Quebec celebrates 75th anniversary of fleur-de-lis flag
Published Saturday, January 21, 2023 9:48AM EST Last Updated Sunday, January 22, 2023 7:48AM EST
Exactly 75 years ago today, Premier Maurice Duplessis solemnly addressed the members of the national assembly.
He announced that a ministerial order had been passed giving "an official flag to our province."
He said that his government was thus "with great joy fulfilling the wishes of the people," and after taking the advice of heraldic experts, a fleur-de-lis flag was chosen with certain modifications.
"There was a lot of public pressure in 1947 for Quebec to adopt its own flag," said Marie-Anne Alepin, president of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste (SSJB), in an interview with The Canadian Press.
The SSJB and the national assembly are organizing activities on Saturday to celebrate the flag's anniversary.
And there is an element of legend, story and myth about the day of January 21, 1948, as in any great historical moment.
"Duplessis had asked the president of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Québec to find a flag by 3 p.m., that's what was said behind the scenes," said Alepin. "At the time, he was being followed by an independent MNA, René Chalout, who had been campaigning for years for the adoption of the flag."
"As I speak, this flag, which is in keeping with our traditions and aspirations, is already displayed on the central tower of the parliament," declared Duplessis in the House at 3:10 p.m., as reported in the historical annals of the national assembly.
It was only two years later, on March 9, 1950, that Parliament passed the Act respecting the official flag of the province.
But where does the fleurdelysé come from? Any history buff will recognize the fleur-de-lis as the banner of France, the emblem of the Kings of France.
At the national assembly, the Hall of Flags, located between the Blue and Rouge Salons, displays the standards and flags that inspired the fleurdelysé.
It is said to have originated in a battle during the Seven Years' War, the vast global conflict that pitted the French against the English and resulted in the Plains of Abraham defeat and conquest.
The standard is said to have been raised at the Battle of Fort Carillon in July 1758, a victory for Montcalm's French, who were entrenched in their fortifications on the shores of Lake Champlain, now Ticonderoga in New York State
It was originally a processional banner, according to historical sources. On its reverse, the standard displays the arms of the kingdom of France, but at the four corners, inclined fleurs-de-lis. On the obverse, a Virgin Mary and the arms of the Governor of Beauharnois.
This banner is now in the Musée de l'Amérique francophone.
On June 24, 1848, representatives of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste marched through the streets of Quebec City with this banner, it is reported.
In 1902, Father Filiatrault, from Saint-Jude, raised an azure flag that he had made himself, using the Carillon banner and adding a white cross. This is where the 'fleurdelysé' was born, and it made its way to the mast of the central tower of the parliament.
"We had the fleurs-de-lis straightened out," Duplessis explained in the assembly on Jan. 21. "As they appeared slightly bent at the four corners of the flag, orders were given for them to be raised straight up to the sky in the future, in order to indicate the value of our traditions and the strength of our convictions."
On Saturday at noon, on the esplanade of Place des Arts in Montreal, the SSJB will unfurl the largest Quebec flag ever designed. More than 200 people will hold the 60 by 90-foot banner. Several elected officials from all parties will be present, but CAQ Minister of French Language and Democratic Institutions Jean-François Roberge had to withdraw.
The president of the national assembly, Nathalie Roy, will take part in a commemorative ceremony on Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. in front of the Hôtel du Parlement in Québec City. An exhibition will also be inaugurated and activities will take place from 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
It is more essential than ever to celebrate the Quebec flag, a "symbol of unity," according to Alepin, because the "hallmarks of our identity are being eroded," in her words.
"Studies show that the French language is declining, there are many challenges, especially in the metropolis," she said. "I think that we can make all those who live in Quebec love this language and the Quebec flag is the ultimate symbol of pride of a nation, of our strength, of our history."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Jan. 21, 2023.