Home Page
Author Inventor
Photo Album
Time Line
Web Links

Oscar Bériau and the Québec Renaissance.
The Revival of Hand Weaving and Other Crafts

By Jean-Paul Picard Jr.

In Hand Woven Magazine Daryl Lancaster wrote, that at the 2002 Convergence, in Vancouver, there was a high level of craftsmanship by the Canadian fiber artists in garment and pattern construction. It was pointed out that Canada still offers sewing in the core curriculum for all middle schools students.(1) All levels of Canadian government and businesses support many venues for arts and crafts.

Every August, in Québec City, the "Plein Air" crafts fair is held. Artisans from all over the province sell their wares at this event and in Montréal in December. You will find weaving, ceramics, jewelry, custom-made coats, shoes and belts. The highest level of quality and craftsmanship is not dictated by price. However in 1929 a Québec Provincial Government report found that the old techniques of weaving and other textile crafts were lost and the facilities to teach were lacking.

One of the major figures that helped set the stage for resurgence in Canadian craft and orchestrated the “The Québec Renaissance” was Oscar A. B&#233riau. Working with the Québec Government, he used his skills in researching, writing, organizing, directing, and developing personal relationships with craftspersons, politicians, businessmen, and the clergy to create the environment to propel hand weaving and all other crafts to be part of an educated cultural society with an economic component.

Brief History
The Canada Act of 1791 allowed Québec, then under British rule, to follow the culture, religion, and civil laws of France. With an average of 10 children per farm family the population grew to 330,000 by 1812.(2) This “habitant” farm production grew rapidly, growing crops, raising livestock, making textiles by sewing, crochet, embroidery, spinning, and weaving on the old barn looms from their Normandy ancestors. “The hum of the spinning wheel and the soft clank-clank of the weaving loom were heard on every farm.”(3) The materials used were natural wool and unbleached linen. Weaving became a profitable home industry.

By the 1850s Jacquard power looms were well established. Factory goods started to replace hand made furniture, textiles and dyes. Double weaving and other traditional designs were disappearing including the “ceiture fléchée, the French Canadian sash. Young adults were lured to factory and mill towns for jobs, which later became a problem when work was not available and self-sufficiency was not always practical. To improve the life of the habitant several organizations were founded.

Household Science Schools
The first "Les Ecoles Menageres Regionales” (Household Science School) (HSS) was founded in 1897 by the Ursulines Nuns in Roberval. Their mission was to teach young girls the skills they would need to improve life on the family farm. In 1905 the Ministry of Agriculture provided guidance and subsidies for the schools. J. Edward Caron, Minister, “who favored the creation of HSS…”, stated that these schools are “…destined to regenerate the family and society”.(4)

Beside reading and writing, the typical curriculum could include: cooking, canning, house keeping, hygiene, domestic medicine, child welfare and home bookkeeping. The girls were taught sewing, cutting out patterns, economical dress-making”(5), darning and mending, knitting, dyeing and making over old clothes, hat making, embroidery and lace making.

On farming they learn to raise grains, beans, hay, vegetables, fruits and the importance of rotating crops. They raised farm animals, built poultry houses and pigsties and butcher the livestock for meat and other household needs. In Roberval students kept bees and harvested 4020 lbs. of honey in one season(6). In 1924 Mother Superior Sister St. Augustine wrote that her students found “…cooking, sewing, knitting, are synonymous with recreation…”(7) The Ursuline Convent found that “The study of music is the complement of teaching; one should know not only how to work but also how to enjoy a pleasant rest and spread happiness around oneself”(8)

Teaching, however, had its challenges. Sister St. Ignace de Loyola wrote: “How many prejudices are to be overcome in fashions? Girls do not know how to save nowadays, and as they have grown up with the idea of spending, it is extremely difficult to teach thrift.”(9) Abbé Olivier Martin, HSS inspector, advocated the use of the loom and spinning wheel and encouraged the nuns to give prominent place to this work, which too many families have discarded.(10) By 1928 the nuns from twenty-one different religious orders were certified to teach Household Science. There were 19,000 girls in 112 schools throughout the province.

Cercles de Fermières
In 1915 five circles of the Cercles de Fermiéres (CDF) were formed. They organized events, including expositions, for local farmwomen to learn and exchange ideas on how to improve farm life. The circles grew in number and their elected representatives met in the first CDF Congress in October 1919 and by 1922 became an official arm of the Ministry of Agriculture with the Domestic Economy Service (DES). The CDF set the curriculum and the DES provided the expertise, materials, and funds to implement and reestablish textile home industries, which included sales to U.S. tourists, who vacationed in Québec. DES describes “… the making of Canadian Flannel and wool stuff, and linen carpets, which is becoming a very paying rural industry for women farmers.”(11) Behind the scenes Bériau, with expert knowledge of crafts and dyes, and “devoted friend of Canadian-French traditions was at work exploring new ways to improve the craft of weaving.”(12)

To continue this article click on Director.


References for this site    Top of this page

©Jean-Paul Picard 2001-09     ALL RIGHTS RESERVED