To the amazement of ethnologists everywhere, French Canadians went from being an agricultural society to an urban society in what seemed like no time at all. And even though this happened in the early 1950s, people are still talking about it today.

Quebec society went into shock as a result, and with good reason. From 80% rural and self-sufficient, Quebecers became urbanized dependents in a big way.

This exodus was our second massive shift. Most French Canadians lived in towns or cities until they moved to the country to live off the land in 1760. This retreat from the city is what caused habitants (farmers) to love their land so much that their lifestyle became almost a religion.

As Joe Tremblay says, “We’re all no more than three generations from the farm.”

While showing rural counties extreme generosity, a sly Premier Maurice Duplessis would always make sure to remind people “there will always be at least one farmer in every French Canadian family.” That was back in the golden age of the big ministries of agriculture. Duplessis’s main opponent, Adélard Godbout, was a farmer-agriculturist and apple grower from Frelighsburg, as well as the son of a man of the soil.

Quebecers developed their own theory on ethnological mutations. “You can take the farmer out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the farmer.” Now let’s all climb aboard the buggy and take a ride into town.

At the end of the 1930s, Quebec Cabinet Minister Laurent Barré, a farmer, invited the province’s schoolchildren to take part in an inter-collegial writing contest. The theme was “Let’s take back the land.” Forty years later, a Quebec film by Alain Chartrand entitled La piastre (The Buck) will plead for everyone to go back to the land.

This theme of nostalgia for the land, the opposition between urban and rural, and the inner turmoil that comes from abandoning the land is still very popular among Quebec writers. A recent novel by Jacques Garneau, La Mornifle (The Slap in the Face), grabbed me by the Earth Root since I’ve lived in Ste. Rosalie like the author, where the action takes place.

Following a trend that is more ecological than random, young people are partly dropping out, and teachers, advertisers, journalists and lawyers are choosing to take up the profession of their ancestors and refer to themselves as habitants. But the word no longer holds the negative connotation of “T’es un maudit habitant” (You’re just a damned peasant) and it has quickly regained its nobility, the nobility of the land, which is the only nobility to be found among Quebecers. It’s the very same one that made the Marquis de Montcalm blurt out that we’re all a bunch of peasants.

In Notre milieu (In Our Midst), Gérard Filion describes the typical peasant as a habitant in the bleak 1940s.

“He has inherited the quintessential qualities of his French ancestors when it comes to physical appearance. Although he’s not very well built, he has incredible stamina and is quite attractive. He has natural abilities for any job. As far as spirit goes, the French Canadian habitant is the Siamese twin of his French counterpart. He’s a hard worker who always gives his best, but he lacks vision. He can plan ahead, just not too far ahead. He’s a gracious host who loves spending time with family and friends, but that doesn’t prevent him from being argumentative, stubborn and even belligerent at times. He’s extremely attached to his possessions: his land, his animals and his money. While usually sober and frugal under normal circumstances, he eats and drinks to excess on special occasions, during the holidays, at weddings and while doing chores. He’s considered a heavy drinker but is rarely an alcoholic. He’s quite gullible when it comes to strangers yet very leery of those in his entourage. He’s usually very honest and stays true to his word. If he’s been at odds with his neighbour for a while, he’ll still try to find out what’s been going on in his house. He’s no fan of white-collar workers but would love for one of his sons to become a priest, lawyer or doctor regardless of the many sacrifices he’d have to make.”

The quote is long on purpose. Once you’ve read this book – and if you feel like trying your hand at some practical exercises – it’ll be a breeze for you to code Filion’s text based on the Heartstrings grid, or to play the regional differences game between typical Quebec habitants, based on whether they live in the Laurentian Plateau, the St. Lawrence Plain or the Appalachian Plateau, and how the annual 120-day growing season of mixed crops has affected them.

By focusing on growing vegetables and being closest to major markets, Montreal-region farmers are the most successful in Quebec: the Lalandes (including the very talented Cyril Lalande who I hired for a Labatt commercial), the Lalondes (who gave us a federal cabinet minister), the Lavoies, the Bigras and the other true masters of the earth whose children, often ten or twelve in number, are all classically educated.

But the scenario in other parts of the province is very different. According to a priest at the end of the 19th century, habitants in the Appalachian region of the Lower St. Lawrence and Gaspé are a bit slow, more conservative and uneducated. And because they’re political partisans, they’re easily exploited and rely on their priest for advice on everything. Habitants of the Laurentian Plateau, Lac Saint-Jean, Abitibi and Témiscamingue are, according to another source, more relaxed, more self-sufficient, more industrious and have a greater sense of community than in other parts of the province. Women will do anything to follow the latest trends and be well-dressed and comfortable in their homes.

Jacques Godbout had this to say about what kind of influence our Earth Root has on us. “There are two schools of thought on this matter,” he said. “One believes that man is in a constant battle with nature and that all his days are filled with clearing land and burning trees in the forest. The other believes habitants are in a delicate (ecological) relationship with their natural environment that is hard to describe but not limited to the simple dramatization of the fight against nature, which is seen as evil.”

Analysing the 6 Earth Root Heartstrings in our advertising lab led to the second hypothesis, that man and nature are in harmony. Quebecers love the forest. They’re drawn to it and intrigued by its many mysteries. And more often than not, the forest is what provides them with food.

A long enough summer to warm up our Latin Heartstrings and a winter that chills us to the bone give our landscapes a soul. In tune with the seasons, the Earth Root makes us lazy in winter, amorous in spring, hardworking in summer and spiritual in the fall.

What an awesome Root!

© 2022 – English translation and website by Lawrence Creaghan. Published online with the permission of Guérin Éditeur Ltée and the Fondation Jacques-Bouchard.