Interview With a Vanier Student about Vanier College. Is the Toponym Relevant to Modern Day Quebec?

Vanier’s Legacy in Quebec

Term Paper, 2016

21 Pages

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This study evaluates the relevance of Vanier’s name as a cultural landmark such as Vanier College, in Quebec. An interview was done with a Vanier student to test his knowledge of the Vanier name and to see if the name is relevant today. The results show that despite his strong support for federalism and his negative feelings towards Quebec nationalism, he does not believe that the Vanier name is relevant. Further research much be conducted to evaluate what the majority of Vanier students believe about the relevancy of their cegep’s name.


Toponymy is the study of place names, known as toponyms. Apart from the geographical significance that is involved in toponymy, it is also largely influenced by the culture of the region. One of many influences in Canadian society that shows itself in Quebec is that of Georges Philias Vanier. The author does have potential biases on the topic, namely that he is a second generation Anglophone who grew up with bilingual influences. This paper will examine the relevance of Vanier being the namesake for one of the biggest Anglophone cegeps in Quebec and why it is not appropriate to have a major educational institution carry the name of someone who symbolized the British monarchy in the most separatist area of Canada, even if the cegep in question is one that teaches in English.

The author will conduct his research method through a survey with the instrument used being an interview. Vanier College has a large student body (N = 7,000) and the author will have a sample of one (n = 1) student. The student is expected to be impartial and neutral to the questions, but he may have a bias towards the issue and might be in favour of the Vanier name in Quebec

Literature Review

Vanier played a large role in Canadian history during the 20th century. The name alone inspires pride from Canadians and respect from foreigners. This paper is not meant to glorify the achievements of the former Governor General, but to examine his life through documents in order to determine if he deserves to have the cegep in his name. Analyzing the documents will also provide the author with the ability to come up with interview questions that can be used to further this discussion. While all toponyms with the Vanier name will be looked at, our goal is to determine objectively and fairly why Vanier does not deserve to have a cegep named after him in Quebec.

Vanier College is an Anglophone cegep founded in Montreal on September 8, 1970 that is publically funded. The cegep was named in honour of Governor General Vanier by its board of directors led by Arnold McArthur (Vanier College, 2010). Along with being the chairman to Vanier’s board of directors, McArthur was also heavily involved in a Rotary Club that paid scholarships for students to study abroad (The Northern Beacon, 1970). The cegep’s crest mimics, with a few minor changes, the family coat of arms that Vanier drew himself. The coat of arms includes imagery from the 22nd regiment, religious imagery, and symbols from this father’s Norman heritage and his mother’s Irish heritage. The process of obtaining permission by the Queen of England to use the Vanier name and adapt his coat of arms should be an indication of the monarchical ties that the college has despite being in an area of Canada that traditionally dislikes the monarchy (Kurcz, 1988). Along with a cegep, Vanier also has a street, metro station, borough in Quebec City, and a town in Ontario named after him.

According to Brendan (2010) and Cowley (1998), Vanier was born on April 23, 1888 to a Norman father and an Irish mother; he grew up Roman Catholic and bilingual in Montreal’s Little Burgundy near the street and metro station that would bear his name. By the time he reached Loyola College, a mentor and close friend of Vanier was Père Gaume, the only French speaking Jesuit teaching at Loyola whom Vanier would often confide in and ask for advice (Speaight, 1970, p.19). Speaight claims that after discussions with Père Gaume and some introspection Vanier, “resolved […] to [become] a French-Canadian" (p.20). He was a valedictorian at Loyola and his dedication to his French-Canadian identity guaranteed that he would pursue a law degree in French at Université de Laval (Speaight, 1970, p. 22-23; Office of the Governor General of Canada, 2009).

After his law degree, he worked at a legal firm and felt no obligation to join the military in the years leading up to the First World War (Speaight, 1970, p. 32-33). In Canada's Governors-General - Centennial Edition, Cowen states that when Canada was pulled into the war to assist the British Empire, Vanier helped organize and recruit French-Canadians into the 22nd French Canadian Regiment, known as the “Van Doos” (1965, p. 236). On November 10th he was officially recruited as a lieutenant in the Van Doos, despite recruiting from the offices of La Presse for a long time before that (Speaight, 1970, p. 33). During the war, Vanier was always optimistic that Canada and its allies would leave the war victorious (Facey-Crowther, 2001, p. 763). After suffering wartime injuries, Vanier was sent to England to recover. He had the opportunity to be sent back home to Canada, but refused so he could go back to the Van Doos (Facey-Crowther, 2001, p. 763; Speaight, 1970, p. 57-58). During the last month of the war, Vanier had to get his leg amputated after being shot both there and in the arm (Facey-Crowther, 2001, p. 761-762). He was removed from the war and hospitalized (p. 763).

