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Charbonneau et Le Chef

The Story

The curtain rises on yet another representation of Maurice Duplessis. A new play, titled Charbonneau et Le Chef (1968), has inspired renewed debate and discussion about premier Maurice Duplessis. The CBC Radio play depicts the struggle between Duplessis and the Archbishop of Montreal, Joseph Charbonneau, during the 1949 strike in Asbestos, Que. In this Cross-Country Checkup excerpt, one exasperated caller recalls the strike and says that the play portrays Le Chef too kindly. "To the end of my life, 'til I die," caller Andrée Ouellet says, "I'm going to fight against the National Union." 

Medium: Radio
Program: Cross Country Checkup
Broadcast Date: June 30, 1968
Guest(s): Andrée Ouellet
Host: Betty Shapiro
Panellist: Evelyne Dumas, George Johnston
Duration: 6:08

Did You know?

• At midnight on Feb. 13, 1949, 2,000 miners of the Johns-Manville Company, in Asbestos, Que., walked off the job. The day after, 3,000 miners of Thetford Mines, followed. The workers requested improved health and safety conditions, an increase in wages and vacation, and a formalized consultation with the union regarding hiring and termination.

• Premier Maurice Duplessis, who was decidedly anti-union, sided with the American owners who ran the mines in the province's Eastern Townships. Duplessis rallied the Catholic Church to his side in disapproving of the strike. But the strike movement gained momentum when the Archbishop of Montreal, Joseph Charbonneau, sided with the union.

• The strike continued until Rev. Maurice Roy, Archbishop of Quebec, broke the violent standoff and mediated a settlement on July 1, 1949. The strikers won a five-cent per hour raise, two supplemental days of paid holidays and minor improvements in their vacation package. No improvements were made concerning the health and safety conditions in the mines. Asbestos was later linked to killer diseases such as lung cancer, asbestosis (scarring of the lungs) and mesothelioma.

• At the conclusion of the strike, Archbishop Charbonneau hastily left Montreal for Victoria, B.C.
• Rumours abounded, as reported in the Feb. 20, 1950, edition of Time magazine: "The news broke over Canada's biggest (955,000 person) archdiocese like a stroke of midwinter lightning. But far from dispelling the cloud of rumors, it stirred up fresh ones. Among the most persistent: that the archbishop had really been eased out, partly at the instigation of Quebec's highhanded, labor-hating Premier Maurice Duplessis. The two men had clashed sharply when Archbishop Charbonneau and the local clergy sided with members of the Canadian and Catholic Confederation of Labor in the bitter Asbestos strike even after the strikers barricaded the town and fought Duplessis' provincial police with clubs. Inevitably the two had also found themselves on opposite sides of the Montreal teachers' strike, and there had been differences over Charbonneau's administration of the university."

. Neither Duplessis nor Charbonneau publicly discussed the issue. Charbonneau died in Victoria in 1959.
• According to historian Robert Rumilly, Duplessis had nothing to do with Charbonneau's exile to Victoria. Rumilly said that the church hierarchy ordered the resignation because of Charbonneau's administrative ineptitude and character. (Globe and Mail, June 9, 1972)

. John Thomas McDonough, an Ontario-born former Dominican priest, wrote Charbonneau et Le Chef. After its English-language debut on CBC Radio, the play was staged in French at Quebec City's Théâtre du Trident. The play had a successful run of 293 performances before a total audience of 276,634.



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