Gary Levy is Editor of the Canadian
Arthur Beauchesne was Clerk of the House of
Commons from 1925 to 1949 and author of the definitive work on Canadian parliamentary
procedure. He worked for various Montreal newspapers from 1899 to 1904 but his
journalistic career came to an abrupt halt following a dispute with the
Archbishop of Montreal. His dismissal as editor of Le journal (see previous
issue) reflected a growing breach with the clergy illustrated by his
involvement with an association dedicated to the promotion of public education
in the province of Quebec.
Educational reform was high on the political
agenda all across Canada during the first decade of the twentieth century.
Quebec was feeling the impact of the industrial revolution and consequent
urbanization. The traditional approach to education was open to debate. Should
education be free? Should it be compulsory? More importantly, should ultimate control
rest with the church or the state?
The pre-eminence of the Church in education
had been a fact of Quebec life for hundreds of years. Powerful institutions and
deeply rooted attitudes promoted the status quo. The mere idea of a Ministry of
Education was anathema to the clergy. A leader of the educational reform
movement was Godfrey Langlois, editor of the Montreal daily La Patrie and later
of Le Canada. According to Langlois, Quebec was twenty-five years behind
Ontario in the field of education because of the province's lack of a
department of education. In order to rescue Quebec from this
"humiliating" position, in order to keep the province abreast of
educational progress in the world, and to arouse public interest and concern,
it was time to appoint a Minister of Education, who, because he would be
"responsible" to the legislature, would be more energetic in the
reform and improvement of Quebec's system of education. The ministers
responsible for the expenditure of provincial funds for the administration of
justice, for public works, and for colonization were all accountable to the
legislature for the manner in which these funds were employed. Only education
was beyond the control of the people's representatives and of the taxpayers
Together with likeminded men, including
Beauchesne, L.O. David, Clerk of the City of Montreal and later Provincial
Secretary, Dr. E.P. Lachapelle, the Director of Public Health for the Province
of Quebec, and some two hundred lawyers, notaries, judges, aldermen, teachers
and businessmen Langlois established the Ligue de l'Enseignement at a public
meeting held in the Poir6 room of City Hall on October 9, 1902.
The objective of the League was to foster
the development of public education. Toward this end, it proposed to sponsor
public meetings, conferences, debates, publications and competitions.
Membership was open to all. The cost was one dollar, except for teachers, who
paid 50 cents, and journalists or editors, who were admitted free. The
president of the League was Olivier Faucher, a businessman and former alderman.
Langlois was first Vice President and Beauchesne was named Secretary on the
fourteen man executive.
Even before the League was officially
established, the Catholic press and particularly a Quebec City journalist,
Jules-Paul Tardivel, accused its promoters of using educational reform to
disguise a masonic plot whose real objective was the banishment of religious
teachings from the schools. In those days an accusation of freemasonry was one
of the most derogatory things that could be said about a person or an
association; the equivalent of calling someone a fascist today.
Freemasonry, the teachings and practices of
the secret fraternal order of Free and Accepted Masons, evolved from the guilds
of stonemasons and cathedral builders during the Middle Ages. With the decline
of cathedral building, some lodges of masons accepted honorary members to
bolster their membership. From a few of these lodges developed modern
freemasonry, which, in the 17th and 18th centuries, adopted the rites and
trappings of ancient religious orders and chivalric brotherhoods. The first
Grand Lodge, an association of lodges, was founded in England in 1717.
Freemasonry remains popular in the British
Isles, Canada and the United States, where the membership is drawn mainly from
protestant denominations. Though containing many religious elements (its
teachings enjoin morality, charity and obedience to the law of the land),
freemasonry is not a Christian institution. Some lodges have been prosecuted
for discrimination against Catholics, nonwhites and Jews.
In latin countries, freemasonry, attracted
freethinkers and anti-clericals. In France, before 1789, it helped the forces
which undermined the monarchy, and eventually erupted in the French Revolution.
The Revolution led to the complete subordination of church to state in France
and in 1866 a journalist by, the name of Jean Mace founded La Ligue française
de 1'Enseignement. Although the League was officially neutral toward the
church, Macé was a freemason known for his hostility to clerical involvement in
education. The French league was designed to keep the church out of education
and to consolidate the reforms of the Revolution. As one of its members, Paul
Bert, put it: "Peace to the vicar, war on the monk".
