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Duplessis nears death

Maurice Duplessis's death was a rare historical marker, forever discussed in terms of before and after. Before his death, the province basked in the postwar boom but strikers were punished, communists were hounded and the province's resources were sold to American big business. After his death, the province rallied its way into modernity with the not so Quiet Revolution. But over the past fifty years, historians and Quebecers have been constantly re-evaluating Duplessis and have drawn no certain conclusions.

When word spreads that Premier Maurice Duplessis has fallen ill while surveying a mining development in Quebec, a convoy of reporters congregates. The journalists are met by a police escort and are accompanied to a nearby hotel. No photographs are to be taken and no interviews will be granted. "It was like stepping into a vacuum," CBC reporter Kingsley Brown describes of the tightly controlled scene in this CBC Television report.

Duplessis's aides scramble to enforce a news blackout to control the fleeting image of the dying premier. But eventually Canadians come to learn that the Quebec premier has suffered five cerebral seizures. Then, on Sept. 7, 1959, Maurice Duplessis dies at the age of 69. Many historians will later suggest that Duplessis's death effectively marked the birth of the Quiet Revolution, a period in which Quebec dramatically modernized its social and political institutions. 
. Maurice Duplessis was premier of Quebec for a record-breaking five terms.
. After a serious illness, Duplessis quit drinking in 1942. The lifelong bachelor maintained a home in his hometown of Trois-Rivières and kept a room at the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City.
. While Duplessis's government was largely driven by patronage, historians agree that the premier didn't accept money for his own ends. In fact, Duplessis died $40,000 in debt.

. Paul Sauvé succeeded Maurice Duplessis as Union Nationale president and premier of Quebec.
. "Many things that he did resulted in controversy, but whether in agreement or not, I think his place in history will be that of a born leader of men in his day and generation, with recognition given to the fact that the courses that he followed were the product of his devotion to the principles in which he believed rather than being the dictates of expediency." -- John Diefenbaker, September 1959.

. Hazen Argue, CCF leader, said that Duplessis's death "marks the passing of one of the most colourful figures in Canadian political life. His uncompromising views, acid tongue and boundless energy enabled him to repel successfully his political opponents and to enjoy for many years without serious challenge the highest office in the gift of his province."

. After Duplessis's death, the province commissioned a 10-foot-high bronze commemorative sculpture. But for two decades, the Duplessis sculpture never saw the light of day as public opinion of the deceased premier became increasingly more negative. The sculpture was stored in a public works department warehouse until 1977 when Premier René Lévesque's Parti Québecois installed the statue on the grounds of the National Assembly. Levesque
Medium: Television
Program: Newsmagazine
Broadcast Date: Sept. 6, 1959
Host: Norman DePoe
Reporter: Kingsley Brown
Duration: 1:59

Last updated: April 10, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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