The Changing Social Structures

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The family

The daughter of Maria Chapdelaine who was an ammunition-factory worker at Valcartier during the war now lives with her own family of five children in the Rosemont ward of Montreal. Maria's married brothers are employees of the Aluminum Company at Arvida and Shipshaw after having been workers at the Jonquière [111] pulp plant. This fictitious epilogue to Louis Hémon's classic on French-Canadian family life on the frontier corresponds to thousands of actual histories. On the basis of the family cases already referred to, it seems that a great number of French-Canadian families do move geographically to an amazing degree during their lifetime as families. The greatest proportion of them is now three or four generations away from rural experience. Yet, their behaviour reflects a mixture of a strict adhesion to the traditional mores and of impatience to conform to exaggerated forms of emancipation.

Enid Charles' studies have shown that there is a « French-Canadian culture complex » with regard to family and that, if the size of families still remains rather high in more recent urban communities, it tends to decrease in larger cities, and strikingly so in upper-class suburban areas 17. Keyfitz' study has elaborated these data. In 1950, the discussions at the Laval Department of Industrial Relations Sixth Annual Conference on the « Social security of the workers' family » brought out the extent to which families of French-Canadian industrial workers have shifted away from the spirit of familism and from the internal solidarity that was characteristic of our rural families. The family whose head is a wage-earner, and more particularly, a factory wage-earner, is economically unstable and vulnerable 18. A survey made in 1945 in Quebec City showed the great fragility of the economic cycle of such families : the per capita income of the family, highest when the family is formed, constantly decreases till it reaches a low point at the time when the head of the family is between 45 and 49 years of age ; it increases slightly during the next ten years, then decreases again 19. The material and non-material heritage which the family can give its children is drastically limited. Most [112] families can select only a few of their children for advanced studies in classical colleges. In general, girls have priority over boys at the time of this selection. The other children must remain satisfied with commercial studies or work their way somehow through higher schools. On the other hand, wage-earning children become economically adults as far as their family relationship are concerned. The novels of Roger Lemelin and Gabrielle Roy suggest what this re-orientation of relationships between father, mother, and working children, implies in terms of frustrations of the former and emancipation of the latter. Equalitarian and democratic-minded family units have substituted themselves for families of the traditional authoritarian, quasi-patriarcal type.

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