In Quebec, which was untouched by the French
Revolution, freemasonry was considered nothing less than a satanic plot to be
opposed with all possible vigour by the church. Beauchesne and the other
founders of the Ligue de l'Enseignement were aware of the delicate terrain they
were treading. Their publications and their speeches were full of moderation
and assurances to the church.
Their first brochure, written largely by
Langlois and Beauchesne, was dedicated to "the Legislature. the Catholic
Committee on Public Education and to all friends of education." It
emphasized support for the goals of the educational system as run by the church
and acknowledged the important role of the family. It also argued that
Quebecers, as a minority. had to be better educated. The traditional system
seemed deficient in several ways. They cited statistics showing Quebec with the
lowest per capita expenditure on education of all Canadian provinces. They
noted that many schools were poorly furnished, poorly ventilated and that the
laws establishing health standards were not being applied. They cited examples
of other countries where every school had large grounds and the children were
taught how to plant flowers and look after gardens.
The delicate question of the competence of
teachers was broached by saying that many priests were simply too young and
inexperienced to handle such an important task as education. Lay staff was so
poorly paid that good people were not attracted and the criteria for competence
and training established by law were not being respected because normal schools
had no authority to set the standards.
The document made no overt attack on the
church but every criticism fell at its doorstep since the church was
responsible for education in the province. The League's claim that public
instruction was the responsibility of the state was absolutely unacceptable to
Publication of the brochure was met with
outrage by the Catholic press many of whom charged the founders with being
freemasons. Tardivel said that the League, through its affiliation with the
Ligue française de l'Enseignment, was "promoting the cause of
freemasonry." Whether or not the Canadian League was in fact affiliated
with the French one became the central question. It provoked a heated debate
between Henri Bernard, a Frenchman living in Quebec, and Arthur Beauchesne.
In late 1903, Bernard published a 110 page
book in which he claimed the Ligue de l'Enseignement was a masonic conspiracy.
He recounted the moral decay of France, which he attributed to its godless
school system and freemasonry'. He predicted a similar fate for Quebec if the
ideas expounded by the League were not stopped: "The Canadian League for
the Advancement of Education is not a league that promotes education, but
rather one that opposes religion. Education is the front behind which lurks
irreligion and antichristianism."2
Bernard, (citing the considerable progress
made in education since 1867,) denied the need to found such a league. He
lauded the moral value of a Catholic education, which, he said, was responsible
for the low crime rate in Quebec compared to the rest of Canada. As far as the
preparation of students was concerned, he referred to authorities who claimed
young French-Canadians were well prepared to enter the world of commerce or
science, indeed their greater bilingualism gave them an advantage over their
English speaking counterparts. Why, then create a league if not for some
sinister, irreligious motive?
He then introduced as evidence a reply by,
Beauchesne to a letter from EA. Baillarg6, a priest in St. Hubert. Baillargé
had asked several questions about the League. Did it favour use of uniform
textbooks? What was its view on free education? Did it recommend compulsory
education? Was it calling for the abolition of a monthly tax? Did it propose
abolition of the Conseil de l'Instruction publique? He wanted to know whether
the League favoured creation of a Ministry of Education? What reason was there
to state that Quebec had done "so little" for education in over 50
years? What specific recommendations did the League have?
Beauchesne replied vaguely in Le Journal,
saying that the League had no position on these matters.
If a member of the League favours the use of
uniform textbooks, he is free to table a motion on the matter, which will then
be discussed and voted on. His views will be given the respect due an honest
citizen speaking about a public matter. The same right will be afforded any
persons holding an opposing view.... Once the League has voted on a motion of
this nature, I will then be in a position to tell Mr. Baillargé what its
position is. Until then, I cannot.3
Beauchesne went on to deplore that the
clergy had been mislead by Tardivel and others. He pointed out that the League was
open to everyone and that Abbé Baillargé had been invited to join.
Bernard claimed the reply showed the absence
of any support for the League and went on to mount a personal attack against
Langlois, whom he described as well known for radical ideas and open hostility
to the church. As for Beauchesne, his "infamous" editorial about Mgr
Bruch6si in March 1903 (see article in previous issue) discredited him
completely according to Bernard.
