Fifty years after French president Charles de Gaulle shouted “Vive le Quebec libre!” from the balcony of Montreal City Hall, the Saint-Jean Baptiste Society is hoping to re-enact the moment.

The city, however, says it’s a no-go.

Mayor Denis Coderre has denied the group access to the balcony for a commemorative event.

Former Quebec premier Bernard Landry, honourary president of the Saint-Jean Baptiste Society, requested the mayor give the group access to the balcony, as it did for a 1997 commemorative event, but was denied.

“We'll do it anyway, this ceremony in front of City Hall, on the 24th in the evening! If they thought we'd stop there...” the group wrote in a post on their Facebook page, saying it hopes for a large turnout.

“It is rather ironic because on July 24, 1967, the Mayor Drapeau did not want the general to speak to the crowd, and we feel like we are in the same position,” the post read.

At a news conference Wednesday, Landry called it a missed opportunity to celebrate what De Gaulle’s speech brought to Montreal and to Quebec.

De Gaulle's declaration remains a famous moment in Quebec and Canadian history to this day.

City Hall will not, however, ignore the 50th anniversary of De Gaulle's visit. It is hosting a week-long exhibit about De Gaulle and the public will be able to tour the balcony -- but without the political leanings preferred by Landry.

The French president's words, Landry said, put Quebec’s cause on the map. It was an awakening for Quebecers, a wake-up call for the rest of Canada, and a catalyst for the sovereignty movement, he said.

De Gaulle delivered the infamous line during a seven-minute speech to a boisterous crowd of some 20,000 supporters during a visit to Canada on July 24, 1967, igniting tensions with Lester B. Pearson, who was prime minister at the time.

“Vive le Quebec. Vive le Quebec libre! Vive, vive, vive le Canada francais, et vive la France,” de Gaulle said as he compared the festive atmosphere of Montreal in 1967 to what he saw in his home country after it was freed from Nazi rule.

Pearson responded the following day, saying Canadians and Quebecers have no need to be set “free.”

De Gaulle left Canada shortly after the incident without paying a visit to the nation’s capital.

One year later, the Quebec sovereignty movement gained momentum and the Parti Quebecois was born.

On Wednesday, Landry said he still believes ardently in the cause of independence and knows the path to get there.

“It’s a question of agency, engagement and it has been going on for years. In 1995, we were at a very small margin within victory and we must go up. It’s a duty for a nation, able to be free, to become free,” he said.


With a report from Josh Elliot of