On July 24, 1967, French President Charles de Gaulle was one of many world leaders invited to Expo 67 to help celebrate Canada’s 100th birthday. The relations between two countries were not at their best: earlier that year, the French government had not sent a representative to the funeral service for Governor General Georges Vanier. General de Gaulle held a grudge against Canada for its objection to France’s military position in the Suez crisis.
De Gaulle refused to land in the Canadian capital, Ottawa, as par with proper political protocol. Instead, he flew to the French colony of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, off Newfoundland, and sailed on a French frigate to Quebec City. There, de Gaulle was cheered enthusiastically, while the new Governor General was booed. The next day de Gaulle arrived in Montreal; although he was not scheduled to speak that evening, but the crowd chanted for him; de Gaulle stepped out onto the balcony of the Hôtel de Ville and gave a short address. [It was later said that his address was preplanned and he used it when the opportunity presented itself.
In his address he commented that his drive down the banks of the St. Lawrence River, lined as it had been with cheering crowds, reminded him of his triumphant return to Paris after the liberation from Nazi Germany. The speech appeared to conclude with the words “Vive Montréal! Vive le Québec!” (Long live Montreal! Long live Quebec!), but he then added, “Vive le Québec libre! Vive le Canada français! Et vive la France!” (“Long live free Quebec! Long live French Canada! And long live France!”). The speech was broadcast live on radio.
This statement, coming from a head of state, was considered a serious breach of diplomatic protocol. Standing inside, Pauline Vanier, the widow of the Governor General Vanier pressed a note into his hand containing only a date, 1940–a rebuke on behalf of the Canadians who had fought for the liberation of France. A media and diplomatic uproar ensued thereafter, which resulted in de Gaulle cutting his visit to Canada short. The day after the speech de Gaulle visited Expo 67, before flying back to Paris the following morning, instead of continuing his visit on to Ottawa where he was to have met with Prime Minister. Influential Canadian statesman Pierre Trudeau, publicly wondered what the French reaction would have been if a Canadian Prime Minister shouted “Brittany to the Bretons.”
As a bizarre footnote to history, de Gaulle instituted a series of crackdowns on Breton nationalism the very next year, and was accused of double standards for, on the one hand demanding a “free” Quebec because of its linguistic differences from English speaking Canada, while on the other oppressing the movement in Brittany.