This Week in History


Cité Libre!

For the week of Monday May 31, 2004

On June 1, 1950, a new magazine appeared in Quebec - Cité libre (the "free city"). This magazine, founded by a few intellectuals including Pierre Elliott Trudeau, appealed to people who were pressing for political and social change throughout Quebec society.

Hon. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada (1968-1979 / 1979-1984)
© Library and Archives Canada /   C-046600

Although Quebec experienced growing prosperity after the Second World War, inequalities remained. Reform movements gathered strength, demanding changes in politics, social services, education and industry. However, they met strong resistance from the Union Nationale party and its leader, Maurice Duplessis, who governed the province from 1944 to 1959. He advocated a traditional nationalism, and defended the values and authority of the Catholic Church.

Duplessis accordingly fought militant trade unionism, denounced progressive intellectuals and defended both private corporate power and Church-run social services. Post-war, however, public opinion was turning against these practices and institutions.

In opposition to a closed, authoritarian rhetoric, Cité libre was founded to break the silence and encourage collective thinking about the problems caused by the status quo. Despite its low circulation, the first series of this magazine, published between 1950 and 1959, became a conduit for a renewed liberalism. This magazine criticized not only the Duplessis government, but also the traditional values impeding change.

P.E. Trudeau at the Liberal Leadership Convention (Ottawa, Ont.) 1968
© Library and Archives of Canada / PA-111213
In one of the articles Pierre Trudeau wrote for Cité libre, he blamed the political and religious élite for the way that, in his view, Quebec lagged behind Ontario and the West economically, politically, educationally and culturally. The magazine’s contributors felt an urgent need to stimulate debate and breathe new life into Quebec to make up for lost time. To do this, they started promoting individual freedoms. They sought an interventionist, non-denominational and non-nationalist state which would combat social and economic inequality, and democratize institutions within a federal system.

After Duplessis’s death, the Liberals won the 1960 provincial elections, heralding the beginning of the Quiet Revolution in Quebec. That year, Cité libre launched its second series, which was published until 1966. Meanwhile, Trudeau joined the Liberal Party of Canada in 1965, where he earned a solid reputation. He served as Prime Minister of Canada from 1968 to 1979 and from 1980 to 1984.

Pierre Elliott Trudeau was designated a person of national historic significance in 2000.

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