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Maurice Duplessis: The gentleman from Trois-Rivières

The Story

"This is a fact I understand, you might like him or dislike him immediately, but I only have beautiful memories of the man," says one Trois-Rivières local of Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis. To his critics, the name Duplessis is synonymous with unapologetic tyranny and corruption. But in this CBC Radio documentary, citizens from his hometown remember Duplessis fondly -- a sensitive friend of the poor and protector of the sick.

Medium: Radio
Program: Quebec Now
Broadcast Date: March 25, 1975
Duration: 11:05

Did You know?

• During Maurice Duplessis' postwar terms in office, he launched several public works in the province, including rural electrification, and highway, hospital and school construction. Also, on Jan. 21, 1948, Maurice Duplessis was the first premier to raise the Fleur-de-lis flag over Quebec's National Assembly.

• Despite his social reforms, Duplessis' terms in office, which spanned 18 years, are sometimes termed la grande noirceur, or the great darkness. Duplessis's 1937 Padlock Act allowed the provincial attorney general to close any building used for promulgating communism or bolshevism. The term communist was vaguely defined in the legislation because, as Duplessis reasoned, "lots of people are communists who do not know it."

While some supporters argued that Duplessis was sincere in fighting what he believed to be a genuine communist threat, others argued that he abused his power to persecute non-conformists. In 1957, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Padlock Act was unconstitutional.

• In a Weekend magazine article on Maurice Duplessis, historian Ramsay Cook described Duplessis's singular magnetism. He quoted politician Pierre Laporte who described Le Chef as "astonishingly vivid and intelligent, his eyes were the faithful mirror of all the pleasant and unpleasant thoughts that contended in this always ebullient mind. Mr. Duplessis' eyes possessed a magnetism that was inexpressible, but real. Once in front of him, few could find their grievances; they could not sustain the gaze of this leader of men." (Sept. 3, 1979.)

• At the start of his career, Duplessis reportedly dedicated himself to Saint Joseph, the first patron Saint of New France and patron of the French missionary martyrs in Canada. All major projects he helmed were started on a Wednesday, the day of St. Joseph.

• Duplessis was a champion of provincial rights during a time of massive centralization. His government rejected federal grants to the universities, called for the Tremblay Commission on constitutional problems, and developed a provincial income tax scheme.


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