The French term pure laine, literally meaning pure wool (and often translated as dyed-in-the-wool), refers to those whose ancestry is exclusively French-Canadian. (It probably relates to the raising of sheep for wool, which was common in rural Quebec of the 1700s.) Some definitions are more specific, indicating those whose families arrived in Canada during a specific period, with a lineage that is 100 per cent derived from New France (1534 to 1763) settlers.
While many French-Canadians are able to trace their ancestry back to the original settlers from France, a number are descended from mixed marriages between the French, Scottish and Irish settlers. When these shared the same Roman Catholic faith, their unions were approved by the once-powerful Roman Catholic Church in Quebec. Another factor was the settlement of many English people in the region, especially after 1763 when Quebec was ceded to Britain, many of whom were ultimately assimilated into the francophone culture.
The genealogy of the pure laine – dating back to original settlers of New France in the seventeenth century – has been the subject of detailed research. Prior to 1663 the Société Notre-Dame de Montréal recruited women to come to Montreal, then known as Ville-Marie.:8 King Louis XIV – following the advice of Jean Talon, Intendant of New France – sponsored about 800 female immigrants the King's Daughters or les filles du Roi to increase the number of marriages and therefore the population of New France. The Sisters of Notre-Dame facilitated their settling in Ville-Marie. In his 1992 PhD dissertation Yves Landry listed 770 of the approximately 800 by name.
From the seventeenth century into the twentieth century, French Canadians lived in relative geographic and linguistic isolation. Their "settlements, internal migrations, and natural population increase" were well-documented with "3 million records covering the whole province of Quebec over four centuries." By 2015 "extended pedigrees of up to 17 generations" were constructed from "a sample of present-day individuals." In an article published in 2001 in the Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics, McGill University professor Charles R. Scriver, observed there is "important evidence of social transmission of demographic behavior that contributed to effective family size and population structure." Founder populations, like the descendants of the early French immigrants, have an important role in the study of genetic diseases. With an unusually high prevalence of genetic disorders in the subpopulations of Quebec, they became the subject of human genetics research. Clusters of hereditary disorders in eastern Quebec in the twentieth century were traced to immigrants from Perche, France who arrived in the seventeenth century.
Catholic priest and historian Lionel Groulx (1878–1967) was the key figure behind the rise of Quebec nationalism which stressed "territoriality and the use of the Quebec state" in the first half of the twentieth century. Jean Éthier-Blais claimed that among Quebec nationalist intellectuals the twentieth century was Groulx century — "le siècle de l'abbé Groulx." Groulx's best-known novel L'Appel de la race, challenged the narrative surrounding French-English relationships in Quebec and revisited the history of Canada from a French Canadian perspective. In the 1920s following the publication of this novel, French Canadian nationalism "espoused the thought of Lionel Groulx", retained Catholicism and abandoned Henri Bourassa's pan-Canadian perspective. In 1998 Xavier Gélinas, then-Curator at the Canadian Museum of Civilization CMC), presented a talk at a conference on Quebec history in which he argued that even in the 1980s Groulxism remained as an important ideology among Quebecois. Groulx's work is considered to be a contributing factor to the Quiet Revolution in 1960 even though the Quebec nationalism of the révolution tranquille was "a-religious and ethnically pluralistic." Expressions such as Canadiens français pure laine, Québecois pure laine or révolution tranquille became powerful evocative symbols charged with ideology and identity.:18 Gélinas challenged the thesis of French Canadian historian Esther Delisle whom he described as pure laine. Delisle's controversial PhD political science dissertation and the book entitled The Traitor and the Jew based on her thesis, argued that Groulx and the newspaper Le Devoir were antisemitic and supported fascism.
The use of pure laine was brought to the forefront following its controversial usage in the front-page article by Jan Wong in Canada’s nationally distributed newspaper, The Globe & Mail, on September 16, 2006, three days after the shooting at Dawson College in Montreal. In her article entitled "Get under the desk," Wong argued that the frequent and historic use of the term pure laine revealed a uniquely Québécois brand of racism. "Elsewhere, to talk of racial 'purity' is repugnant. Not in Quebec." Furthermore, she suggested that the school shootings might have been related to the fact that the perpetrators were not old-stock French Québécois and they had been alienated by a Quebec society concerned with "racial purity."
Wong's accusations were denounced by National Post journalist, Barbara Kay, then-Premier Jean Charest and the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste (SSJB). SSJB President Jean Dorion declared "There is no obsession for racial purity in Quebec, definitely not. [...] The expression 'pure laine' is absolutely obsolete."
However the term was still frequently used in both English and French media. And in 2007, the Taylor-Bouchard Commission included the recommendation that the use of the expression "Québécois de souche" be ended and replaced with the term "Quebecers of French-Canadian origin." The Commission investigated reasonable accommodation of immigrants into Quebec society.
According to David Austin, author of Fear of a Black Nation (2013), which was based on Austin's two decades of inquiry including interviews and international archival research,
Québecois has conventionally been used to signify the descendants of Québec settlers from France, the majority habitants of the province, who are otherwise referred to as pure laine (pure wool) or Québecois de souche (of the base of the tree, or root). However, the changing face of Québec's increasingly diverse population challenges the privileged place of those French descendants and calls for a more inclusive notion of what it means to be Québecois or a Quebecer.
Similar terms in English
The English-Canadian equivalent to "pure laine" is "old stock", referring to the descendants of those original settlers of British Canada and French Canada who immigrated in the 17th and 18th centuries. For example, Liberal MP Stéphane Dion used the term in 2014 in the following manner: "If I'm fishing with a friend on a magnificent lake in the Laurentians ... and I see a small boat in the distance ... usually it's two middle-aged old-stock French-Canadians or English-Canadians."
- "Wool Marketing in Canada". Ag Info. Province of Alberta. 14 November 2007. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
The sheep and wool industry in Canada began with the first French settlers in the mid 1600’s.
- Hypatia, Francis (1986). "Twist Collective". Twist Collective. Twist Collective. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
Sheep were so common in New France that 18th century .... every countryman commonly keeps a few sheep which supply him with as much wool as he needs to clothe himself with.
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“pure laine” (pure wool), a term to describe someone whose lineage is 100 per cent derived from New France settlers.
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