Born of rural parentage, Groulx had rudimentary village schooling and then classical college training in the seminary in Ste-Thérèse. The intense religious atmosphere of his upbringing and school life led him towards the priesthood and teaching. As a student and then ordained priest, he taught literature and history at the college in Valleyfield (now Salaberry-de-Valleyfield) from 1900 until 1915, with a 3-year interruption for graduate theological and linguistic study in Europe from 1906-09.
High Religious and Social Ideals
During his early teaching days, Groulx developed his 2 lifelong passions: a commitment to young people and to the study of history. He initiated the Association catholique de la jeunesse canadienne-française, a province-wide student body, inspiring its members to develop high religious and social ideals and to put them into practice throughout their lives. Groulx gleaned illustrations for the students from the past as he trained himself to be an historian. The effort entailed creating a course and a text in Canadian history virtually from scratch. He developed François-Xavier GARNEAU's view of the CONQUEST as a disaster and his idea of history as a struggle by examining the post-Conquest period (see HISTORIOGRAPHY). The novelty of that approach is hard to imagine because Groulx was so successful in undermining the common assumption that the British presence in Québec was beneficial and that French Canadian subordination was natural. In 1915 Groulx was appointed to the first chair in Canadian history at the Université de Montréal, a position he held until 1949.
Groulx saw politics through the eyes of Henri Bourassa, embittered and unhappy over the ONTARIO SCHOOLS QUESTION and Canada's participation in WWI. With friends in the Ligue des droits du français, he worried over the diminishing stature of the French language in the burgeoning world of commerce and industry. His history lectures, published annually from 1916-21, continued their assault on the unknown and the commonplace. During 1917, the year of CONSCRIPTION, Groulx's history lessons threw a dash of cold water on Confederation itself. From 1920 to 1928 he edited a monthly journal, ACTION FRANÇAISE, and animated a nationalist organization of the same name. In the journal Groulx kept posing the worrisome question of French and Catholic survival in an urban, industrial Anglo-Saxon environment, and he toyed with the idea of an autonomous state for French Canada. He carefully avoided the word SEPARATISM and denied all his life any advocacy of it. But still the thought was there, if only as an ideal. Perhaps French Canadians could organize their social, economic and political existence in their own way, drawing their inspiration and their genius from their religion, their past and their French culture.
Groulx maintained that ideal through some of the darkest episodes in modern Québec history. The Depression of the 1930s found him involved with yet another nationalist organization, ACTION NATIONALE, which interpreted the Depression as the result of excess industrialization fostered by American capitalists and abetted by an overly generous provincial government. During WWII Groulx bluntly blamed English-speaking Canadians for the division over conscription. Usually Groulx was more severe with his fellow French Canadians: they must insist on their equal place in Canada. In the 1950s Groulx chastised a new generation for sloughing off their religious heritage.
Clerical Prudence Cast Off
In an increasingly secular society, Groulx emphasized that heritage in his major work, Histoire du Canada français (1950-51), and in the historical journal he founded in 1947 and edited for 20 years: REVUE D'HISTOIRE DE L'AMÉRIQUE FRANÇAISE. What he did share with the younger generation was a distaste for Maurice DUPLESSIS and great excitement over the beginnings of the QUIET REVOLUTION. Indeed Groulx cast off his clerical prudence momentarily to vote in the election of 1962 when nationalization of hydro was at stake. Finally, the petit peuple were taking part of their destiny into their own hands.
Groulx maintained his ardour to the day he died. Just 2 weeks before, he was discussing history at the Youth Pavilion at Expo 67, and on the very last day of his life the last of his more than 30 books was launched, significantly entitled Constantes de vie.
Author SUSAN MANN TROFIMENKOFF
Lionel Groulx, Mes mémoires (1970-74), and Abbé Groulx: Variations on a Nationalist Theme, ed Susan Mann Trofimenkoff (1973); Susan Mann Trofimenkoff, Action française: French Canadian Nationalism in the 1920s (1975), and Dream of Nation: A Social and Intellectual History of Québec (1982).