main menu - summary - content - site map - accessibility

Voyages


America

The West and the North: Canada
« In Canada I have just seen a million fine, intelligent Frenchmen, who should have formed the nucleus of a great French nation in America but have somehow ended up living as strangers in their own land. . The die is now cast: all of North America will speak English. »
(Letter to his brother Edouard, November 26, 1831)

Before entering Canada, Tocqueville and Beaumont were offered the opportunity to sail across the Great Lakes aboard the Superior to Green Bay, a far-flung region at the far end of Lake Michigan. They jumped at the chance, and also made the inevitable detour to see Niagara Falls, which was no less spectacular in person than it had been in their imaginations. They spent August 17th and 18th there, and on August 20th boarded a ship at Buffalo for Montreal and Quebec, where they stayed until August 30th. Tocqueville's surprise at this tiny piece of old France buried in the midst of the North American continent was immense. Canada - and more particularly Bas-Canada, where the French presence was concentrated - was a veritable revelation for him. Above all, he was greatly moved by the faithful way in which the Canadians had transplanted not only the language of France, but also its customs and architecture. He found, between the villages he and Beaumont traveled though, and even Montreal itself, a striking analogy with the French countryside, and - what was even more moving - with the French countryside of the XVIIIe century.

« They are as French as you and I. Indeed, they are more like us than the Americans of the United States are like the English. I cannot tell you how pleasant it was to find ourselves among these people. We felt at home, and everywhere people received us as compatriots. »
(Letter to Abbé Lesueur,
September 7, 1831)

They received a particularly warm welcome from the Canadians, which only served to strengthen the bonds between the two friends and the local population. Their very great curiosity led them to study this French outpost and the fate of its inhabitants, to the point that they questioned the residents of the little village of Beauport as they emerged from Sunday mass. Nevertheless, the conclusions that Tocqueville reached were mostly bleak, because even though they represented for him "the most handsome offshoot of the European family in the New World," the French Canadians were still a vanquished people who could only dream of their independence, surrounded as they were by Upper Canada and the United States. Following his travels in these lands, Tocqueville always remained convinced that France had a duty to have large colonies, and he tried, in the case of the colonization of Algeria, to learn the lessons of the Canadian failure so as not to repeat them.

see the map

The steamships

The steamships "Lady of the lake" and "Rochester", anonymous © BNF

The Saint Laurence Seaway, 'the thousand islands'

The Saint Laurence Seaway, "the thousand islands", anonymous
© BNF

Travel Notebookaccess to Travel Notebook with Flash

Canada and West America

Top of page