A Tale of Two French-Canadian Journalists and Their Bitter Feud Over Basically Nothing
Gather 'round for this story of two intellectuals, the future of Franco-Americans, and the true bearer of big d*ck energy.
This is the story of how Honoré Beaugrand and Ferdinand Gagnon are probably arguing in heaven because neither could live without the other. Even if it was fueled by pure indifference.
Unless you’re a geeked-out historian attempting to keep your composure right now, you’re wondering who the hell Beaugrand and Gagnon are and why they get a spot in Franco-American history.
Well, these two men simply hated each other even though they agreed on most issues. I know, right? Just roll with it. And don’t make that a fat joke against Gagnon because that’s coming later.
Basically, Beaugrand believed that life would have been better for the French-Canadian immigrants had they stayed in Québec.
He had a point. After all, a lot of those French-Canadians ended up in those lovely textile mills where you might lose a finger or two while on the job.
But, for some immigrants, it was better than sticking in Québec with its failed government policies and the sight of those damn Red Coats with their tea and crumpets.
Meanwhile, Gagnon believed in emigrating back to Québec, which he considered the homeland of French-Canadians and their descendants, the Franco-Americans.
So if they were kind of on the same page, why the feud?
Well, like most bitter rivalries between men, it was really about marking their territory. And they both wanted to be the top dog.
One of the many ironies among them was the fact that Gagnon shared Beaugrand’s view of the misfortune of French-Canadians having to migrate. Both men were born in Québec, yet migrated to the United States themselves. They had their differences, but couldn’t exactly work together when there were insults to be thrown around.
Because we’re simple creatures who live for drama, these guys had comebacks that were improper for their time but make us wonder when elegant insults went out of style.
We’re talking the late 1800s, back when you could get away with fat jokes and women couldn’t vote. The time to be alive.
At age 19, Gagnon joined a hype squad of French-Canadians leaving the now-province of Québec for the newly formed New England states to escape British rule. Escape to the country that already kicked out the British, typical.
Gagnon began his American residency in Manchester, New Hampshire, where a statue stands in his honor today.
So, wait. Why did Gagnon want to see the return of French-Canadian immigrants to Québec if the British were taking turns punting the peasants of New France?
Well, the big guy envisioned a national union between French-Canadians in Canada and the United States. He imagined a better future in Québec for generations of Franco-Americans and put forth concerted efforts toward this larger-than-life goal.
Some of his plans involved distributing pamphlets describing the majesty of the Eastern Townships of Québec to inspire French-Canadians to go back to where they came from.
He was a journalist by trade and involved in founding several publications, his first being La Voix du peuple. Later on, this newspaper was replaced by another publication called L’Idée nouvelle.
In 1869, Gagnon decided that was the perfect year to get married. He settled in Worcester, Massachusetts and began another publication called L’Étendard national.
And what was Honoré Beaugrand doing at this time?
Before Gagnon had his dream Pinterest wedding, Beaugrand was kicking a** and taking names as a young graduate from military school. He joined the French military forces under General Bazaine in Mexico in support of the emperor Maximilian.
And then that guy got himself executed, so Beaugrand retreated with the rest of the French.
After collecting himself in France for a while, Beaugrand decided that he needed to return to the United States to f**k some things up. So, he moved to New Orleans in 1868 and became a journalist. He wrote for a number of American newspapers in Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, and the smaller communities of Lowell and Fall River, Massachusetts.
In 1871, Beaugrand moved to Fall River where there were a lot of settled Franco-Americans. He married Eliza Walker in 1873 and pucked that basic English surname into oblivion. They had one daughter together named Estelle.
While in Fall River, Beaugrand founded a weekly publication called L’Écho du Canada. From there, he bounced back and forth between the United States and Canada, founding another newspaper called La République. Although he was often on the move, Beaugrand managed to write a novel, Jeanne la fileuse : épisode de l’émigration franco-canadienne aux États-Unis.
In 1878, Beaugrand returned to Canada and founded a newspaper called La Patrie in Montréal, where he later became their king.
Okay, he was their mayor in 1885 and collected some sweet medals because he was just so cool.
