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Henri Bourassa

Henri Bourassa
Henri Bourassa, July 1917.
Born Joseph-Napoléon-Henri Bourassa
(1868-09-01)September 1, 1868
Montreal, Quebec
Died August 31, 1952(1952-08-31) (aged 83)
Outremont, Quebec
Era Philosophy in Canada
Region Western philosophy
School Nationalism, pacifism, social conservatism, ultramontanism
Main interests
French Canadian nationalism, Canadian nationalism, Catholic social teaching
Notable ideas
"Two founding peoples", language rights in Canada, Canadian autonomy, Canadian neutrality
Member of the Canadian Parliament
for Labelle
In office
Preceded by District created in 1892
Succeeded by Charles Beautron Major
In office
Preceded by Hyacinthe-Adélard Fortier
Succeeded by Maurice Lalonde
Member of the Legislative Assembly of Quebec for Montréal division no. 2
In office
Preceded by Lomer Gouin
Succeeded by Clément Robillard
Member of the Legislative Assembly of Quebec for Saint-Hyacinthe
In office
Preceded by Joseph Morin
Succeeded by Télesphore-Damien Bouchard
Personal details
Political party Liberal (1896-1899)
Independent (1900)
Liberal (1900-1908)
Independent (1925-1935)
Other political
Ligue nationaliste

Joseph-Napoléon-Henri Bourassa (French pronunciation: ​; September 1, 1868 – August 31, 1952) was a French Canadian political leader and publisher. In 1899, Bourassa was outspoken against the British government's request for Canada to send a militia to fight for Britain in the Second Boer War. Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier's compromise was to send a volunteer force, but the seeds were sown for future conscription protests during the World Wars of the next half-century. Bourassa challenged, unsuccessfully, the proposal to build warships to help protect the empire. He led the opposition to mandatory conscription during World War I, arguing that Canada's interests were not at stake. He opposed Catholic bishops who defended military support of Britain and its allies.[1] Bourassa was an ideological father of French-Canadian nationalism.[2]


  • Biography 1
  • See also 2
  • References 3
  • Further reading 4
    • Primary sources 4.1
  • External links 5


Born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, to Napoléon Bourassa and Azélie Papineau (Bourassa), Henri Bourassa was a grandson of the pro-democracy reformist politician Louis-Joseph Papineau. He was educated at École Polytechnique de Montréal and at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1890, he became mayor of the town of Montebello, Quebec, at the age of 22.[3]

In 1896, he was elected to the House of Commons as an independent Liberal for Labelle, but resigned in 1899 to protest against the sending of Canadian troops to the Second Boer War. He was re-elected soon after his resignation. He argued that Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier was un vendu ("a sell-out") to British imperialism and its supporters in Canada.

To counter what he perceived to be the evils of imperialism, in 1903 he created the Ligue nationaliste canadienne to instill a pan-Canadian nationalist spirit in the Francophone population. The League opposed political dependence on either Britain or the United States, supporting instead Canadian autonomy within the British Empire.

Bourassa left the federal parliament on May 11, 1907, but remained active in Quebec politics being elected to the Legislative Assembly of Quebec in the 1908 provincial election in Montréal division no. 2, leading the Ligue Nationaliste until retiring from the assembly on September 5, 1912. He continued to criticize Laurier because his compromises were mostly helping the British Empire, opposing Laurier's attempts to build a Canadian navy in 1911, which he believed would draw Canada into future imperial wars between Britain and Germany. He supported the eventual creation of an independent navy, but did not want it to be under British command, as Laurier had planned. Bourassa's attacks depleted Laurier's strength in Quebec, contributing to the Liberal Party's loss in the 1911 election. Ironically, Bourassa's moves aided in the election of the Conservatives, who held more staunchly Imperialist policies than the Liberals.

In 1910, while serving in the Provincial Assembly as the member for Saint-Hyacinthe he founded the newspaper Le Devoir to promote the Nationalist League, and served as its editor until 1932.

In 1913, Bourassa denounced the government of Ontario as "more Prussian than Prussia" during the Ontario Schools Question crisis (see Regulation 17), after Ontario almost banned the use of French in their schools and made English the official language of instruction. He charged his compatriots to see their enemies inside Canada, in 1915:
"The enemies of the French language, of French civilization in Canada, are not the Boches on the shores of the Spree; but the English-Canadian anglicizers, the Orange intriguers, or Irish priests. Above all they are French Canadians weakened and degraded by the conquest and three centuries of colonial servitude. Let no mistake be made: if we let the Ontario minority be crushed, it will soon be the turn of other French groups in English Canada." [in Wade, v 2 p. 671]

Bourassa led French Canadian opposition to the participation in World War I, especially Robert Borden's plans to implement conscription in 1917. He agreed that the war was necessary for the survival of France and Britain, but felt that only those Canadians who volunteered for service should be sent to the battlefields of Europe. His opposition to conscription brought him the anglophone public's disfavour, as expressed by hostile crowd amassed in Ottawa that threw vegetables and eggs during his oration.[4]

Three months after stating that he had nothing more to do with politics, he returned to the House of Commons in the 1925 election with his election as an Independent MP, and remained until his defeat in the 1935 election. In the 1930s, Bourassa demanded that Canada keep its gates shut to Jewish immigrants, as did many other Canadian politicians of the time.

