Carleton students have the chance to travel to Quebec City during the 2015 Spring semester to embark on an extraordinary learning journey that has become an annual tradition in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
Indeed, 2015 will mark the fourth year that two courses – one housed in the School of Canadian Studies, and the other, part of the Department of French – proceed on a trip to Quebec City as an opportunity to explore first-hand, notions of comparative Canadian identity, colonial literature and history in a very distinct culture that exists within the greater context of Canada.
This particular article will explore the Department of French’s Professor Sébastien Côté’s seminar (FREN4300/5501) Littérature et culture de la Nouvelle-France: Séminaire d’été à Québec which revisits, within the old walls of Quebec City, the literature and culture of New France (1534-1763).
“One of the goals of the seminar is to experience this spectacular city and its institutions, in order to transcribe to the students information that can’t really be described in a textbook,” says Côté. “I want them to achieve a feeling of the distance between now and the colonial era of New France, a time that remains abstract to most of them.”
Much has been said about Quebec City as the former capital of New France. Since the “Vieille Capitale” was once a “ville neuve,” competing narratives are not a new phenomenon. In fact, it could be traced all the way back to the famous “Father of New France,” Samuel de Champlain. Describing Quebec City as early as 1608, Champlain chronicled the construction of his two abitations – the harsh daily life of the first settlers and their interactions with the First Nations of the Saint Lawrence Valley, as well as the endemic food shortage. This narrative shares little in common with the experience of travelers and historians from the 18th century who conceived a very different city. From a tiny trading post, over the years it had grown into a superb place to live.
One of the best-known descriptions of the city as it stood at the time Franquelin drew his map (see above) is found in the Baron de Lahontan’s Nouveaux voyages dans l’Amérique septentrionale [New voyages to North-America] (1703): “Quebec is divided into the upper and lower City. The Merchants live in the latter, for the conveniency of the Harbor; upon which they have built very fine houses, of a sort of Stone that’s as hard as Marble. The upper or high City is full as populous, and as well adorn’d as the lower.”
If anything, the dichotomies on Quebec City have only gotten more abundant in our present context, leaving many Canadians with misconstrued, inaccurate or even vacant ideas of Quebec’s capital and the history of New France. Whether for geographical or linguistic reasons, the coverage in the Canadian historical story probably isn’t as prevalent as it should be or, to say the least, hasn’t held the same symbolic importance everywhere in Canada – hence the necessity of this experiential course.
This is why Côté stresses the importance for students to be given an opportunity to spend ten days living in the marvelous context of Quebec City. Accordingly, he likes to remind his students that modern Canada wasn’t created out of the blue in 1867!
Au contraire, it has a complex, double colonial history: “We tend to forget that Canada was a hot topic in France since Jacques Cartier’s first voyage in 1534-35. It is mentioned in 16th and 17th century prose fiction, for example in Marguerite de Navarre’s Heptaméron (1558-59) and François de Rosset’s Les histoires mémorables et tragiques de ce temps (1614). Even poet Jean de La Fontaine refers to the famous Filles du Roy in his correspondence (Chinard 1913: 302, note 1). In the first half of the 18th century, soon after the publication of the Baron de Lahontan’s works in 1703, Parisian theatres went frenzy for Canada and the figure of the noble savage. Now, unfortunately, most of these plays are forgotten on both sides of the Atlantic.”
Subsequently, one of the Seminar’s goals is to bring back to life some of these comedies whose titles speak from themselves: L’île du Gougou (1720), Arlequin sauvage (1721), Les mariages de Canada (1734) or Les Indes galantes (1735).
Fortunately for students of both seminars, the city has gone to tremendous lengths to persevere and value its past. Quebec City is visually stunning, the architecture connects the past to the modern, and its century-old institutions have kept precious archival materials. As Jillian Harper, a student of the 2014 French edition, puts it: “When I think about the history of pre-Confederation Canada and what we have learned about it in High School, it seems to me that Quebecers are not only interested in wars and the establishment of colonial forts and cities, but also in cultural transfer in the form of literature. This leaves us with traces of ancient ways of life.”
Prior to their departure, students will be introduced to the history of New France and its textual production through appropriate readings and lectures. They will also learn how to read and transcribe a manuscript from the early 18th century, a newly acquired skill that will prove useful on site. Indeed, they spend some time in the Archives du Séminaire de Québec, where archivist Peter Gagné gives an impressive talk that helps them to better understand the reality of writing with goose feathers, communicating across the Atlantic and archiving documents in the early years of New France. They are presented with unique hand-written registers, marriage contracts dating from the 1630s, wills, letters (some of them very surprising), maps, architectural drawings, personal diaries and poems. For example, last year Gagné showed the group a 17th century note in the student register of the Petit Séminaire (founded by Bishop François de Laval in 1668), stating that the founder’s nephew “lacked vocation” in his studies. “Next time, says Côté, I will try to find out what the Jesuits thought about the dedication of my ancestors!”
Apart from the many institutional visits and guided tours, the 2015 French edition will include the student’s participation, as auditors, in the 45th annual conference of the North American Society for 17th Century French Literature (NASSCFL), in which Côté is responsible for the session “Errances en Nouvelle-France.”
Côté hopes these fascinating learning endeavours get students to simply talk about the complex colonial history of our country.
To learn more about Littérature et culture de la Nouvelle-France Séminaire d’été à Québec, including where/how to enroll, please click here.
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
330 Paterson Hall
1125 Colonel By Drive
FASSOD@Carleton.caPhone: 613-520-2355Contact page