The Quiet Revolution in Quebec: Platter and Insulator

Both the platter and the insulator can help us understand the changes that took place in Quebec during the 1960s – the years most associated with the Quiet Revolution.

The pattern on this platter has the emblems and motto of the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society. The Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society is a patriotic institution in Quebec. It was founded on 8 March 1834. The Society was established to support the French-Canadian people within Canada and to preserve the French language and francophone culture.

On the bottom of the platter we see the following words: ‘NOS INSTITUTIONS, NOTRE LANGUE ET NOS LOIS’ (Our Institutions, Our Language and Our Laws). These words or ideas were also known as the Three Pillars of Survival. The Three Pillars of Survival defined the distinctiveness of Quebec in the North American context. As long as French Canadians would stay faithful to these three elements of their heritage, they would continue to exist as a separate entity.

However, when the Three Pillars of Survival were first expressed, they were: ‘Notre Foi, Notre Langue, Nos Institutions’ (Our Faith, Our Language, Our Institutions). If you look at the platter, you will see that ‘Notre Foi’ (Our Faith) has been replaced by ‘Nos Lois’ (Our Laws). This is not a printing error. In order to understand why there is a difference on the platter, we need to look at the Quiet Revolution.

Slogans during the Quiet Revolution:
• ‘Il Faut Que Ça Change’: Things Have to Change
• ‘Maîtres Chez Nous’: Masters of Our Own House

The slogan or motto stating that ‘Things Have to Change’ explains why we see the difference between the words on the platter and the original three Pillars of Survival. We can also see that the roots of the Quiet Revolution go back to the mid 19th century, when this platter was made. But it took a long time for these roots to really take hold.

During the Quiet Revolution there was a move away from certain institutions and ideas that previously held a lot of power in Quebec, such as the Catholic Church. There was a push to protect the French language and to involve francophones much more in the economy of the province, where anglophones had previously had a lot of influence.

This platter represents an early example of this move away from the Catholic Church or from religion in general. It shows that, instead, the leaders of Quebec society were beginning to focus their attention on protecting Quebec's civil law.

The Quebec Act of 1774 reinstated French colonial civil law, while maintaining British criminal law. Since the mid 19th century, Quebec’s civil law has been based on the French civil code, which was established during the Napoleonic period (early 1800s). The civil law of the English-speaking provinces of Canada is based on ‘Common Law’, which came from England. Common Law tends to be the civil law of those countries of the world that have a history as British territories or colonies.

Therefore one of the key factors that the people of Quebec wanted to protect and maintain was not so much their religious difference from the English-speakers around them, who were more Protestant than Catholic, but their difference from English-speaking Canadians in their civil law.

For the second slogan of the Quiet Revolution, ‘Maîtres Chez Nous’ or Masters of Our Own House, we need to look at the insulator. For years, the language of business and industry in Quebec was English because most of the natural resources were owned by private companies, most of which were controlled by English-speaking Canadians and Americans.

In a bold and strategic move the government of Quebec amalgamated and nationalized the companies that owned and operated the electrical utilities of Quebec. By doing this, the people of Quebec moved toward fulfilling the goal of becoming Masters of Their Own House. Hydro-Québec's successes soon earned it an international reputation and made it a symbol of the Quiet Revolution.
Royal Ontario Museum
Historical Advisor: Caroline Cholette, Hydro-Québec Archives

© 2006, Royal Ontario Museum. All Rights Reserved.

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