Life of the Party
Contains Illustrations, Index
Terry A. Crowley is a professor of history at the University of Guelph,
and the author of Agnes Macphail and the Politics of Equality.
Working-class autobiography is rare. Francophone working-class autobiography written in English virtually did not exist until the publication of this delightful memoir. Gerard Fortin’s life was full of adventure, an odyssey of Quebec’s transformation from a rural to a modern industrial society. Born in 1923, he became a woodsman and seaman converted to the radical faith of Communism at an early age. Life in the lumber camps and on the seas is vividly recorded, as is the transient working-class world of Quebec City in the 1930s and ‘40s. Fortin was influential in organizing Canadian unions during those years, and he colorfully recounts this struggle, in which his physical strength and forbearance were essential qualities. He hides little, from the brutality of his father to his numerous amorous liaisons.
Much of his memoir is devoted to his years as Quebec Communist Party organizer in the 1940s and ‘50s. Although he had little education, Fortin came to edit the party’s francophone paper and stood as a candidate in several elections. When the party fell apart in the years 1956-58 and Fortin was drummed out as a “revisionist,” he found a variety of odd jobs until he became a real estate salesman for a Montreal suburban development. This led to his involvement with one of the most controversial urban development projects in the 1970s, “La cite Concordia.” Following a move to the Laurentians, where he became a building inspector whose house was burned down, he became even more deeply involved in working for the Parti québécois and the independence of Quebec. After a very restless life, he settled down and married the former sister-in-law of René Lévesque.
Montreal journalist Boyce Richardson is to be congratulated for relating this engaging and important life in a forthright style. His own short summaries of facets of Quebec history, which intersperse the text, are sometimes not completely accurate.