National Geographic : 1935 Feb
OLD FRANCE IN MODERN CANADA BY V. C. SCOTT O'CONNOR AUTHOR OF "BEYOND THE GRAND ATLAS," IN THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE JACQUES CARTIER, pilot of St. Malo,* in Brittany, when he sailed away from the granite city of his fore fathers to look for China, was but fol lowing the instincts of his race. What matters it that he missed his mark by the width of the Pacific and most of North America, since he found Quebec and laid the foundations oT France in the New World? A small people of some 60,000 souls when Montcalm surrendered, cut off from their parent land and from their natural leaders by the stern arbitrage of war, the French Canadians have succeeded in retaining their cultural conditions, the faith in which they were born, and the language of their fathers, in the vast English-speaking world to which they were committed. To-day that small and beaten community has grown to a self-respecting population more than three million strong, with a char acter and endeavor of its own, yet still in spired by that "light, sane joy of life" which is a major contribution of France to the civilization of the world. Proud of their origins, and aware, almost to a man, each of his own descent, they re main Canadians above all and love nothing better on earth than their own vast Province of Quebec, whose boundaries extend over nearly 600,000 square miles, from Hudson Bay to Labrador and from New York State to Hudson Strait (see map, page 170). LOYAL TO OLD WAYS AND CUSTOMS At Quebec they have a splendid Parlia ment House of their own; and the historic Citadel, whose plans were approved by the Duke of Wellington, is now safely entrusted to their care. Lodged in the midst of a con tinent that is continually in pursuit of new ideas, they hasten slowly, careful of old cus toms, old loyalties, and old ways. It is in the knowledge of these things, obtained in the course of three visits to their country, and more particularly of one in winter, when the French Canadians are most at home, that I write these lines; yet I should hesitate to do so-so small the space, * See "St. Malo, Ancient City of Corsairs," by Junius B. Wood, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE for August, 1929. so big the subject-were it not that I came to know the lands of their origin well, at a time of life when the heart is open and the mind willing to enter into the spirit of another people. It came about simply enough. My father, thinking only of a summer vacation-which ran on to eighteen months-took a charm ing old Breton house in the vicinity of St. Malo, almost within sight of Jacques Car tier's manor, where the explorer passed in quietude the last years of his life, almost unnoticed, yet content. THE SHRINE OF CARTIER The River Rance, near by, which runs a short course to the sea, became almost as familiar to us as it must have been to him. He may well have been struck with cer tain similarities between it and the mighty river that gave him fame; for, like the St. Lawrence, it has a broad mouth, which con verts it from an inland water into an arm of the sea, and, though quiet and peaceful in its upper reaches, it has a tide that sweeps in toward it with magnificent power. At its narrow end it has for its Quebec the roman tic fortress of Dinan, scene of many a siege and battle. At St. Malo, where it enters the sea, the Rance can boast of a proud old city. St. Malo's bishops were great princes, tenacious of their sovereign rights; its history is as stirring as that of Quebec itself, its an nals showing centuries of conflict between France and England. Its archives are as fascinating and as scru pulously cared for as are those of Quebec; and its rich and splendid old Cathedral remains to this day the embodiment of its national life. Upon its stone floor, on a spot now marked by the piety of the French-Cana dian people, Jacques Cartier knelt to obtain a benediction before he sailed away again upon his great adventure in 1535. Its Museum contains the only surviving fragments of his ship, the Petite Hermine, found in the bed of the River St. Charles three centuries after his death; and in the records of the city there still is a list con taining the names of those who are believed to have sailed with him to Canada.