes, or sabres made of scythes, or daggers. I had one of those attached to my belt. Before the fight our men were given un coup, a drop; after that, until the following day we had nothing to eat or drink.

The fight started at nine in the morning. We were firing from the windows of the church, while other patriots were loading the guns-mine became so hot that I hardly could hold it. The troops withdrew seven times. We shot the gunners at their guns.

Towards evening the troops fired red cannon balls at the church which was set on fire. When the fire became too hot, we had to leave; the flames were everywhere around us. Chenier then said:

'My friends, I told you that I would die rather than run away: I will keep my word. Those who wish to withdraw may do so, but I will die here.' Deslauriers shouted: 'I also: Guitard added: 'So will I: ,

We came down from the steeple with much difficulty and left the church. I jumped from the window into the cemetery, followed by Chenier, Deslauriers and Guitard.

The sun had set, but the burning church lighted the night. Chenier, Deslauriers and Guitard fired from the cemetery. Three times they reloaded their guns, climbed on the wall and shot. The third time they fell and were killed by the soldiers.

I ran away over the frozen river. It was frightfully cold. We were discouraged and said, 'Let us try to go to our homes: I arrived at my house at midnight. The house was full of women; they were weeping. The next morning we were arrested.

In passing through the village, I saw Chenier's body. His chest had been cut open and his heart was protruding. One of the soldiers told me: 'See what a rotten heart your Chenier had!'

I was questioned by an officer: 'Who is your Captain?' 'I have none. I came to fight to defend my country. It is not against the Queen; but the Queen is too far to protect us. I thought it was my duty to fight those who came to attack us.'
'Did you fire on the troops?'
'As much as I could, my gun became red hot.'
'Did you kill someone?'
'I saw many soldiers fall, but we all fired and I cannot say if I killed any.' 'If the Queen required your services, would you serve?' 'I would.' The officer then told me: 'Go home, now'--and I left."

This man spoke like an old Roman soldier, and allow me to tell you that his race is not extinct in our province.

May I be permitted, in this connection, to mention the record of my family.

In 1810, Jean-Thomas Taschereau, one of the editors of "Le Canadien," a newspaper published at Quebec, was arrested by order of Sir James Craig. Soldiers entered the office of "Le Canadien" and destroyed the press. Mr. Taschereau was sent to jail for "Treasonable practices." After three months of confinement, he was released without any trial. Shortly after, Sir George Prevost replaced Sir James Craig. Jean-Thomas Taschereau was then appointed commandant of the battalion of "La Nouvelle Beauce," and this traitor, at the head of his battalion, made up of habitants from Beauce, fought, under de Salaberry, the American invasion, at the immortal battle of Chateauguay, in 1812. A few years later he was appointed a judge of the Court of Queen's Bench. The grandson of this good Canadian is happy to recall this incident to a Toronto audience.

But let us leave the battlefield and return to the peaceful pursuits of our habitants.

Are they uneducated and are their methods of farming obsolete and antiquated? All French states men or travellers who have visited our province are struck by the comfortable houses and outbuildings of our farmers, the number and modern type of their agricultural implements, and the easy life they lead as compared to the French peasant.

I crave your indulgence again here if I have to give you a few figures; they will show the progress achieved by the Quebec habitants in a very few years. The results of the last federal census are not yet available, but our Provincial Bureau of Statistics is quite reliable.

Total crops in Quebec in 1911 were valued at $76,325,000, and in 1920 at $330,217,000. During the same period the value of farm animals increased from $94,926,000 to $206,814,000; butter and cheese, one of our principal industries, jumped from $15; 650,000 to $37,000,000, and agricultural implements from $27,000,000 in 1901 to $54,984,000 in 1911. These wonderful results are not the outcome of loose and unprogressive methods.

If agriculture is on the wane, surely the rural population would decrease. We find the reverse, and you must admit that we are faring better than you in this respect. In 1901 our rural population was 992,667 and yours 1,246,969. In 1911 the same population, in Quebec, increased to 1,032,618 and yours went down to 1,194,785. In 1921, according to the municipal statistics of both provinces, our farmers increased to 1,181,158 and you experienced another decrease; you stood then at 999,919,-Quebec's rural population twenty years ago.

I do not quote these figures to show that our habitants are better farmers than yours,--I do not believe that,--but merely to prove that rural life, in Quebec, is attractive and profitable which would be impossible, in these days of keen competition, if the habitant was not progressive and modern in his methods.

Is He Educated?

I will not deal with our institutions of higher education. Let me say only that our classical colleges in the Province of Quebec, twenty-one in number, are second to none on the continent. Founded many years ago, several of them taught French and English, Latin and Greek to their pupils long before Toronto became a city; four languages taught to our young men, and take it from me it is rather hard to be familiar with two! This teaching is given by devoted priests who receive in return an annual stipend of $100.00. They never go on strike for higher wages or shorter hours of labour.

