A History for the Future: Rewriting Memory and Identity in Quebec


196 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-2724-9
DDC 971.4'001




Translated by Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott
Reviewed by Jeffrey J. Cormier

Jeffrey J. Cormier is an assistant professor of sociology at the
University of Western Ontario in London. He is the author of The
Canadianization Movement: Emergence, Survival and Success.


This short book of reflections on Quebec and Canadian history, memory,
and identity is as subtle as it is powerful. Its main message is that in
order to move forward, Quebecers and Canadians alike must do battle not
with our collective past but with the historians and mythmakers of that
past. It is they and not history itself that must be properly exorcised
if we are to begin to look honestly at the tangled mess, with all its
tensions, conflicts, concessions, and compromises, that has been the
reality of our collective coexistence. Létourneau’s goal is to begin
that battle by demythologizing the mythologizers. While the old mantra
that “[t]hose who forget the past are doomed to repeat it” may be
true, Létourneau cleverly turns the tables: “Those who remember the
past are doomed to repeat it.” This type of remembering is
particularly damaging when “the past” is presented and represented
as conquest, grievance, and suffering.

His main target is Quebec intellectuals: former Quebec Premier Lucien
Bouchard’s brother and historian Gérard Bouchard, Josée Legault,
André Turmel, Hélиne Jutras, and Serge Cantin. These “melancholy
scholars and poets,” says Létourneau, have tended to focus on the
mistakes, the pain, and the suffering of the Québécois past. They
write history from the victims’ perspective, mainly because they feel
they have an ethical responsibility to those victims, their ancestors.
Instead Létourneau wants a balance between respect for the struggles of
ancestors and a freedom from them to write and construct a new identity.
The best way to honour one’s ancestors, he says, is to use their
experiences to create a new, better future.

While his reflections are mainly about Quebec, Létourneau also
discusses Canada and Canadian history. Here a dominant model of
“historical pluralism” has blinded Canadians and Canadian historians
to the structural duality that is the Canadian reality. An honest look
at Canadian history reveals dissonance, ambiguities, and
interconnections that are hidden in the process of trying to create a
coherent historical narrative. Canadianess, Létourneau eloquently
concludes, is simply “a way of being together.”


Létourneau, Jocelyn., “A History for the Future: Rewriting Memory and Identity in Quebec,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/14487.