Quebec Studies

Fraternal Goals or Nationalist Priorities: The Ordre de Jacques Cartier's Campaign Against the Knights of Columbus, 1945-1960

Quebec Studies (2012), 53, (1), 159–179.

Abstract

159 Fraternal Goals or Nationalist Priorities: The Ordre de Jacques Cartier's Campaign Against the Knights of Columbus, 1945-1960 James Trepanier York University1 In late October of 1949, a group of French-Canadian nationalists met in Ottawa to discuss the future focus of their secret society, the Ordre de Jacques Cartier (OJC). The OJC was approaching its twenty-fifth anniver­ sary and its Director of Orientation and future Grand Chancellor Pierre Vigeant was determined that they would finish some of the tasks that the founders had laid out as priorities. Vigeant highlighted a curious target as a priority for the coming years: the Knights of Columbus: Nous voulons intensifier nos efforts afin d'atteindre d'ici le vingtcinquième anniversaire de notre Ordre ces objectifs fixés par nos fondateurs [...]. La première de ces campagnes, c'est celle qui vise à évincer les Knights of Columbus du Canada français. C'est précisément pour faire concurrence à cette société étrangère et pour rendre aux Canadiens français les mêmes services qu'elle rend aux irlandais que notre Ordre a été fondé.2 Vigeant, a newcomer to the OJC leadership in Ottawa, touched on a con­ tinuing sore point for the Ottawa-based leaders of the secret society. The OJC was created by a group of French-Canadian nationalists in Ottawa in October of 1926 as a means to continue the fight against Regulation XVII, a provincial piece of legislation which had severely restricted French-lan­ guage instruction in Ontario Catholic schools since 1913. These veterans of the schools crisis blamed secret societies and Anglophone Catholic associa­ tions such as the Knights of Columbus and Irish Catholic members of the Canadian Catholic hierarchy for frustrating French-Canadian efforts to pro­ tect their linguistic rights during the conflict, and were of the opinion that a new, French-Canadian secret society needed to be created in order to counter the influence of these groups. 3 Combining fraternal rituals and the secrecy of rival Protestant secret societies, the OJC expanded throughout the 1930s and 1940s and, by the 1950s, had over 400 cells (or "commanderies") connected to the central Chancellerie in Ottawa, with over 11,000 members from British Columbia to Atlantic Canada. 4 The Knights of Columbus, founded in the late nineteenth century in Connecticut, began as an Irish-American Catholic mutual aid society, a creation which was not uncommon during a period of economic and social uncertainty in North America. It quickly became, in the words of some scholars, symbolic of the "Americanist" movement in the American Catho­ lic Church. This movement, led by Church leaders like Cardinal James Gibbons, a key supporter of the Knights, believed that in order to be ac­ cepted by the largely Protestant American population, American Catholics Québec Studies, Volume 53, Spring/Summer 2012

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Trepanier, James