Lionel Groulx, no to bilingualism, 1943

Abbé Lionel Groulx was a 20th century Quebec intellectual who opposed bilingualism
Abbé Lionel Groulx, Quebec priest and nationalist.

Abbé Lionel Groulx was a priest, an historian and a leading Quebec intellectual until his death in 1967. He was described by some as the spiritual father of Quebec and by others as a messianic nationalist. Groulx preferred isolation to closer French-English relations and was opposed to bilingualism. He gave this speech in Montreal in 1943 during the height of World War II. His references to the divisive conscription crisis are veiled, but obvious. 

“Beware of the illusion of bilingualism”

Separated races

The first obligation which English and French Canadians owe to each other, and I would also say, the primary condition for a bonne-entente, is frankness—I shall avoid subtlety. I say quite simply that so deep a division as that which separates the two races in Canada must have deep-lying causes, for it indicates disagreement on major issues. Let us say it: the two races do not get along well because one of them wants legal equality all right, but on condition that it keeps for itself the lion’s share. I know there is nothing new about this truth. I know also that it is a crude truth, but it is true. In the final analysis, one category of Englishmen cannot forgive us for existing, and for claiming to exist, with the same rights as these gentlemen, the same liberty, the same dignity. In other words, what they do not wish to recognize nor accept in Canada, with its juridical and political consequences, is the French fact. There does exist a category of open-minded and generous Englishmen with whom we can get along, but there exists another which cannot realize that everybody does not think and feel à l’anglosaxonne, has not the same reactions as the Anglo-Saxons, as if the human race inhabited an Anglo-Saxon universe . . .

Quebec and Confederation

The last consecration of the French fact took place at the time of Confederation. This was its greatest consecration, completely categorical. No one can be ignorant of what this regime of 1867 was meant to be. In the minds of the fathers of Confederation, it was to be the legal expression of a free collaboration: collaboration between the races, collaboration between the provinces. They supposed that they had settled forever, beyond dispute, the French fact, the question of races and languages. An article of the Constitution proclaimed the legal and political equality of French and English. According to the statement of the most authorized leader of the English Canadians, there were no longer either conquerors nor conquered in Canada, but associates possessing equal rights in all domains. The new regime asserted the idea of political decentralization. The unitary state, or what was then called legislative union, was rejected in order to form a federation of autonomous provinces, which restored to old Lower Canada its complete political and national individuality. Quebec even attained, in this federation, a privileged situation, a supplement of guarantees . . .

French minorities restricted

These were the basic ideas which gave birth to Confederation; these were the masterly stipulations of the contract of 1867. But what has been the policy, in regard to the French fact, which has generally been followed in the English-Canadian provinces and at Ottawa for the past seventy-six years? The direct opposite of what it should have been. In all the provinces, the French minorities have been submitted to a rationing of their culture and to restrictions in the teaching of their religion. At Ottawa, the centre of Confederation, in the Parliament and the government which should protect minority rights, the French and Catholic minorities, one after another, have vainly implored protection against the despoilers of their rights. In the federal domain, the French language holds its position with difficulty only at the price of being constantly on the defensive. Canadians of French origin are forced to struggle with a voracious bureaucracy, without too much success, for a meagre share of positions and influence in the civil service. By its social legislation, the federal Parliament knowingly undermines our civil rights. Even in our own province, the federal bureaucracy undertakes to pervert and, at times, to demolish our type of workers’ organization. What do I say? Ottawa does not respect even the fundamental principle of Confederation. The general tendency of its policy in regard to the provinces is to take over their autonomy. This policy, begun before the war, Ottawa has continued stubbornly with the war as an excuse . . .

Plot against sacred rights

Let us be frank. We are still divided on an extremely serious matter: the interpretation and the execution of the Confederation agreement. The increasing disagreement on the very principle of the federal state bodes ill for the future. A conviction is slowly developing in the uneasy mind of one of the mother provinces and of one nationality that she can no longer rely on the central power to be protective or impartial. More than that, placing itself at the head of the most hostile elements, this central power plots against the most sacred rights of one province and against the national future of almost a third of the Canadian population . . .

Beware of bilingualism

Let us beware . . . of the illusion of bilingualism, miracle worker of national union. English Canadians and French Canadians would need to talk more together only if their variances rested on misunderstanding. But we have seen that there is something very different from misunderstandings. The Irish of Ireland eventually learned the language of their oppressors. Did they become reconciled thereby? In general, Irishmen and Englishmen speak the same language today. Do they get along any better? We ourselves have pushed bilingualism to the point of imprudence. We have scorned universal experience, forgetting that bilingualism generalized is usually the first phase of a nationality’s pangs. We have been led into the imprudence in the name of economic liberation and national unity. However, bilingualism has not prevented us from becoming more than ever the servants of the minority in our province. I do not see our anglo-Canadian compatriots taking us more closely to their hearts for having learned their language more than they have learned ours.

Vain dreams

Let us beware, for the same reasons, of enrolling en masse in Anglo-Saxon societies and clubs; infallible recipe, it appears, for ending all racial prejudices. I see clearly what French Canadians too often lose in these contacts; I have yet to discover what they gain. Whatever may come, we cannot enter like a herd into the societies of others, take part, by affiliation, in all the neutral associations, English or American, show ourselves consequently incapable of forming societies of our own, suited to our own spirit, and keep up any pretension to being a proud race—Catholics of initiative and creative imagination, and, in addition, leaders of social life in our province. We cannot play, dress, build, eat, think, feel like Englishmen or Americans and flatter ourselves that we shall remain indefinitely French. Enough of chimerical visions and vain dreams. To come to an understanding with the English, said Jacques Bainville, it is hardly necessary to cough or spit like them. We can unite; we cannot and we never should become unified. In the name of common sense, let us stop dreaming of a marriage of love where only a marriage of reason is possible . . .

French Canada tomorrow

The French Canada of tomorrow, an original creation, will be flesh of your flesh, the flower of your spirit. It will gush forth, resplendent with youth and beauty, from the breath of you young French Canadians, from your sociology as sons of Christ. Whatever may be said, we are a little people who have never had much happiness to spare. You will do these things for us in order that at last there may come an hour in our life, a day of wholesome retaliation, when it will be possible for us to say to ourselves as others do: “I have a land of my own; I have a soul of my own; I have a future of my own.”

Source: Speech “Why We Are Divided,” Action National, 1943. Translated from the French by Gordon O. Rothney, Sir George Williams College, Montreal [now Concordia University].
More Information: The Canadian Encyclopedia, Lionel-Adolphe Groulx.


2 thoughts on “Lionel Groulx, no to bilingualism, 1943

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  1. Sadly, Lionel Groulx was right in saying that the Anglos tried to force French out to the sidelines. Especially in Western Canada I have heard people say they should simply speak English in Quebec. When I pointed out that millions of people in Quebec can’t speak any English and that it would be impossible. The answer I got was in effect, “Just tell them they have to.” With the votes for an independent Quebec, probably that has changed somewhat, but I’m sure there are still people who would say that we should just let them go.


    1. Thanks for your comment Randy. It’s always good to hear from you. Yes, I have heard people in small Prairie communities where only English is spoken say that people in similarly small communities in Quebec should speak learn or English. We should all cut others a bit of slack here. I should say about Lionel Groulx, however, that he did exhibit some nasty tendencies, including anti-Semitism.


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