In 1977, an Order in Council by Lieutenant Governor Hugues Lapointe, on the advice of René Lévesque, declaring June 24 the national holiday in Quebec.Prior to that designation the holiday celebrated annually on June 24 was to mark the feast day of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.
The feast day of Saint John the Baptist or Midsummer was a very popular event in the Ancien régime of France, and it is still celebrated as a religious feast day in several countries, like Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Spain, Latvia and Lithuania.The tradition landed in Canada with the first French colonists. According to the Jesuit Relations, the first celebrations occurred on the banks of the Saint Lawrence River on the evening of June 23, 1636, with a bonfire and five cannon shots.The green, white and red tricolour used by the Parti patriote between 1832 and 1838
In Lower Canada, the celebration of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist took a patriotic tone in 1834 on the initiative of one of the founders of the newspaper La Minerve, Ludger Duvernay, who would later become the first president of the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society. In the spring of 1834, Duvernay and other patriotes attended the celebrations of the first St. Patrick’s Day, the celebration of the Irish diaspora, in Montreal. This would have given him and others the idea of organizing something similar for all the Canadiens and their friends.On that June 24, George-Étienne Cartier’s “Ô Canada! mon pays, mes amours” was first sung during a grand patriotic banquet gathering about sixty francophones and anglophones of Montreal, in the gardens of lawyer John McDonnell, near the old Windsor Station. The Canada in the song refers to Lower Canada, today’s southern Quebec. Rounds of toasts went to the Parti patriote, the United States, Ireland, and the Ninety-Two Resolutions.Two days later, La Minerve concluded: “This holiday, whose goal is to solidify the union of the Canadiens, will not go without bearing fruit. It will be celebrated annually as a national holiday and will not miss producing the happiest results.”
The celebration recurred in 1835, 1836, 1837.Following the defeat of the insurrectional movement during the Lower Canada Rebellion and the military repressions which followed, the day was not celebrated for several years.Drapeau Carillon Sacré-Coeur: A Carillon flag waved by people on Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day from its creation in 1902 until 1948. The current Flag of Quebec is based on this design, and was adopted in 1948.
In 1834, Duvernay established the charitable Association Saint-Jean Baptiste in order to have the Saint-Jean-Baptiste celebrated that year. The association was chartered in 1849 with the mission of promoting social and moral progress. (See Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society.)The celebrations were supported by the Catholic Church and were primarily religious around that time. The lighting of bonfires, a traditional custom on the Nativity of Saint John which ultimately reached back to pre-Christian Midsummer celebrations were still lit at night. In addition, the first Saint-Jean-Baptiste parades were organized. They became an important tradition over time. The procession of allegorical floats was introduced in 1874.On June 24, 1880, the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society organized the gathering of all francophone communities across North America. The event was the first National Congress of French Canadians (Congrès national des Canadiens français).
Most interestingly, it was at this time (June 214, 1880) that the citizens of Quebec City were the first ones to hear the “Ô Canada” of Calixa Lavallée, based on a poem by a Quebec Superior Court judge, Adolphe-Basile Routhier. The song was commissioned by the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society. It was well received but did not become a widely known song for many years. English words were later written for a royal tour in 1901. In 1980, “O Canada” became the official national anthem of Canada.
In 1908, Pope Pius X designated St. John the Baptist as the patron saint of French Canadians. From 1914 to 1923 the processions were not held. In 1925, 91 years after the Ludger Duvernay’s banquet in Montreal, June 24 became a legal holiday in Quebec.
By making it a statutory holiday, the day became a holiday for all Quebecers rather than only those of French-Canadian or Catholic origins. Celebrations were gradually secularized, primarily due to actions taken by the MNQ, and June 23 and 24 became as we now know them. While the religious significance of the civic celebration is gone, the day remains popularly called la St-Jean-Baptiste or simply la St-Jean and is still observed in churches.