Empathetic Bedard | The duty

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Historian Éric Bédard figures prominently in the list of my favorite essayists. I like his style, which combines elegance with clarity, and his intellectual rigor. I also like its versatility. Scholarly historian in works like Reformists (Boréal compact, 2012), on the French-Canadian political generation of the second half of the 19th centurye century, and Chronic of an apprehended insurrection (Septentrion, 2020), in the place of youth during the October Crisis, Bédard is also, in other luminous works, a thinker of history and its writing, memorialist or popularizer.

This last part occupies a central place in his work. Author of the essential History of Quebec for Dummies (First, 2012), Bédard does it again this season, in the genre, with Quebec. Turns of a national history (Septentrion, 2021, 156 pages), a collection of eight of his interventions on the excellent Canadian radio program Today the story, dedicated “to the memory of Jacques Lacoursière”.

In the preface, Jacques Beauchamp, host of the show until last June, underlines the affiliation between Bédard and his late dedicatee. “Both brilliant communicators,” he writes, “they spoke of history with strength and conviction, and their goal has always been to convey the love of history and the need to be interested in it. If Lacoursière was the more colorful storyteller of the two, Bédard won the award for the most elegant of our historical popularizers, both orally and in writing. History, with it, always presents itself in a quality setting.

In his preface, Beauchamp offers a second connection which seems judicious to me when he notes that Bédard’s vision of history is very much inspired by that of François-Xavier Garneau. In this book, in fact, Bédard pays a felt tribute to his illustrious predecessor who published History of Canada, a first on the subject, in 1845.

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For Garneau, Bédard notes, political institutions, a territory, a religion and a language are not enough to make a people. We also need “an imagination spiced up by memories of past hardships” in order to bring together a community and generate “this solidarity so precious to great collective advances”. Garneau, adds Bédard, seeks to tell reality without romanticizing it, but “he does not hide his deep empathy for his people” and wishes “that his compatriots take a certain pride in the road traveled”.

Bédard is also working in this spirit. Partisan of national history, he underlines, in passing, for the decolonialists who contest this approach, that it is “also to defend the national heritage that peoples fought against colonialism”. Empathetic towards the men and women of the past who, like those of today, must act in a confused present, without certainty about the future, and convinced that history can “show that a nation sometimes promotes the coming together of people who, although different, share something that goes beyond them ”, Bédard therefore offers us our history as a precious gift that tells of the past in order to shed light on the present.

We discover with him that our national adventure “begins with a party and an agreement” between the French who arrived in Tadoussac in 1603 and the aboriginal allies who are the Innu, the Algonquins and the Etchemins, represented by their spokesman, the Innu chief Anadabijou, a master of eloquence, according to Champlain. Anadabijou, in fact, then tells the French that they are welcome here if they agree to join him and his people in their fight against the Iroquois.

France, notes Bédard, does not settle here “by a bloody war of conquest” in the Spanish manner, but, as Serge Bouchard emphasized, by “a cordial understanding”. The rest will not always be so pleasing, but the beautiful spirit of the initial meeting, which can still inspire us, is worth remembering and pondering.

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In another chapter, Bédard refutes the myths concerning the King’s Daughters. These healthy women, he says, often orphans, and whose median age was 24, came here of their own accord, were not “girls” and did not get married in a hurry. when disembarking from the ship.

Further on, the historian, who never fails to quote the important works of his colleagues, obviously speaks of the Conquest, draws a benevolent portrait of the autonomist leader Honoré Mercier, recounts the birth of Quebec economic nationalism by returning to the founding of HEC Montreal in 1907, and concludes its overview with a brief history of Bill 101.

With Éric Bédard, we review our history with tenderness, but without angelism. Very informative and invigorating.

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