“Vive le Québec libre!”
These words were spoken in the last sentences of French President Charles de Gaulle’s famous speech during a visit in Montreal. A visit that made its mark on the history of Montreal, and that of the whole province of Quebec. Many applauded him with fervour, and the address elicited a long ovation lasting several minutes. Others, mostly in the rest of Canada, were very unhappy about it.
If we go back a bit further, it was in 1966 that then Quebec Premier Daniel Johnson asked the President of the French Republic Charles de Gaulle to come to Quebec. The reason for this invitation was Montreal’s 1967 International and Universal Exposition (Expo 67), and France accepted it. The trip was planned for July: de Gaulle was invited to visit Quebec City and Montreal before going to Ottawa. This last stop never took place — you will soon understand why.
Did you know that diplomatic tradition should have normally required that the president’s plane land at Ottawa’s airport? But as Charles de Gaulle had been invited by Quebec’s premier and not by Canada’s Prime Minister, and because he wanted to place as little emphasis as possible on the Canadian Confederation’s centenary, the president insisted on arriving on Quebec soil. To divert from protocol, he decided to travel by boat rather than by plane. Thus, he succeeded in making his first appearance in Quebec City, before proceeding to the province’s metropolis.
Upon his arrival in Montreal, then mayor Jean Drapeau welcomes him. A huge crowd is assembled at city hall, where the president will end up making his speech. The mass cheers for him. Did you know that originally, President de Gaulle was not expected to give an address? The event was to consist only of a private reception. But in front of this crowd who is demanding a speech, the floor is given to General de Gaulle, at his request.
The French politician then speaks directly to Montrealers and others present. He makes a committed speech, demonstrating his desire to renew relations between Quebec and his country. A speech he punctuates, shortly before its conclusion, with these now famous sentences: “Long live Montreal! Long live Quebec! Long live free Quebec! Long live French Canada, and long live France!”
Many people agree that this much-talked-about address greatly helped put Quebec on the map on July 24, 1967. Did you know that the Chinese then had to invent a new ideogram to translate the word “Quebec”? From that moment, it became a historic speech, and has led to much disagreement as to it being planned or caused by a sudden burst of emotion. The Government of Canada was then outraged at what happened in Montreal. In Ottawa, some people said that Charles de Gaulle should leave. So, he spent a day at Expo 67 and left the country the next day without making his scheduled visit to Ottawa. With this decision, he caused a major Canadian political crisis.
Despite all his declaration’s drawbacks in terms of Franco-Canadian relations, it can be said that de Gaulle’s speech contributed greatly to giving a voice to the political situation in Quebec throughout the world, in the context of 1967’s International and Universal Exposition.
Livres : Biographie politique de Diori Hamani – Par André Salifou
Crédit couverture : Archives de la ville de MOntréal
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