After the war ended, he came back to practice law and be the Aide-de-Camp for Governor- Generals Lord Byng and Lord Willingdon (Cowan, 1965, p. 237). A friend in the Van Doos introduced Vanier to Pauline Archer who at the time was engaged to another man. After breaking an engagement with her fiancé, Pauline started sending letters to Vanier and a year later in April of 1921 they were engaged (Speaight, 1970, p. 89-90).

With his military experience, he was appointed as the Canadian Delegate to the Disarmament Commission of the League of Nations. He was also the Chief Secretary to Canadian High Commissioner Howard Ferguson and Governor General Vincent Massey. He was then Canada’s Minister and Head of Legation to France during the Second World War (Cowan, 1965, p. 237-238). On a trip to London, Vanier met with many Frenchmen that had evacuated France. After seeing the determination that they had to join Canada’s army to retake France, he petitioned the Canadian government to accept French citizens to join the army (Speaight, 1970, p. 218).

It would not be until 14 years after the end of the Second World War and his time as Minister and Head of Legation to France, in 1959, that Vanier would become the Governor General (p. 367-371). He spent the first 16 months in office visiting every province in order to promote his belief that, “[the Governor General] belonged to the whole nation, not merely to Ottawa” (p. 409). Despite the busy tour schedules that the Vaniers had, they always found time to attend Mass in the local church whether it be in Montreal, Alberta, or Nunavut (p. 418). Despite his old age, the physician to Vanier, Dr. Peter Burton, had always suggested that he should do more travelling, as he would return healthier than when he had left (p. 419).

During a time of tension between Quebec and Canada, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson asked him to stay as Governor General past his five year term as his being a French-Canadian would ease tensions in Quebec (p. 420). This proved to be false when he was invited to participate at an event at the St Jean Baptiste Society on June 24th, 1964. Although he had initially refused to participate with an organization that supported Quebec Nationalism, he decided to anyways. At the event, Vanier was humiliated by Pierre Bourgault, who claimed that Vanier being French-Canadian means nothing as, “he is still a representative of a foreign power,” and groups of separatists shouted insults at the Van Doos (p. 424).

Vanier passed away before the end of his extended term on March 5, 1967. To commemorate the fact that he would have become Privy councilor after his term as Governor General, Prime Minister Pearson appointed his wife, Pauline Vanier, in his place (OGGC, 2009). With over 15,000 messages of condolences delivered to the Government House after his death, Speaight says that the General was able to leave his mark on Canada (1970, p. 474).

Vanier’s life was very complex in several aspects. The sources will help the author develop questions for the interview with the Vanier College student. The interview will examine what the student knows about the history of Quebec at the time, the history of their cegep, the history of the namesake, what they think about having a symbol of the British Monarchy as the name of their cegep in arguably the most separatist area of Canada, and whether or not Vanier deserves the cegep named after him. The author realizes although a lack of knowledge from the student can be meaningful to show the lack of relevance for the Vanier name, it would provide no solid information about whether or not the details of his life make the name appropriate in Quebec. In Létourneau’s paper (2006), he explores the mistakes often made in historical surveys. To resolve this issue, after they talk about whatever knowledge they can about the history of Vanier College, the author will provide a detailed handout that objectively describes his life. After they have a chance to understand and reflect on the material, they will provide their opinions on the appropriateness of a British symbol in French Canada. The author also recognizes that most historical surveys prioritize quantitative data in order to see what people know about specific parts of history. The interview will focus on qualitative data in order to let the students express their knowledge about Vanier and Quebec history at the time.


The ultimate purpose of this paper is to determine if Vanier College’s namesake is a relevant and appropriate toponym in Quebec. The author will be conducting a survey at the college by interviewing a student. Vanier College represents a large variety of students with many different heritages, demographic and socio-economic backgrounds, and personalities (N = 7,000) and the sample size will consist of one (n = 1) student. This study is descriptive; it will provide new input on the relevance of the Vanier name by seeking the knowledge and opinions of the students who attend the cegep. By conducting the interview, the author will obtain data in the form of knowledge and opinion. The data itself will be qualitative, as one cannot quantify opinion and perception.