Bernard then turned to the heart of his
case, an article in the newsletter of the Ligue française de 1'Enseignernent
announcing that a request for affiliation by a Canadian League had been
received and was accepted at the Council meeting.
Bernard said M. Louis Herbette, of the Ligue
française was the real danger. Langlois and Beauchesne were merely pawns in his
quest to banish religion from schools everywhere. Bernard then went into a long
digression on the Ligue française and its openly masonic leanings. He
concluded: 1t is your duty, my fellow French Canadians, to remain ever vigilant
and, for the honour of Christ and Nation, keep the Masonic evil at bay and
prevent it from ruining our country, as it has ruined dear France."4
The initial response to Bernard came in an
article by Langlois. He denied the Canadian League was in any way affiliated
with the French one and insisted that if M. Herbette had taken an initiative to
that effect he was not authorized to do so.
The League for the Advancement of Education
in Montreal is a fully independent organization with no affiliation whatsoever
to foreign groups. It was founded on purely national and patriotic
principles.... The League for the Advancement of Education, which was
established in Montreal last autumn, has never sought affiliation, either
directly or indirectly, with the French organization, the head offices of which
are located in Paris.5
Within a month of publication, Bernard's
book was sold out. He published an expanded edition in 1904, which was even
more virulent in tone and contained a preface by a French parliamentarian, le
Comte Albert de Mun. Bernard also referred to an article by D.T. Bouchard,
editor of 1'Union, published in St-Hyacinthe. Bouchard said he had read the
programme adopted by the League and, while he was not a member, he found its
ideas on education quite sensible. Bernard, he said, was "as virulent in
his attacks as he was lavish in his praise. "6 In the revised edition of
his book, Bernard suggested Bouchard join the League right away because, if he
was not already a freemason, he had all the qualities to become one.
Bouchard counterattacked on two fronts. He
launched a libel action against Bernard asking the newly admitted barrister
Arthur Beauchesne to act on his behalf. Bouchard also asked Beauchesne to write
a book length refutation which he would publish. Beauchesne's manuscript,
entitled La Fameuse Ligue: Conspiration maçonnique qui n'a jamais existé was
delivered to Bouchard but publication was delayed pending result of the trial.
In this rejoinder Beauchesne began by
apoligizing for having to respond to such a concoction of misinterpretations
and deliberate lies. Were Bernard an isolated individual, he would not have
dignified his book with a response. But, he said, it was becoming clear that
Bernard was just a tool of some members of the ultramontane clergy who were
attacking the League with "an entirely unholy enthusiasm." They would
stop at nothing.
In a Quebec convent, the nuns are saying
novenas for my conversion and writing to my parents that I have become an agent
of evil on this earth.... Mothers and young girls are cautioned by their moral
advisers to avoid young people who are members of the infamous League. The
names of many of us were sent to several presbyteries in Montreal, along with
an order to do everything possible to fight and ruin us. The Catholic hierarchy
is resorting to slander in an effort to compromise certain individuals!
Religious influence is being used to appease the hatreds of some evil persons.
They are reveling in the conduct of more slanderous attacks, of which I am one
of the most unfortunate victims.7
Bernard had resorted to personal attacks and
Beauchesne returned in kind. He ridiculed the comments by, le Comte de Mun, who
had never even set foot on Quebec soil. He mocked the clergy for their support
of Bernard, whom he called a failed Frenchman. Preliminaries aside, Beauchesne
turned to the main question. Was the League affiliated with the Ligue française
de l'Enseignement? The evidence was entirely, circumstantial, based on a single
account of an innocuous motion by the French league welcoming establishment of
a similar organization in Canada. Against that, Beauchesne pointed to the
complete denial by Langlois. Furthermore, at the end of March 1904, the Quebec
League passed a formal resolution denying having made any formal request for
affiliation and stating that if such a request had been made it was done
without their authority. A copy of the resolution was sent to Paris. Beauchesne
said he also wrote to Louis Herbette asking if he had taken any initiative to
affiliate the Quebec league with the French one.
