For my independent novel study, I decided to research on Canada’s seventh, and first francophone prime minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier. The five passages from André Pratte’s biography, Wilfrid Laurier, that captivated my attention are the following:
“Strangely enough, the monument’s sponsors did not consider it necessary to put up a plaque explaining the choice of the site and reminding passersby who Wilfrid Laurier was. […] Didn’t all Canadians know who Laurier was? In the 1950s, that may have been true, but certainly not today” (2).
Before reading the book, I assumed many Canadians knew about Laurier since he was the first francophone prime minister. However, according to the quote, not many do. What really grabbed my attention was the fact that the author worded the passage in a way that made Canadians who didn’t know about Laurier as senseless in a way. He makes it seem as if it’s obvious we know who Wilfrid Laurier is as a Canadian.
The passage compares compares Canadian values and knowledge in the past compared to the present. The reason why sponsors didn’t decide to put up a plaque was because back in the 1950s, every Canadian knew who Laurier was. However, in society today, Laurier seems to be one of the more forgotten prime ministers compared to those like John A. Macdonald, or Pierre Trudeau. It shows that we are shifting from more of a French and English speaking country to an English speaking country only.
“By studying history, we can reconnect with the ideals and values that inspired our forebears. We can observe without complacency that what divides us is old and painful, but above all, we can realize that what unites us has always been triumphed” (3).
The moment I read this passage, I was enthralled because I’ve always had a similar thought. Since a few years ago, I always thought that the best way to unite and learn about how us Canadians came to be was through history. Through history, we’re able to understand the actions former prime ministers took in order to unite Canada as one. I realized that if we keep moving forward and only look towards the future, it won’t help us find an answer. However, researching and discovering the past will.
This passage relates back to Canadian identity because it gets readers informed that not many Canadians know about their own history. If we were better informed, we would understand each other and find solutions more easily to our common problems. Additionally, we would view Laurier as “a powerful inspiration for pursuing the extraordinary ideal called Canada” (6).
“And it was Laurier who, better than anyone before or since, showed Canadians the only path possible, that of compromise” (4).
I’m not too informed about Canadian history myself, but this sentence really got me thinking, did no other prime minister think compromise was an effective solution? Did they think it was an act of cowardice? The reason why Canada still exists to this day is because Laurier knew compromise was not surrendering, but showing that we’re daring and have courage, and many Canadians felt that he was right.
This passage reflects Canada’s past values and shows how it came to shape our current values. As mentioned above, many Canadians agreed with Laurier that to compromise was to show that Canadians are daring and have courage. To this day, instead of threatening other countries or starting a war, Canada comes to a compromise with other countries. For example, the United States might agree to Canada’s compromise on NAFTA automotive provisions.
“Regulation 17 prohibited teaching in French after grade one of elementary school” (90).
This passage shocked me because I never realized that in the past, regulations were established to prevent teaching Canadians French even though Canada is a bilingual country with people speaking both English and French. What surprised me even more was the fact that regulation 17 was set when Canada’s first francophone prime minister was in power. It seemed as if there was some sort of contradiction and made me wonder, why?
Canada’s slogan is “one nation, one language” so perhaps that’s the reason why fewer Canadians know how to speak French. In majority of the provinces, French is an optional language for students to learn in school and it’s mostly English dominant. Although Canada is supposedly supposed to be a bilingual country, English is becoming more dominant. Studies show that only 20.6% of the Canadian population speak French as opposed to 56% that speak English (Stat Canada).
“What I claim for ourselves is an equal place in the sun, an equal share of justice, of liberty; that share we have; and what we claim for ourselves we are anxious to grant to others” (97).
Sir Wilfrid Laurier expresses his wants and beliefs for the francophone in this passage. Laurier emphasizes that the only way for the francophone to have “an equal place in the sun” is to negotiate and compromise with the anglophone partner (97). Furthermore, what really caught my eye was when Laurier was speaking on behalf of himself, but then transitions to Canadian values through the use of the word “we.”
Based on current Canadian values, fewer Canadians and Canadian prime ministers are strongly advocating for the francophone. This shows how much Canadian values have changed since the 1800s till the 2000s. Sure, there are still a few Canadians who advocate for the francophone, but the number has declined compared to the past.
A theme from André Pratte’s biography, Wilfrid Laurier, would be that rather than looking for values based on the future, look for them based on past. This is especially evident in Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s case and from our current values because we look at the past for our successes which united us together.