Strength through Violence

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In a previous post I discussed the presence and importance of strongmen in the province of Quebec. Physical culturist George Jowett, termed Quebec the ‘Cradle of Quebec’ due to the sheer number of those guys coming from the province. On another occasion, Quebec political figure Joseph-Xavier Perrault, during his trip to England with Louis Cyr, exclaimed that people should visit Canada because “we grow the best wheat, have the finest cattle, and the strongest men in the world!”

Although the fame of the Quebec strongmen arise from their ability to lift and handle heavy objects (Louis Cyr, over 4000 lbs backlift), the tales of their vigor often show a man using his strength to inflict physical pain to an other or others. Although this is untrue for the great Cyr, men like Jos Montferrand, Jean-Baptiste Grenon, and Antoine Voyer (all of which will have a post dedicated to them) are presented as physical defenders of French Canadian nationalism who use their fists to settle conflict. Here is what noticeable however:

  • These men are never referred to as ‘violent’ or ‘aggressive’
  • Their actions are often (drawing real close to always) against someone who is British, Scottish, or Irish
  • Their actions always seem to be justified: protecting a French Canadian, protecting a priest, honoring his language/religion, allowing his compatriots to vote, etc.
  • Finally, no joy seems to be emanating from these men during or after their fights; showing them as, not someone full of remorse, but who does not fight our of pure pleasure.

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Curiously, stories and biographies of theme men emerged in the 1880s – early 1900s, several years after their death. In the stories, the men and their feats of strength and, at times, retribution, are place within key events of Quebec history: the British Conquest of 1760, the Ottawa/Gatineau Shiner’s War, the 1832 Patriot Election, etc.

Makes you wonder if these men truly existed (although genealogies would argue otherwise) and if their feats actually occurred. Alas! although some of you might agree with the Myths of the Quebec strongmen, one must not forget that myths were always products of strong beliefs shared among a common people. I say, if the myth assisted in French Canadian resistance during a time of marginalization, they should remain in the annals of time as essential to Quebec history.

 

*Representations of the aforementioned men are rare. It seems that only drawings of Jos Montferrand are available.*

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