The interview itself is a cross-sectional field interview, as it will be at Vanier College and a large range of questions will be asked. The interview will be informal and conversational as the questions are designed to let the interviewee express himself fully. The interviewer will note the answers that the student provides with an audio recorder or simply by taking notes if the environment around the interview is too loud for the recording to be audible. The student being interviewed is X. He is an 18-year-old native English speaker and a first year student at Vanier College in the Pure and Applied Science program. He has full Italian heritage from both his parents. He and the author both attended the same high school. The strategies that will be used in the interview are the hook and the flip. These strategies will be used in the event that the interviewee does not provide enough details in his answers to the questions. The questions themselves are mutually exclusive; with their goal being to have the students properly express what they think of Vanier’s namesake in Quebec and whether their response is based on history, opinion, politics, or ideology.

The following is the list of questions that will be asked during the interview. It should be noted that after the third question, if the interviewee does not know about the life of Georges Vanier, a handout will be provided so that they can continue the interview while being better informed. The handout will be a descriptive and well-documented summary of Vanier’s life. A summary table with operationalized variables is provided at the end of the list.

1. What is your age?

2. What is your mother tongue?

3. a) What is your family's heritage?
b) What is your cultural identity?

4. What do you know about the life of Georges Vanier?

5. a) What part of Vanier's life had the most impact on Canadian culture?
b) What part of Vanier's life had the most impact on Quebec culture?

6. a) Does he represent a symbol of pride for French Canadians?
b) Does he represent a symbol of pride for English speaking citizens?

7. Is the Vanier name on the college appropriate in Quebec society today?

8. Is the Vanier name on the college relevant to Quebec society today?

9. Do you agree, or disagree, that Quebec should separate from Canada?

illustration not visible in this excerpt


The goal of this paper is to determine if Vanier College’s namesake is a relevant toponym in Quebec. The interview with the Vanier student reveals many insights into what the Vanier student body thinks of the name of their cegep. The participant did not know who Vanier was, calling him a politician and asking if he was a Prime Minister. After reading through the document that explained Vanier’s life, he was ready to continue with the interview.

When asked about what action Vanier did that generated the most impact in both Canadian and Quebec society, he claimed that Vanier’s work in recruiting French Canadians into the army were equally important as he believes that, “it helped form a closer connection between French and English speaking people in Canada during the First World War” (X, 2016). The participant found that although it may be possible that Vanier is a symbol of pride for French Canadians since Vanier has several toponyms across Quebec, he could not answer accurately since he is not French Canadian himself.

When he was asked the same question but for Anglophones, he responded that Vanier wasn’t a symbol of pride since he never knew who he was before the interview. The participant claimed that the Vanier name on the college is appropriate since he had a helping hand in both world wars. When questioned about its appropriateness in French Canada specifically, he claimed that it does not matter as citizens are a part of “Canada, so you have ties to Britain whether or you like it or not” (X, 2016). Despite this answer he still believes that the Vanier name is not relevant, claiming that as long as the language of study is English then the name of it does not matter. He even goes so far as to say that if Vanier would be named after Pauline Marois, he would have applied anyways.


Some results were surprising to witness. The first surprising result was to see that he had claimed that French Canadians might have pride in Vanier while Anglophones would not have any pride. Vanier himself grew up with a heavy Irish Catholic influence from his mother and went to Loyola College; despite growing up bilingual, he was an Irish Catholic before he was a Norman. Even during the time Vanier advertised himself as French Canadian, he did not receive a lot of love from other French Canadians like when Pierre Bourgault called Vanier, “a representative of a foreign power” (Speaight, 1970, p.424). The interviewee knew this information beforehand, yet still felt as if French Canadians had pride in a man who they saw as an enemy. His response is either due to the fact that he did not completely read through the given document or that he has a severe misunderstanding of Quebec politics. His comment about still attending Vanier if it was called Pauline Marois College was also surprising, as one would think that a college with the name of a noticeable and contemporary separatist would be a turn off for an Anglophone student applying. His reasoning for this is a rather common opinion seen whenever talking about toponyms involving colleges and universities. That reason being that the name of the institution does not matter at all and that the only thing that matters is the quality of the education and research that comes out of the institution. All the variables presented in the methodology are important in order to see what the Vanier student knows of all the factors that play into what Vanier had an impact on in Canada and Quebec, but a missing variable would be a control variable to test for how much the participant knows about Quebec politics. This added variable derives itself from the lack of understanding that the reason the interviewee gave that French Canadians would have pride in Vanier. Important variables include Vanier’s life story. The importance comes from the fact that it allows the interviewee to think critically and process Vanier’s life, which will have an important impact to the final dependent variable. This research has medium scientific power since it is descriptive. There is a lot of literature about Vanier, which explores different aspects of his life. The method used also plays a role in making this research descriptive, as it was a survey conducted by interview. The most important aspect of this descriptive research is that it adds details and information into the collective pool of knowledge about Vanier and the importance of Vanier College as a toponym. Temporal order does apply to the variables, as it follows naturally that factors about Vanier’s life and accomplishments would determine his worth, and by extension, whether or not he deserves the cegep named after him. The obvious correlation that one could make before they conduct the survey, that Anglophones will support that the toponym is relevant, did not appear to show itself in this research. The only way to establish a better correlation is to survey more students that attend Vanier. With only one student as the sample used for the research in a population of about 7000 students, giving a confidence interval of 98%. For this reason alone, this research cannot establish causality. The third criteria needed, elimination, is also not achieved. As stated earlier, a missed variable about Quebec politics could have a strong effect on whether Vanier is a relevant name on the cegep. This is another reason for which causality cannot be established.

