Monday, November 21, 2016

Book Notes: Henri Bourassa at the Champlain Society

Members of the Champlain Society, which has been publishing handsome edited collections of Canadian historical documents for about a century, are receiving this year's volume, "Do What You Must" Selected Editorials from Le Devoir under Henri Bourassa, 1910-32. edited by Pierre Anctil and translated into English by Tonu Onu.

Bourassa's Le Devoir published editorials on everything from Laurier's electoral defeat to the evils of the modern (1920s modern) cinema to the place of French Canadians in Western Canada to the Irish Civil Wars.  In 1924 Bourassa regretted the flourishing of anti-Semitism in French Canada and (as the editor notes) his "influence clearly declined after that date [allowing] a resurgence of anit-Semitism on the pages of the newspaper during the 1930s."  In 1927 he rejected Italian fascism as any model for Canada or Quebec.

But the ones I'm browsing in right now are those in which Bourassa methodically stakes out a position on Canadian participation in the First World War, and later on conscription. In September 1914 he writes:
The only common theme ... is the nearly complete absence of any real sense of responsibility for Canada as a nation, regarding its external responsibilities and even more so its internal responsibilities.
Some, he regrets, think only of the Empire, others only of France, and others of nothing at all beyond Canada's own borders.
The onslaught of patriotic speeches and articles that have flooded the country since the beginning of the war have been accompanied by very few effective acts for the good of Canada.
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