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Honorary degree citation - Gratien Gélinas

By: Marc Gervais, November 1989

Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you Gratien Gélinas, a man whose all-round contribution to the dramatic arts in Canadian theatre, radio, and film is beyond compare in the annals of our cultural history.

Dans à peu près une semaine, après ses succès cet été à New York, la pièce la plus récente de Monsieur Gélinas, La Passion de Narcisse Mondoux, jouera de nouveau à Montréal. Mais aussi la reprise d'une autre de ses pièces, Bousille et les justes, est actuellement en répétition, tout comme - et voilà quelque chose de symbolique, n'est ce pas? - la reprise, eh oui, d'une autre des revues Fridolinades. Indeed, the Gélinas phenomenon continues unabated.

Fridolin. Back in the thirties, when theatre was almost non-existent in Canada, a young man in his twenties - he'd been born in St-Tite of a father whose ancestry was French, and of a mother whose ancestry was Scots-Irish - started doing revue sketches in Montréal, developing a lovable, irreverent, Chaplinesque little imp of a man, Fridolin. The rest, as they say, is history. Fridolin's success was phenomenal: not only did he break and set theatrical records, but, thanks to the relatively new medium of radio, he was reaching into every corner of Québec. As never before, here was the real Québec culture, the culture of the people. And here, too, were the roots of a genuine Québec theatrical life.

L'Histoire nous révèle que l'art de Gratien Gélinas s'enrichirait, s'approfondirait, jouerait même un rôle quasi-prophétique. En fait, Monsieur Gélinas devint un de nos plus grands auteurs dramatiques, avec Ti-Coq, Bousille et les justes, Hier les enfants dansaient, et son succès récent, La Passion de Narcisse Mondoux, dans lequel il figure a côté de son épouse, Huguette Oligny, l'une des plus distinguées et des plus gracieuses de nos artistes théâtrales.

Ti-Coq would lead Monsieur Gélinas to yet another dramatic medium, the cinema, in which the actor would shine in a series of roles over the years, right down to the recent film and television presentation, Les Tisserands du Pouvoir.

Theatre, radio, the cinema - Monsieur Gélinas' contributions would extend even beyond the actor/writer/director functions, into those of producer, founder, and artistic director of theatre companies (La Comédie Canadienne, for example), executive and board member (The National Theatre School of Canada, The Canadian Theatre Institute, The Greater Montréal Arts Council, and others).

Lorsque, en 1967, le gouvernement du Canada établit la SDICC (connu maintenant sous le nom Téléfilm Canada), c'est Gratien Gélinas qu'on choisit en tant que premier Président d'une Agence dont la vocation serait de révolutionner la production de longs métrages à fiction au Canada.

A final word: the man who brought authentic, popular Québécois culture as never before to the dramatic arts also brought Québec to Shakespeare, in Stratford, Ontario, playing Charles VII in Henry V. All of Gratien Gélinas' own plays have been translated into English, and he has starred in all of them in English or in French all across our country.

Mais allons plus loin. A travers sa culture à la fois authentiquement québécoise et authentiquement canadienne - et voila, peut être, un aspect paradoxal de l'art - Gratien Gélinas a rejoint un auditoire international, ici, en Europe, et aux Etats Unis. Ses personnages sont universels, à l'image de l'humanité, ils survivent en dépit de tout, souffrant, riant, dansant, espérant. Fragiles, mais touchés par la grâce. Theirs is a resounding, loving "yes" to life in all its mystery.

Mr. Chancellor, it is a privilege to present to you, on behalf of the Senate ad by the authority of the Board of Governors, Gratien Gélinas, so that you may confer on him the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.

* deceased

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