Book Discussion: A Place in the Sun: Haiti, Haitians, and the Remaking of Quebec


A Place in the Sun: Haiti, Haitians, and the Remaking of Quebec

Sean Mills

In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, a wave of books were published that sought to make sense of the influence of Western powers on Haiti’s internal developments.  In this paper I hope to do the reverse, to look at how Haiti and Haitian migrants influenced and shaped the development of a society in the ‘West.’  Quebec and Haiti are both former colonies of the French empire, and they share a long and complex history of interactions.  From the 1930s to the 1950s, French-Canadian and Haitian cultural and political elites developed close intellectual bonds, and large numbers of French-Canadian missionaries began working in the country. Through these encounters, French-Canadian intellectual and religious figures developed an image of Haiti that would circulate widely throughout Quebec and have ongoing cultural ramifications. After first exploring French-Canadian views of Haiti, I will reverses the perspective by looking at the many ways that Haitian migrants intervened in and shaped Quebec society. As the most significant group seen to integrate into francophone Quebec, Haitian migrants introduced new perspectives into a changing public sphere during decades of political turbulence. By turning my attention to the ideas and activities of Haitian taxi drivers, exiled priests, aspiring authors, dissident intellectuals, and feminist activists, this paper will reconsider the historical actors of Quebec intellectual and political life, and demonstrate the ways in which Haitian migrants opened new debates, exposed new tensions, and forever altered Quebec society.