Quebec’s Most Loved and Scorned Hero of Dieppe: General Dollard Ménard and the Québec Referendum
Twice, in 1982 and 1992, the Canadian government refused to invite one of our greatest war heroes to official commemorations of the Dieppe Raid. Who you ask? None other than the ebullient (and polemical) General Dollard Ménard, the lieutenant-colonel in command of the only French-speaking infantry unit on that fateful day of August 19, 1942 – Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal.
General Ménard was not officially invited due to the uproar he had caused by publicly declaring support for the “yes” vote during the first Québec referendum on sovereignty-association in 1980. Having already been criticized in the past for his views on the need to improve the French Canadian’s position in the Canadian Army, this former officer, injured five times at Dieppe, was seen as having committed the unspeakable.
Daring to vote in favour of Québec political independence was perceived by senior military officials as an affront, a slap in the face of the institution of the Canadian Forces and its soldiers’ past glories on the battlefield. Even former French-speaking Chiefs of the Defence Staff, such as generals Jean-Victor Allard and Jacques Dextraze, condemned this dissenting and, in their eyes, inconceivable political act.
However, this controversial gesture by a former general officer and war hero was rooted in a professional career focused on defending the French element of the Canadian Army. Indeed, this hero, who never fully healed from his injuries, experienced first-hand the difficulty of progressing as a high-ranking francophone officer in a Canadian Army where English was equally the language of administration and of command.
To General Ménard, these challenges seemed all the more critical once peace returned and by the end of his career in the 1960s, in which he had commanded, among others, the Land Forces based in Québec, he railed daily against what he perceived to be forms of discrimination against French-speaking soldiers. In 1958, he declared, on his own initiative, that French would be the language of command for all francophone military units under his command.
Ménard was not the only francophone officer to fight against French-speakers’ isolation in the Canadian Army. However, unlike generals such as Allard and Dextraze, who shared his concerns but chose to keep a low profile and use accepted bureaucratic and political channels, General Ménard expressed himself publicly and consequently his outspokenness ruffled feathers.
His return to civilian life surely afforded him a greater freedom of expression, but also made him the target of derisive remarks from generals Allard and Dextraze. In fact, during the 1980 referendum, Ménard initiated defamation proceedings against these two officers, a process he won, but which further contributed to his bitterness and disenchantment with the future of the French Canadian in the Canadian Forces.
In 1993, General Ménard was decorated with the prestigious Ordre National du Québec. He passed away four years later. To paraphrase journalist Pierre Vennat, author of numerous books and articles on Dieppe and whose father, Lieutenant André Vennat, was killed during the raid, Ménard was a “big mouth.”
One wonders if General Ménard was still alive today, at the time of the official commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid, would the Canadian government extend him an invitation?
Memory Project veterans who served under Dollard Ménard:
General Ménard had every right to express his views both inside and outside the military. I believe he had earned that right on the beaches of Dieppe. General Ménard's actions were needed to move the institution that is the army in a direction it needed to go if we were to have a truly Canadian Army. The other officers had also earned their right to disagree with General Ménard and so they should have. This is what we as a nation had fought for in WW II the right to freely express oneself even if it is an unpopular point of view. I believe it was a disservice to General Ménard and all the veterans to exclude him from official ceremonies commemorating the raid on Dieppe.
I had the privilege of being part of FMR a few decades ago and one of the first things we were taught was the rich history of our unit as well as the camaraderie that had been started by previous members such as Gen Ménard. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting him before he passed away and although we didn't share the same political views, I would have followed him to hell and back...twice with my eyes closed! A great deservice was done when he wasn't invited. Many of us younger members could understand the reasons but the principle of the matter was that he had put his life on the line for us and that should have superseded any political animosity or view... I'm proud of having been with FMR.. the experiences, challenges and friends I made will always be remembered... As a Colonel once told me: "N'oublie jamais Marc, FMR un jour...FMR toujours!" NUNQUAM RETRORSUM