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Lionel Groulx: Tutor to a Nation

For the week of Monday January 8, 2007

January 13, 1878 marked the birth of Lionel-Adolphe Groulx, French Canada's foremost historian of his time, Québec and French Canada’s most influential nationalist intellectual, and a man seen by many as the spiritual father of modern Québec.

Lionel Groulx (1878-1967)
© Library and Archives Canada / C-16657

Groulx’s rural and religious home life led him into the priesthood where he developed a passion for teaching. From 1900 to 1915, he taught literature and history at the Collège de Valleyfield before accepting an appointment as the Chair of Canadian History at what is now l’Université de Montréal, a position he held until 1949. Through the efforts of this self-trained historian, French Canadian history courses and texts were developed that recognized French Canada’s own historical consciousness and history. For the students, these works instilled a pride in their heritage and a commitment to its preservation.

Recruitment campaign poster, 1917
© Library and Archives Canada / C-093228
As editor of the influential L'Action française (1920-28), and the Revue d’histoire de l’Amerique française (1947-67), a journal he founded, Groulx’s work always promoted French Canada’s heritage and history. He believed that Canada's French-language minority required new heroes; “combative warriors” like La Vérendrye, Madeleine de Verchères and Dollard des Ormeaux. When the federal government appropriated the image of Dollard des Ormeaux for a First World War recruitment poster, Groulx acted swiftly to reclaim this “hero” and mould him into a French nationalist icon.

Adam Dollard des Ormeaux, an obscure 17th-century youth, had died alongside 16 other Frenchmen and 40 aboriginal allies in a battle with Iroquois warriors; a battle that may have prevented the invasion of Montréal in 1660. Although the “myth” of Dollard had begun in the 19th century, Groulx raised the slain young hero to even greater heights. Dollard was hailed as the defender of Montréal, the saviour of New France and a hero for French Canadian youth to emulate.

Dollard des Ormeaux monument (Montréal)
© 2005 Gene Arboit (GFDL)
Under Groulx’s guidance, and funded largely by the Association catholique de la jeunesse canadienne-française – a group he founded in 1904 – a national memorial to Dollard was erected in Montréal’s Parc Lafontaine in 1920.

Teacher, author, historian, priest, and nationalist – Groulx remains a controversial and much debated figure among historians and intellectuals today. However, most acknowledge that this man of many labels and passions had inspired in thousands of young people a pride in French Canada's past and a confidence in its future. Lionel-Adolphe Groulx was declared a National Historic Person in 1972. Dollard’s Fight at the Long-Sault was declared a National Historic Event in 1954.

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