Long story short, Beaugrand made a name for himself as a political writer and reporter. He also wrote the famous Chasse-galerie folktale where these woodsmen get jacked up on alcohol and make a deal with the devil to make their canoe fly so they can visit their sweethearts. Typical Friday night in Beauce.
So, how did these guys get the misfortune of meeting each other? Like most relationships we live to regret, these guys met through work.
You’ve heard of the “shot heard ‘round the world,” but none can compare to the slinging of the pen to insult that idiot who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. This was Facebook before Facebook, except the person you were telling off wouldn’t hear your correct opinion until the next week.
Who’s to say who really started the feud because Gagnon and Beaugrand were kind of always at odds through their newspaper articles. But one fateful article later, Beaugrand let his freak fly and called Gagnon a hippo.
Sorry, typo. Beaugrand called him a hypocrite.
In return, Gagnon wrote back that Pimp Daddy Beaugrand could use his trowel to slap and sling all the mud he wanted because Gagnon was clearly the bigger man in the situation.
Wait, what’s a trowel? It’s a Freemason thing. I don’t dare speak on it because I want to avoid ending up in some weird Bohemian Grove sh*t.
But Beaugrand was just getting warmed up. Breaking out his notebook of reliable fat jokes, he wrote that “an infantry regiment could use Gagnon, by virtue of his incredible girth, as target practice at a mile’s distance.”
And so, with choice words exchanged, the two journalists began their beef with Gagnon already licking his fingers.
Beaugrand also wrote that children ran away from Gagnon “for monsieur croquemitaine would not hesitate to eat them.”
Personally, I would have gone with “the lard lowdown,” but who’s counting?
The back-and-forth insults continued and Beaugrand decided it needed to come to an end. He wrote a cryptic message in a letter that allegedly challenged Gagnon to an old-fashioned gentlemen’s duel.
However, Gagnon yawned at the invitation.
Another topic he and Beaugrand didn’t see eye-to-eye on was the Catholic Church.
Gagnon defended the Church, even though it sometimes ruled against the religious interests of Franco-Americans. As a liberal thinker, Beaugrand was ahead of his time and didn’t go along with whatever the Church had to say, which made him look suspicious to the clerical elites.
So, holding his ground, Gagnon responded that he had no time to waste dueling because he had baptized children to raise.
When these two weren’t running out of ink describing how much the other one sucked, they really had more in common than they would have liked to admit.
In the end, their personal feuding didn’t really do much for the fate of French-Canadians and Franco-Americans. But, perhaps they would argue and ridicule otherwise about where they ended up.
Despite Gagnon’s attempts at a grand repatriation to Québec, it didn’t really pan out the way he imagined. For every French-Canadian immigrant who returned to the homeland, more would cross over into the United States for that sweet mill cash.
Gagnon died in 1886 at 36 years old, leaving behind his children and wife, Malvina Lalime (no relation to the Lalemons). Although it wasn’t too surprising to pass away so young back then, Gagnon was done in by the weight of his own consequences. Okay, and also Bright’s disease if you want to be politically correct.
Meanwhile, Beaugrand’s bouncing between the United States and Canada eventually stopped when he returned to Québec. So, hey, Gagnon’s grand plan worked out for at least one person.
Beaugrand’s frail health and asthma were greatly affecting him. His doctors advised that he move to a milder climate, so obviously the frozen northern tundra was the answer.
Beaugrand died in 1906 at 58 years old, outliving Gagnon by 20 years. And did this guy get a statue in honor of his life's work? Nah, he lasted longer than his rival and all he got was a street in Montréal and a station in the metro named after him.
However, he is most known in death by his final “f**k you” to organized religion, where he stated in his wishes to be cremated without a religious ceremony.
Their personal feuds may have been ridiculous, but both of these men had good intentions for the future of Franco-Americans. Even if it meant saving their talent to tell the other to jump off a cliff once in a while.
I like to think that Gagnon and Beaugrand are looking down on us, wondering how Franco-American culture became all about meat pies and arguing over who has the original gorton recipe from their great-great-great grand mère written on the back of a flour sack.
And, I’ve just been informed that it’s actually called creton. Let the mud slinging begin!
Query the Past, Those Fractious Francos Pt 1 & Those Fractious Francos Pt 2
Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Honoré Beaugrand, Ferdinand Gagnon