Bourassa also opposed the Conscription crisis of 1944 in World War II, though less effectively, and was a member of the Bloc populaire. His influence on Quebec's politics can still be seen today in all major provincial parties.

According to Michael C. Macmillan, Bourassa's political thought was largely a combination of Whig liberalism, Catholic social thought, and traditional Quebec political thought. He was distinctly liberal in his anti-imperialism and general support for civil liberties for French Canadians, while his approach to economic questions was essentially Catholic. While Bourassa embraced the ultramontane idea that the Church was responsible for faith, morals, discipline, and administration, he resisted Church involvement in the political sphere and rejected the corporatism espoused by the Church. Bourassa opposed state intervention wherever possible and increasingly throughout his career emphasized the need for moral reform.[5]

Maxime Raymond, André Laurendeau and Henri Bourassa (right) in 1944.

As Levitt has shown, attitudes of historians, both Anglophone and Francophone, toward Bourassa consistently have been colored by the position of each historian on the major issues Bourassa addressed. Goldwin Smith, a fellow anti-imperialist, introduced him into historical literature in 1902. The isolationism of the 1930s and the biculturalism of the 1960s (Bourassa, while a champion of Francophone rights, always opposed separatism) occasioned favourable treatment among Anglophones, while Lionel Groulx, his one-time foe, described him as "l'incomparable Éveilleur." Bourassa's position on social issues - Catholic, moderately reformist, emphasizing the family and agricultural values - likewise has called forth praise and blame.[6]

Upon his death in Outremont, Quebec in 1952 (one day shy of his 84th birthday), Henri Bourassa was interred in Montreal's Cimetière Notre-Dame-des-Neiges.

Henri Bourassa Blvd., Henri-Bourassa metro station, and the federal riding of Bourassa, all in Montreal, are named for him. He is not related to Robert Bourassa, the former premier of Quebec.

See also


  1. ^ Rolando Gomes, "Henri Bourassa et l'Imperialisme Britannique (1899-1918)," Bulletin d'Histoire Politique (2008) 16#3 pp 161-182.
  2. ^ Susan Mann, Dream of Nation: a Social and Intellectual History of Quebec (2nd ed. 2003) pp 169-75, 205-25
  3. ^ Government of Canada, Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online,
  4. ^ Henri Bourassa, Fiery Politician, Dies, A1. The Globe & Mail, September 1, 1952.
  5. ^ MacMillan, Michael C., "The Character of Henri Bourassa's Political Philosophy", American Review of Canadian Studies, 1982b 12(1): 10-29. ISSN 0272-2011
  6. ^ Levitt, Joseph. "Images of Bourassa", Journal of Canadian Studies, 1978, 13(1): 100-113. ISSN 0021-9495

Further reading

  • LaChapelle, Guy and Comeau, Robert, ed. Robert Bourasa: Un Bâtisseur Tranquille Pr. de l'U. Laval, 2003. 406 pp.
  • Levitt, Joseph Henri. Bourassa and the Golden Calf:The Social Program of the Nationalists of Quebec 1900-1914 (1969)
  • Levitt, Joseph. "Images of Bourassa" Journal of Canadian Studies 1978 13(1): 100-113. ISSN 0021-9495
  • MacMillan, C. Michael. "Henri Bourassa on the Defence of Language Rights" Dalhousie Review 1982a 62(3): 413-430. ISSN 0011-5827
  • MacMillan, C. Michael. "The Character of Henri Bourassa's Political Philosophy" American Review of Canadian Studies 1982b 12(1): 10-29. ISSN 0272-2011
  • Murrow, Casey. Henri Bourassa and French-Canadian Nationalism Opposition to Empire (1968)
  • Rumilly, Robert. Henri Bourassa - La Vie Publique D'un Grand Canadien (1944), also published as Histoire De La Province De Quebec: XIII: Henri Bourassa.
  • Mason Wade, The French Canadians, 1760-1945 (1955).

Primary sources

  • Patrick Allen et al., eds. La pensée de Henri Bourassa (1954)
  • Levitt, Joseph, ed. Henri Bourassa on Imperialism and Biculturalism, 1900-1918 (1970)

External links

  • Henri Bourassa – Parliament of Canada biography
  • "Henri Bourassa’s Career in the Quebec National Assembly", Canadian Parliamentary Review

Link to Dictionary of Canadian BiographyDCB Initiative

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