The respondent made no errors when answering questions. He was sure to ask for an explanation if he did not understand a question, as seen when he asked for an explanation for question 3b. He was definitively honest when answering his questions. He did not hide his opinion or try to be neutral, he was very open with what he thought and believed. The question list was very good in analyzing what factors could determine why one would think that the Vanier toponym is relevant. One question that was missed was a control question asking what they knew about Quebec politics. This control question could have been asked to further evaluate the knowledge the participant had and to determine the strength of his answer for the dependent variable. The respondent was clearly biased when answering the questions. He expressed many federalist and Anglophone views when responding to questions, noticeably when he claimed that everyone, “[has] ties to Britain whether [they] like it or not” (X, 2016).

This study has use in providing new knowledge into the cultural relevance of Vanier’s namesake in Montreal. It also has a detailed literature review, which can simplify the process for conducting one for future researchers looking into the Vanier toponym. Toponymy is a topic that flies under many people’s radar until something has a bad toponym, such as the case of Quebec filmmaker Claude Jutra. When new information about someone becomes a cultural issue, then any toponyms that are based on that person also become a cultural issue. Awareness needs to be raised about the general topic of toponymy, and in the case of X awareness about Vanier, should be thought of more critically by our contemporary society. Whether the administration of Vanier College wants to raise awareness about Georges Vanier is up to them, but the author would strongly advise them to do so. The low knowledge of history showed by the participant is not a big problem. History is a rather broad topic, to say the least, and one cannot fault someone for not knowing every historical fact, especially when it revolves around one man. Most cegep names are not relevant, as they are based on the names of historical figures. Most applicants to cegeps and universities do not know or care about the namesake of the institution. Cegep names can be guaranteed to be relevant by having a name based on its geographical area. Toponymy is relevant to the author because it provides a deeper understanding of the history and culture of a region. At face value a name has no meaning; however, the meaning behind the name and the person who bears that name could provide a wealth of knowledge about the history of the region and the culture of a society.


Brendan, M. (2010). Montreal Neighborhood 101: Little Burgundy. Retrieved from http://www.tourisme-

Cowan, J. (1965). Canada ’ s Governors-General Lord Monck to General Vanier Centennial Edition. York, UK: York Publishing.

Facey-Crowther, D. (2001). Georges Vanier: Soldier - The Wartime Letters and Diaries, 1915-1919. Canadian Historical Review, 82 (4), 762-764.

X, J. (2016). Interview notes - RM Assignment. Westmount: Dawson College.

Kurcz, L. (1988). The Armorial Bearings of Vanier College as recorded in Her Majesty ’ s College of Arms. Montreal, QC: Vanier College Press.

Létourneau, J. (2006). Remembering Our Past: An Examination of the Historical Memory of Young Québécois, in Ruth Sandwell (dir.), To the Past: History Education, Public Memory, & Citizenship in Canada, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, p. 70-87. Retrieved from istorical_Memory_of_Young_Qu%C3%A9b%C3%A9cois_in_Ruth_Sandwell_dir._To_the_P ast_History_Education_Public_Memory_and_Citizenship_in_Canada_Toronto_University_o f_Toronto_Press_2006_p._70-87

Office of the Governor General of Canada (OGGC). (2009). General The Honourable Georges Philias Vanier. Retrieved from

Speaight, R. (1970). Vanier: Soldier, Diplomat & Governor General. Toronto, ON: Collins.

