Le Jour de L’An in Old Québec
By Tim Hazell
Québec is Canada’s predominantly French-speaking province, with a substantial Anglophone minority. It has always played a significant role in Canadian politics, sometimes as a proverbial thorn in the side of the establishment. Tensions resulting from the alienation of Francophones to Anglophones were pivotal to the creation of activist movements in New France. Traditionally, until the Quiet Revolution and Separatist Movement of the 1960s, British financiers controlled the province’s economy from their headquarters in Montreal. An ultra-conservative Catholic Church kept towns and rural villages firmly under the control of landowners and clergy.
Jacques Cartier had sailed into the St. Lawrence River in 1534 to establish a colony near present-day Québec City at the site of Stadacona, a St. Lawrence Iroquoian village. These speakers of an Iroquois dialect called Laurentian had vanished from the region by the end of the 16th century. Native presence in French Canada during the 17th century was a deciding factor in Québec’s balance of Francophone and Anglophone power. Their combined Leadership of Nations was referred to as the Haudenosaunee, “People Building a Long House,” and reached its zenith, with an estimated population of 12,000, during the advent of settlements along the St. Lawrence River.
In the province’s mountainous Laurentian region, confederacy with the Hurons prevented continuous blood feuds. Their village capital of Ossossane was a place of unique native architecture. Bark longhouses sheltering several communal families could reach a length of 200 feet. Modern Québec’s aboriginal populations live on reserves and in small communities scattered throughout its rural areas. A younger generation of native speakers for their tribes plays a dominant role in politics and campaigns for indigenous rights.
New Year traditions in French Canada include ice fishing in rural communities and ebullient celebrations with concerts, theater, and flamboyant nightlife in cosmopolitan Montreal and Québec City. Famous for its cuisine at any time of the year, the holiday season from Christmas Eve Réveillon to Veille du Jour de L’An (New Year’s Eve) gives everyone a chance to sample Québec’s hearty fare, rooted in peasant and artisan cultures from the west of 17th century France, with a touch of British colonial influence. Desserts such as tarte au sucre (sugar pie) round out elaborate holiday feasts. Indulge, enjoy and forget the calories!
Tarte au Sucre
9-inch uncooked pie shell
2 cups brown sugar, packed
3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 can Carnation evaporated milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup cold butter, small dice
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a bowl, mix brown sugar and flour. In a separate bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, and vanilla. Gradually add to the flour mixture and combine well. Place cookie sheet under pie crust. Fill pie crust with the mixture. Drop cold butter cubes throughout filling. Bake for 50 minutes, or until outside edges are firm and center is slightly jelly like. Let cool and refrigerate before serving with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.