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French-Canadian Poets

Published: March 2011

"If poetry alters the way in which the reader views the world, then it has had its desired effect."
- John Barton

Poetry has helped shape Canada into what it is today. By pushing boundaries and voicing opinions concerning values and morals, poets have challenged Canadian to change and evolve and to better understand new generations and new point of views. Poetry is nationally significant as it forces us to think about the world we live in when reading works, and offers us an understanding of our past through timeless verses.

Louis FrechetteIn Québec, poems are a popular form used to express French-Canadian identity. In springtime, Québec holds an annual poetry festival entitled Le printemps des poètes that seeks to promote this style of creative writing. As a result of Québec's great support for poetry, many historic sites in the province commemorate this important cultural aspect through their association with famous poets. Here are a few examples of famous poets whose dwellings were deemed of historical importance:

Louis Fréchette was born in 1839 at Maison Natale Louis-Fréchette in Lévis,Maison natale de Luois Frechette / Boyhood home of Louis Frechette Québec. Celebrated as being the most important poet of his generation during the second half of the nineteenth century, this law student wrote with a sense of patriotism in a romantic fashion that would remind some of Victor Hugo's work. Highly involved in politics, Fréchette Maison Louis Frechette / Louis Frechette Houseintended to get his bold ideas to the public through a series of poems. He was truly a patriotic poet who tried to bring to the forefront French-Canadian ideals often shrouded by English-Canadian and French culture. Some of his most famous works include Mes loisirs, Pêle-mêle and Fleurs boréales. Fréchette was also recognized overseas for his exceptional style as he was the first Canadian poet to be honoured by the prestigious French Academy in 1880. In 1892, Fréchette and his wife moved into La maison Louis-Fréchette in Montréal where he would stay until 1907. Fréchette would die the following year in 1908. By paving the way for future poets, Fréchette is accordingly a person who has had incredible impact on the heritage of Québec.

One of Fréchette's successors in French-Canadian poetry during the early twentieth century was Charles-Nérée Beauchemin, who was born in 1850. Originally a country doctor, Beauchemin was one of the first writers to reflect on his homeland, the Terroir, and would grow to be considered one of the most influential poets of his generation. Beauchemin can be remembered for his two collections of poems concentrating on rural life: Les floraisons matutinales and Patrie intime. Like Fréchette, Beauchemin dealt with the ever-present theme of patriotism, but is also credited with a delicate integration of nature and the incorporation of a more intimate style of writing in his work. Beauchemin's dwelling in Yamachiche, La maison Nérée-Beauchemin, in which he lived for over fifty years, was declared of provincial importance to celebrate his poetry. Beauchemin died in 1931.

Claude Gauvreau made waves in the mid- twentieth century with his poems Maison Mackenzie-Brydges / Mackenzie-Brydges Housethrough the revolutionary art of surrealism. He was born in 1925 and was part of a generation who dismissed patriotic themes and focused on the negation of institutions and the absence of control through surrealism. His style was prominent in Québec in the 1960s as great social changes were gripping the province during the Quiet Revolution. Gauvreau's most famous work can be found in the Refus Global manifesto from 1948 where three of his surrealist poems were featured and to which he was a signatory. When Refus Global was published, Gauvreau was renting the western wing of the Maison Mackenzie-Brydges in Montréal with his brother, Pierre. Claude Gauvreau prematurely died in 1971 after an unfortunate incident.

Whether you are an aspiring poet or simply enjoy reading poetry, be sure to visit these and other historic sites associated with famous poets during your next trip.

For more information on Le printemps des poètes, visit the official website: www.printempsdespoetes.ca.

New, W. H., editor. Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press Incorporated, 2002. Pp. 96, 147-148.
Roy, Camille. Manuel d'histoire et de la littérature canadienne de langue française, 21st edition. Montréal: Beauchemin, 1939.
Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. "Fréchette, Louis." Accessed January 24, 2011. www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?&id_nbr=6724&&PHPSESSID=mr0n0u0qmpe8sg7g7vthlp3h67&PHPSESSID=mr0n0u0qmpe8sg7g7vthlp3h67