27 December 2011

A Quiet Revolution and Still Cowards Complain

The Squeaking Wheel
John Mercer [pseud.]
n.p.: Rubicon, 1966

Let's get rid of this so as to not track it into the New Year.

I came upon The Squeaking Wheel a few months ago in a London thrift shop; its bold, if inept declaration – "4TH. [sic] PRINTING OF THE BEST-SELLING BOOK ALL CANADA'S TALKING ABOUT!" – did attract.

I don't remember talk of this book; but then I was only just learning to speak when The Squeaking Wheel was first published. Sure looks like it was popular:

Four printings in three months! Two in February 1966 alone! In the Foreword author John Mercer tells us that the first two printings amounted to "many thousands" of copies. So why is this the only one I've ever seen? And why was there no fifth printing?

I'd ask John Mercer, but he's a fabrication, a pseudonym behind which two men hide. "English-speaking Montrealers who have a curious desire not to be blown sky-high to a Protestant Heaven by a few well-placed sticks of dynamite", they reveal nothing more about themselves than that they work in the fields of advertising and medicine. Even today their identities are a mystery.

More furious than funny, those familiar with Sun comment pages will recognize the John Mercer style. Irrational anger and uncontrolled ranting accompany fantastical statistics presented without citation. Quotations, even those pitching the book, lack attribution.

It's all here, including that old saw about Quebecers being horrible drivers:
It has often been said by opponents of French-Canada that one way to solve the problem of Quebec is to give every inhabitant a car and turn all the traffic lights green for one day.
Take care now. Those words come not from the authors, but the "opponents of French-Canada". Or so the John Mercer men would have you believe. The reader will soon recognize that they too are "opponents of French-Canada".

The Quiet Revolution is five years old, the Bi and Bi Commission is just beginning, and already the authors, who "have lived all their adult lives in Quebec", are fed up. Their message is clear: "Quebec is a conquered country and its people are a conquered people"... and somewhat inferior.

Again, don't you be pinning this on John Mercer. That stuff about the stripper and the hockey player comes from some politician. Who? Who knows. The men behind the pseudonym are only repeating what they've heard; they don't quite agree. Not quite.

The Squeaking Wheel was never talked about by "everyone in Canada"; not even Montreal's English and French-language presses paid much attention. Serious discussion of the book is limited to a few sentences in journalist Solange Chaput-Rolland's Reflections (Montreal: Chateau, 1968):
The pens of these English-speaking compatriots are certainly not very brave. Of course it is true that, when one describes unpleasant reality, one receives in return unpleasant insult. But liberty of speech demands the dignity and courage of that speech. And those who hurl invective at their compatriots, while keeping themselves well hidden, are not really respectable citizens.
No more need be said, except this: I don't think the cowards hiding behind the pseudonym were Montrealers. Real Montrealers know it's Lili, not "Lily"; and they know she was not French-Canadian, but American.

I'll add that Canadians know not to hyphenate "hockey player".

There, sweet Virginia, I've scraped this right off my shoes.

Lili St. Cyr
(née Willis Marie Van Schaack)

Object and Access: A bland, trade-size paperback, various printings are held by our larger university libraries, the Bibliothèque et archives nationales du Québec, the Toronto Public Library and the Vancouver Public Library. Fifteen copies are currently listed for sale online, thirteen of which can be had for three to seven dollars. I bought mine for fifty cents. Our old friends in Vermont want US$132.93. What's so special about their copy? Nothing... nothing at all.


  1. "God Bless Lili St. Cyr....."

  2. "But liberty of speech demands the dignity and courage of that speech. And those who hurl invective at their compatriots, while keeping themselves well hidden, are not really respectable citizens."

    This quote should be put atop every Internet comment board everywhere.

    Also, this book was totally worth it for the photo of Ms St. Cyr.

    @ Tim: What does RHPS mean? I'm guessing Rest Her Precious Soul?

  3. Yes, God Bless Lili St. Cyr.

    Couldn't agree with you more, Mark. Even the dear old tired Globe and Mail has become a gathering spot for the hateful and spiteful.

    I'm never one to pass an opportunity to tip my hat to Miss St Cyr.

    A Happy New Year to all!