Herbette replied in the negative, saying
there was no affiliation and that the two groups, along with many others in
several countries were carrying on campaigns for educational reform in a
completely autonomous and independent manner. Personally Herbette said, he had
become much too busy to look after the day, to day working of the Ligue
française and he had no idea where the misinformation had come from. He added,
It is difficult to escape the false
suppositions, announcements and assessments I am not surprised that matters
have gone this far. Yet I was somewhat surprised to read in the American
newspapers that I was a freemason or a member of an antichristian sect or
party. Clearly, one has to adopt some sort of philosophy when one has the
unfortunate advantage of working not merely for one's own interests. When one
has been assigned broader duties and responsibilities, every particular
preference cannot be taken into account.8
Beauchesne also tried to track down the
origin of the accusation that the Canadian and French organizations were
affiliated by writing to the newspaper that first published it, Correspondence
Hebdomadaire. He received no answer but concluded:
It is possible that the editorial staff was
poorly informed I have been a journalist long enough to know that newspapers,
despite the best intentions in the world, are sometimes ignominiously duped I
have seen people publish fabricated stories for the sole purpose of using them
later against their enemies. These tricks are understandable when we realize
that publishers do not have the time to research in depth the facts they report
to the public.9
According to Beauchesne, Bernard was
interested only in making a name for himself and selling as many books as
possible. Bernard's long discussion of the French organization was simply a
weak attempt at establishing guilt by association.
It is easy to find some similarity between
the sayings of Jean Mac, who said a great deal during his lifetime, and those
of any other person I would even wager that, by looking a little bit, I would
find statements essentially similar to those of our ultramontanes. The
professions of faith made by the pharisee in the temple bear a striking
resemblance to Bernard's sentimental outpourings.10
A more important criterion, according to
Beauchesne, was the reputation of the persons involved, nearly all of whom were
men of high standing in Quebec. To say they were freemasons engaged in an
anti-religious crusade merely, showed the ignorance of Bernard: "Only a
perfidious hypocrite could invent such villainous acts."11
Beauchesne's last chapter ignored Bernard
and went back to some of the basic arguments in favour of the League.
The association of which I am secretary does
not want to consider matters of conscience. It is not necessary to have any
special beliefs in order to speak of health in educational establishments, of
the age and salary of teachers, of improvements to the school or of other such
matters. Lay persons have the inalienable right to see to it that their
children are well treated and receive a solid, practical education. As for
religion, they know that it is well guarded by the clergy and they have no
cause to worry. Not that they, are complaining, although there appears to be a
general sense of public dissatisfaction with respect to the sorry state of many
of our schools.12
To teach literature, he said, it is not
sufficient to be a good Christian. You have to know literature and know how to
I knew some people who were kitchen boys
immediately before they became teachers. They were credited with the title of
teacher because their behaviour was beyond reproach. This, however, proved to
be a mistake. The students assigned to these young teachers wasted most of
Beauchesne's manuscript never saw the light
of day. The courts found Bernard riot guilty of libel but ordered him to pay
the legal costs. Shortly thereafter Bernard left Quebec to study theology in
St. Boniface, Manitoba. He became ordained in 1908. Satisfied that Bernard
"was condemning himself to voluntary seclusion by entering a religious
order," Bouchard decided not to publish Beauchesne's response.14
1. Ralph, Heintzman, "The Struggle for
Life: Montreal French Daily Newspapers 1896-1911," Doctoral dissertation,
York University, 1979, p. 479.
2. Henri Bernard, La Ligue de
l'enseignement: histoire d'une conspiration maçonnique à Montréal,
Notre-Dame-des-Neiges-Ouest, 1903, p. 105.
3. Le Journal, January 31, 1903.
4. Bernard, op. cit., p. 106.
5. Le Canada, July 21, 1903.
6. L'Union, December 23, 1903.
7. Public Archives of Canada, Beauchesne
Papers, La Fameuse Ligue: Conspiration maçonnique qui n'a jamais existé,
1904, pp. 2-4.
8. Ibid., p. 19.
9. Ibid., pp. 22-23.
10. Ibid., p. 25.
11. Ibid., p. 30.
12. Ibid., p. 26.
13. Ibid., p. 33.
14. T.D. Bouchard, Mémoires,
Beauchemin, Montreal, 1960, vol. 2, p. 50.