How I finally figured out what the “journée des Patriotes” is about

mur au pied du courant

Le 18 mai, c’est la journée des Patriotes. I’m sure that I must have learned about these “Patriotes” back in Sec IV History, except that the only thing I remember of that class is a dog-eared sheet of dates we were told to memorize.

Then, last February, I happened upon this curious segment of stone wall in front of the SAQ building on the corner of de Lorimier and Notre Dame. When I took this picture 3 months ago, I honestly had no idea that it was a segment of the prison wall that once surrounded the Prison Au Pied du Courant, also sometimes called La prison des Patriotes. It wasn’t until a few days later, when I came perchance across this sketch of de Lorimier being put to death in a Montreal history book, that the Patriots’ struggle really hit home.

Obviously Quebec is not going to celebrate a long-gone British monarch every May, so instead we use this jour férié to commemorate what was ultimately a losing battle for Canadian independence: the Patriot Rebellion of 1837.

Perhaps another reason I remained incurious about the meaning this holiday for so long is that the Patriots have been adopted as a symbol of the present-day sovereigntist movment (which is understandable) and, furthermore sometimes used to justify anti-Anglo sentiment (which is not).

Although the Patriots fought the British ruling class, the struggle was for political and economic autonomy rather than a mere clash of language and culture. The rebellion was similar in spirit to the American Revolution. A parallel though smaller uprising took place the same year in Upper Canada (Ontario), led by Toronto’s first mayor, W.L. Mackenzie.

Naturally, French Canadians wanted to be represented in the government by Catholic francophones. But the Patriots also included some Anglos who supported the idea of representative local democracy at a time when the British governor had ultimate veto power over the elected Assembly and controlled the public treasury.

The conflict turned violent after the British government refused the 92 resolutions for parliamentary reform that were put forward by the majority-Patriot Assembly. After three bloody battles in 1837, the British declared martial law and imprisoned hundreds of Patriots in the Prison Au Pied du Courant.

Many of the rebellion’s leaders were hung from gallows over the prison gate, which still stands today. The sketch above shows the public execution of Daunais, de Lorimier, Hindelang, Narbonne, and Nicolas on February 15th, 1839.

Now whenever I glimpse the old prison, or even cross the street named after de Lorimier, the gravity of these events lingers in the place.

If only our high school history teacher had presented these stories within a local, tangible context I may have retained more than a near-Pavlovian sense of resonance about a handful of historic dates.


  1. Not enough people know this story and De Lorimier struggle to put the Blue Collar Worker on the political map of a mostly british ruled colony. It’s wasn’t and today still not a question of language it’s a debate for a minority in north America. The story of the Patriotes has today been turned into a language issue and too often misinterpreted by hardcore separatist which gives them a bad reputation they don’t deserve.

    These men and woman gave their life for a cause we are still battling today. Thank you for bringing this story in the right light and telling the right story.

  2. I know it as Victoria Day. Always will be for me and many, many other others.

  3. I know it as Fête de Dollard. Always will be for me and many, many other others.

  4. It occurs to me that if the Colonial American forces of liberation had been more whole-heartedly supported by Lower Canadians 50 years earlier, Quebec would’ve ‘thrown off its shackles’ long before most of those patriotes were even born.

    So it’s hard to be sympathetic to their cause now. As with all fashions (representative government in this example) Quebec suffered from a chronic case of too little, too late.

  5. Growing up in Ontario, it was always known as May two-four. It was only ever called Victoria Day by the media and by monarchist nutters such as the IODE and Orangemen. I much prefer journée des Patriotes. Too bad we all can’t celebrate it together rather than turn it into a linguistic issue.

    I don’t think you can dismiss the struggle of one generation based on the action or inaction of previous generations.

  6. 1776-1837? Wouldn’t that be over 60 years earlier?

  7. You’re so right, Montgomery, that’s way too little people being executed in the name of the British empire to warrant not celebrating Queen Victoria on this joyful day…

    Before accusing anyone of having a selective memory, please take a more attentive look at what really happened 50-60 years earlier and the circumstances that led to that.

  8. Bon sommaire de l’histoire ! Pour une fois une fête qui n’est pas religieuse ou reliée à une époque coloniale révolue…

  9. It’s not just ”La journée des patriotes”

    in 2003 prime minister of Québec M. Bernard Landry made that announcement by a decret at l’Assemblée Nationale du Québec.

    this year in 2009 was the 6th JOURNÉE NATIONALE DES PATRIOTES in Québec.

    here is my album photos of LA JOURNÉE NATIONALE DES PATRIOTES 2009 in Montréal

    I also have a JOURNÉE NATIONALE DES PATRIOTES playlist on my youtube channel right here;

    Enjoy the pics and videos.

    Did you know that Canada is the only place in the world where they still celebrate Victoria-Day !!!

  10. « It occurs to me that if the Colonial American forces of liberation had been whole-heartedly supported by Lower Canadians 50 years earlier,… it’s hard to be sympathetic to their cause now… Quebec suffered from a chronic case of too little, too late. » Comment by Montgomery, May 18, 2009.

    Dear Montgomery, it’s easy to sumarise and conclude in the way you do the events that took place at that period time. (our daily life is fed by examples based on plot as simple as: The Good And The Bad – with happy endings – Loft Story held by tv viewers voting for their favorite figure.. The issues of today doesn’t bring much uprising from individuals.
    For this, one must take more things in consideration.
    For the french what was happening then in the south was just british quarreling within each others. Comunication was not obvious. At that moment the british governor used a lot of ruse to hold control of the french who had no access to any information including with France and by giving back some rights to the french in order to anaesthetize by all means any possibilities of revolution in it’s north colony.
    Who were the french then? Farmers, craftsmen, but no elite, no scholars and no articulated people to organize and stand against the dominant.
    Maybe you learned and read a few lines on the topic.
    But the real knowledge of History is outsized in our fast pace world; it takes data, practice and thoughts. Just like learning a new language..

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