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Exploring close-knit family bonds in Charlevoix

by Sylvain-Jacques Desjardins

Anthropology Professor Chantal Collard initially investigated marriage patterns, the circulation of orphans, and adoption in Quebec's Charlevoix region as part of two research projects she conducted in the mid-1980s. She soon realized she had collected so much information that she could easily write a book on the subject of kinship.

Nearly 15 years later, she did just that, writing Une Famille, Un Village, Une Nation: La parentˇ dans Charlevoix 1900-1960 (Borˇal 1999, 194 pages), which was launched this fall.

"After looking over my research again," she said during an interview in her downtown Library Building office, "I realized that writing a book would be a good way to return my data to the people of Charlevoix." Writing Une Famille also fuelled Collard's desire to produce a second book that was part of her original studies, this time on Quebec adoptions.

Collard moved from her native France to Quebec in 1973, and was eager to investigate the Charlevoix region as a way of discovering the history of her new home. "It was important for me as an anthropologist to learn more about the roots of the country I had moved to."

Charlevoix was an extremely pleasant place to research, too. About 100 km northeast of Quebec City, the sleepy countryside offers breathtaking views of mountains and the St. Lawrence River.

The region also provided Collard with a good sample of the family and population patterns typical in Quebec's outlying territories. Since its colonization in 1675, Charlevoix has largely been populated by a homogeneous group of white French-Canadians. This is largely due to the area's isolation from the rest of the province, which wasn't accessible by road until 1824 or by train until 1914.

In Une Famille, Collard describes Charlevoix before 1960 as a place where large families were the rule, couples having an average of 7.4 children in the 1930s. But unlike larger regions like Montreal and Quebec City, where big broods were also the norm until the Quiet Revolution, Collard writes that the Charlevoix population had difficulty meeting its growth potential because a shortage of land led to emigration and no new immigration. Also, between 1900 and 1960, the Catholic Church dominated the province, and the number of religious vocations was at its highest.

In her book, Collard looks at all forms of kinship: spiritual, carnal (through blood and marriage), adoptive, and the kinship of orphans. In her chapter on marriage, she describes a common pattern, that of the marriage between two brothers of one family and two sisters of another. It wasn't uncommon for two sisters married to two brothers to share a home with their own families, or to live close by, both to share the economic burden and for company.

These close kinship bonds "provided the Charlevoix people with a strong regional and national identity," she said. Even today, despite its booming summer tourist season, Charlevoix remains a strongly homogeneous society with an almost entirely white francophone population. "There are virtually no visible minorities or ethnic groups living there," Collard said.

But things are changing. While the birth rate has declined to about two to three children per couple over the last four decades, Collard said that the next generation will not be able to rely on dozens of cousins and siblings to form their social networks, nor can the next generation count on fecundity to repopulate the region.


Copyright 1999 Concordia's Thursday Report.