The Northern Beacon. (1970, December). Local Rotary Club aids scholar program for world understanding. The Northern Beacon, 16 (26). Retrieved from ers?nid=1276&dat=19701209&id=S5APAAAAIBAJ&sjid=F4kDAAAAIBAJ&pg=1988

Vanier College. (2010). Inspiring and Educating for 40 Years. Retrieved from


Q: Are you ready to begin? A: Yeah I’m ready.

Q: Okay, we’ll start nice and easy. What is your age? A: I’m 18 years old.

Q: What is your mother tongue? A: English.

Q: What is your family’s heritage?

A: My family is Italian, my grandparents on both sides came to Canada when they were married. Q: To clarify, did they get married in Italy or in Canada?

A: I think they married in Canada, but I’m not too sure. Q: Do you speak Italian as well?

A: Well I mean barely… I can say a few words, mostly relating to food, but I can understand most of it.

Q: What is your cultural identity? A: What do you mean?

Q: Do you identify yourself as a Canadian, an Italian, a French Canadian, something else? A: I mainly identify as a Canadian, but I’m aware of my Italian identity and background. Q: What do you know about the life of Georges Vanier?

A: Wasn’t he a politician? Q: That’s all?

A: Was he a Prime Minister? I don’t really know.

Q: Please take a second to read the document I’ve prepared for you about the life of Georges Vanier. Once you’ve read through it we’ll proceed with the rest of the interview. [Participant reads through the document]

Q: Do you need any clarifications on the document? A: No it’s pretty clear.

Q: Okay, when you’re ready we’ll continue the interview. A: Go ahead.

Q: What part of Vanier’s life had the most impact on Canadian culture?

A: Umm… Probably when he recruited French Canadians in the Van Doos, I think it helped form a closer connection between French and English speaking people in Canada during the First World War.

Q: What part of Vanier’s life had the most impact on Quebec culture? A: I think the same thing is just as important to Quebec culture.

Q: By the same thing you mean when Vanier recruited French Canadians into the Van Doos?

A: Yeah, I think that is probably the most important thing he did since Quebec is just Canada but French. Quebec is part of Canada so it could be important to both Canadian culture and French Canadian culture. I’m not a separatist over here.

Q: Does he represent a symbol of pride for French Canadians?

A: I’m sure he must if he was critical to getting the French Canadians to help during the First World War. Even then he has stuff named after him in Quebec so he has to represent some pride. But since I’m not French Canadian I wouldn’t know for sure.

Q: Does he represent a symbol of pride for English speaking citizens?

A: Uhh… Not really since I didn’t know who he was until you showed me that paper. I only really go to Vanier because Dawson didn’t accept me. [Laughter]

Q: Alright moving on, is the Vanier name on the college appropriate in Quebec society today?

A: I don’t see why not, I mean he helped them go to war and helped with Canada during the Second World War so he kinda helped everyone.

Q: Well you’re aware that initially French Canadians didn’t want to participate in the war right? Since they saw it as a British war.

A: Well listen, you’re in Canada, so you have ties to Britain whether you like it or not.

Q: Well this is the most French and most separatist part of Canada, so you would say that it’s appropriate on a college?

A: Well you’re still part of Canada no matter which part of Canada you’re at so you have ties to the British Empire no matter if you’re English, French, Native, or whatever.

Q: Okay fair enough. Is the Vanier name on the college relevant in Quebec society today?

A: I don’t really think so. The only thing I knew about Vanier was that it was a college. It could be Vanier College, it could be St-Jean-Baptiste College, it could be Pauline Marois college it wouldn’t matter, it’s just the name of the college.

Q: So you don’t care what the college is called at all?

A: No I don’t care. You could call it something random like the Lotus Pedal College it wouldn’t make a difference.

Q: You’re telling me that if back in secondary five when you were applying to cegep, if Vanier was called Pauline Marois College you would have applied anyways?

A: If it was still an English college and wasn’t separatist then ya I would have.

Q: Alright. Although you mentioned it before I just need it for the record. Do you agree, or disagree, that Quebec should separate from Canada?

A: Quebec should not separate from Canada I think that’s a horrible idea. Q: Thank you for your time.

A: No problem.

21 of 21 pages


Interview With a Vanier Student about Vanier College. Is the Toponym Relevant to Modern Day Quebec?
Vanier’s Legacy in Quebec
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Vanier, Toponomy, Toponym, Interview, Descriptive, Quebec, Canada, Governor General, Georges Vanier
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Justin Cicchini (Author), 2016, Interview With a Vanier Student about Vanier College. Is the Toponym Relevant to Modern Day Quebec?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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