Quebec Studies

French Canadian Perceptions of Franco-Louisiana in the Late-Nineteenth Century

Quebec Studies (1999), 28, (1), 98–103.

Abstract

98 Research Note French Canadian Perceptions of Franco-Louisiana in the Late-Nineteenth Century By Preston Jones Sonoma State University In the introduction to "Quebec and Louisiana: The Civil War Years," published in Quebec Studies 23,1 wrote that I hoped my study would "contribute in a small way to the intercultural conversation encouraged...by Alfred Hero's Louisiana and Quebec: Bilateral Relations and Comparative Sociopolitical Evolution, 1673-1993" (Jones 1997, 73). The same is true of this research note. Before the American Civil War the images of Louisiana that prevailed in some quarters in Quebec were, as Hero writes, "rather naive, idealized, romantic, and otherwise unrealistic"(206). For example, in 1851 Louis-Antoine Dessaules wrote, incorrectly, that under the benificent American regime Louisiana's francophones had preserved a French civilization more hardy than that of Quebec's (Jones 76). By 1871 such romantic perceptions of the Louisianais in Quebec were in large measure a thing of the past, for it was clear by then that the French language in Louisiana was in sure decline. One response to this decline was the founding of several organizations devoted to preserving Louisiana's French language and culture. One of these was the Athénée louisianais, established in 1876. The wife of Alfred Mercier, the founder of the Athénée, was from Quebec (Hero 207) and soon after its estab­ lishment the Athénée enjoyed some associations, if tenuous ones, with Quebec nationalists in the Société Saint-Jean Baptiste. Indeed, some French Quebecers were honorary members of the Athénée (Chouinard 1881, 608).1 While these two organizations did enjoy some connections, it is clear that they did not maintain close contact.2 Thus, while the prominent FrenchCanadian intellectual Pierre-Joseph- Olivier Chauveau 3 publicly decried the fact that, unlike francophones from New England and Acadia, no Louisianais had attended the Fête nationale in Quebec City in 1880, the president of the Athénée was compelled to respond that he would have been pleased to attend the cele­ bration had he or any members of his organization ever been invited (Ibid.).4 Though this turn of events shows that links between French-speaking Louisiana and Quebec were less than robust even among nationalists in the late nineteenth century, it is worth noting that the images Chauveau and his Louisianais counterpart painted of each other's culture were still tinged with romance. For his part Chauveau called to his fellow Quebecers' minds "La Louisiane où un véritable réveil de l'idée nationale s'est produit à la suite des malheurs de la guerre civile," and he reminded his compatriots that in earlier times Louisiana's population was "pour nos pères comme la chair de leur chair, comme le sang de leur sang" (Ibid.). In turn, the president of the Athénée reas­ sured Canada's French-speakers of the Louisianais' "sympathies...pour leurs frères du Canada et de l'intérêt qu'ils portent à tout ce qui concerne l'avenir d'un pays auquel les liens du sang et les souvenirs d'une même mère-patrie rattachent l'ancienne population de la Louisiane" (Ibid.). Québec Studies, Volume 28, Fall 1999/Winter 2000

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Jones, Preston