'Vive le Quebec libre', 50 years later
Half a century after France's president stood on a balcony and proclaimed "Vive le Quebec libre," visitors are touring that balcony at Montreal City Hall.
A special exhibit about Charles de Gaulle's 1967 visit to Quebec is taking place at city hall, and on July 24 visitors are allowed to visit the balcony, which is normally off-limits because it's part of someone's office.
Separatist groups had asked for, but were denied access to the balcony to re-enact de Gaulle's speech, however those with fond memories of the speech -- including people who had been in the crowd assembled to listen to the French president -- lined up to walk in de Gaulle's footsteps.
A commemoration took place Monday evening outside City Hall, while the exhibit indoors has multiple mementos of the visit, including de Gaulle's cover photo from the magazine Paris Match.
“I was here in 67,” said Raymond Tousignant, who said he didn’t want to miss his opportunity to stand on the balcony. “Not many people talk about ‘Quebec libre’ now, but it's part of our history.”
Retired Montreal police officer Tony Caro said he wanted to relive the moment, because he was on duty that day.
“I had to be here, I just had to be,” he said.
De Gaulle's seven-minute speech created a political crisis for governments in Canada, and the French politician cut his visit short, never visiting Ottawa as planned.
Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson responded the following day, saying Canadians and Quebecers had no need to be set "free."
Some say de Gaulle’s words from decades ago still resonate strongly.
“I kind of get filled with emotion and it just transports back to that moment and same feeling of joy and hope and pride in the Quebec nation,” said Jennifer Drouin of Anglophones for an Independent Quebec.
Maxime Laporte of the St-Jean-Baptiste Society told CTV Montreal that de Gaulle’s words sparked hope for the sovereignty cause all those decades ago. He said it was the first time a foreign leader recognized Quebecers as a people.
Laurent Turcot, a professor at Universite du Quebec a Trois-Rivieres, said it’s not surprising that Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, a former Liberal MP, declined the re-enactment request.
“To give combustible to that fire, we could see an uprising of the new sovereigntist movement,” Turcot told CTV News Channel Monday. “So we don’t want to see this.”
With files from CTV.ca News Staff