But education has penetrated everywhere. All our country children go to school and the results are most gratifying. We have today in the Province of Quebec 7,706 schools, 19,118 teachers and 553,381 pupils.

The percentage of enrolment of pupils in attendance all over Canada is 67.83 and in Quebec 75.09, or almost eight percent above the average. Surely such results show that our youngsters attend school and the habitants understood the importance of education.

Ten years ago the total expenditure on education in Quebec, from all sources, government and ratepayers-amounted to $6,210,000. We closed last year with a total of $19,201,405, or an increase of over 200 per cent. in ten years. I invite comparisons from the sister provinces where a tear is occasionally shed on our poor ignorant habitant.

How Canadianism is Understood and Practised.

Gentlemen, there is one thing we do realize in backward Quebec from a national standpoint: it is the necessity of education. We feel that we can hold our own, preserve our nationality, do our share in this Dominion and contribute to Canada's great future only by equipping our rising generation with a thorough education.

We know, whether all will agree with us or not, that in Canada, the two nationalities, distinct as to language, traditions and ethnical customs, but united in their purpose, in their loyalty and in their spirit, are essential to Canadian life. The blending of the two greatest races of the world, in a common effort, on broad and generous lines of mutual respect and sympathetic understanding cannot breed a weak and degenerate nation.

We know further that the habitant is the bulwark of our nationality because he has retained all the ancestral virtues, because the ill-wind of unrest, foreign penetration, modern luxury, bolshevist preachings pass over his head, because in his happy home rises a generation that will follow in his footsteps.

I may perhaps surprise you, but I will state that the FrenchCanadian habitant wishes to retain the tie to the Mother Country as much as any of you. You are British by birth, by surroundings and by sentiment; he is British by reason and by interest. In our materialistic age, reason and interest are often stronger than sentiment.

The habitant knows well that Canada's future status must be our present one, independence or annexation to the United States. He dreads annexation, having learnt that French Louisiana lost all that he wants to retain, when it fell into the American melting pot. He fears independence, well aware that the helping hand of England would no longer protect his laws and some other things which he dearly loves. The present regime has taught him that under the British tie he has found liberty, freedom and an unhampered development. This tie he will retain for many years to come.

A Great Canadian Asset.

I may be an optimist, my praise of the habitant may go too far, but I cannot but admire this honest, sturdy, vigorous and contented son of the soil. The closer you come to him, the more you study him, the better friend you become of this great Canadian asset.

The hand of Providence is mightier than the hand of man; the vision of Providence goes further into the future than ours. If Providence, three centuries age, sent to our shores those brave men who opened Canada to civilization, crossed it from ocean to ocean, explored its mighty rivers and fertile plains; if always undaunted, under a mysterious guidance, they became the pioneers of the Canada of today of which we are so proud, if they threw the seed of the rich harvest of which we are now the reapers, if they were the fountain from which have sprung three millions of sturdy Canadians who have retained their faith, their language and their traditions, surely Providence has so willed and has its mysterious designs.

Gentlemen, this race cannot die. Our century of good-will, education, enlightment and toleration will not and cannot destroy what centuries of hardships and persecutions have been unable to undermine.

The habitant is a Canadian as good as any of us; he is an asset to our country; Canada is his home; he is your friend. Be his friend. He admires your province, your wealth, your enterprise, your spirit of true Canadianism. In return give him good British fair-play; over the imaginary line which divides the two provinces stretch out to him a hand of friendship which he will grasp, for he knows that British institutions mean freedom, liberty, good-will and respect for minorities.

People of Ontario, this is the great English Province of Canada, you claim to be on this continent the depositaries of true British institutions. We must therefore look to you to be their exponents and the apostles by whom they will be taught and practised in this new world. Your duty is to have them cherished here as they are in every land under the British flag. (Prolonged applause)

SIR WILLIAM HEARST expressed the thanks of the members to Hon. Mr. Taschereau for his very interesting and instructive address.

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One of Canada's Assets, the Habitant

The French-Canadian farmer, "the habitant," as one of Canada's greatest assets, both from a moral and national standpoint. Characteristics of the habitant. A description of Quebec and the habitant, quoted from the writing of a Torontonian. 60,000 French-Canadians, mostly habitants, who stayed here after Canada was ceded to England in 1763. The appeal of the love of the fields they had cultivated, the lure of the mighty rivers and the dense forests. The habitant as the first Canadian and as a resistor of American penetration and American absorption. Progress and customs of the habitant. The myth of priest-ridden Quebec and its negative connotations. Feelings of mutual respect, active co-operation, good understanding and true friendship between all creeds and all races in Quebec. Response to the charge that we have lost the valour and fighting blood of our ancestors. Peaceful pursuits of the habitants. Education and agriculture. How Canadianism is understood and practised in Quebec. The habitant as the bulwark of our nationality and to what that is due. Summary remarks in praise of the habitant.