The image of the French Canadian "race" in English Canada : English Canadian attitudes toward French Canada, 1880-1920

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Date
1990
Authors
Bellay, Susan.
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This thesis is a study of English Canadian racial images of French Canada during the Great War period, a time of intense crisis in the history of English-French relations. I have also examined certain broader issues from the 1890s to 1910s, a time in which both the general question of English-French relations and the resurgence of the bilingual schools controversy led up to the war-time debate over conscription. English Canadian popular attitudes toward French Canada were not so much based on their observations of French Canadian society, but on certain beliefs that English Canadians had about French Canadian life and culture. These beliefs emerged most clearly in English Canadian popular and scholarly opinion about the bilingual schools and conscription crises of 1916-1917. As S. F. Wise and David Potter have indicated, the attitudes of one nation or people towards another have less to do with the reality of the nation being observed, and more to do with the values and attitudes important to those doing the observing. English Canadian observations of French Canada during the 1910's reflected English Canadian beliefs about the nature of Canadian society, about the cultural composition of the wartime Canadian nation, and about the position of French Canadians within Canadian society and politics during this time. In many ways, these attitudes represent the attempts in English Canada to adjust to the circumstances of the war period, and to define both a clear national direction and a new relationship to the British empire. They also include a fixed image of French Canada based on prior beliefs and conceptions about French Canadian character, and about what made that "character". English Canadian popular attitudes towards French Canada were as varied as the political beliefs of the war period, and were at least as distinct as the number of sources from which this study is drawn. But if there was a common feature to the English Canadian response to French Canada, it was the conception that French Canadians were racially different from the rest of Canada, and that French Canadians presented a special problem to Canadian unity. French Canadians were described as a "race" and certain behaviours and attitudes were attributed to their racial origin and to the peculiarities seen by English Canadians in their culture. The concept of "race" itself was never clearly defined. However, the term "race" was used by English Canadians to describe the characteristics of peoples. While rooted in a biological concept of different cultures, the term became, by war's end, a synonym for social and cultural characteristics. This thesis is an examination of the changing concepts of the French Canadian "race," and of the varying ways in which these concepts were expressed in English Canadian popular opinion. In particular, this study concerns English Canadian literate opinion, based on periodicals, articles and books referring directly to the "French-Canadian" question and the French Canadian "race". I have examined the ways in which literate public opinion reacted to the "problem of Quebec" in the bilingual schools and conscription crises. English Canadians in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Canada used the word "race" to describe both the biological and cultural characteristics of French Canadians. Rather than qualify the term "race" with italics throughout the thesis, I have let the early twentieth century idiom stand throughout...
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