France’s legendary “Sun King”, Louis XIV, probably had a more profound political and cultural impact on his Canadian subjects thousands of kilometres away than he did in France, says York Professor Colin Coates, this year’s winner of the Jules and Gabrielle Léger Fellowship.
Left: Colin Coates
“In effect, the king was more valid to his faraway subjects precisely because there were so few competing power bases in the colony,” says Coates, Canada Research Chair in Canadian Cultural Landscapes. “Rituals and ceremonies conveyed the king’s legitimacy, and images of the king in portraits, prints, statues and even on coins, illustrated his authority and bolstered his prestige.”
The bilingual Coates, course director of Canadian Studies at Glendon, was awarded the Léger Fellowship by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Established in 1979, the fellowship honours the former Governor General and his wife for their dedicated service to Canada. The award promotes research on the contributions of the Crown and its representatives.
A graduate of York, Coates is a former director of Europe’s oldest centre for Canadian studies at the University of Edinburgh. He is known for his study of the role played by women and Aboriginal peoples in Canadian popular history. In documenting how Louis XIV established and maintained his legitimacy in New France, Coates hopes to clarify how European concepts of political legitimacy were transferred to colonies.
He notes that when early French settlers first set foot in the New World, they weren’t completely leaving the Old World behind them. In addition to demonstrating control, displays of royal authority in the distant territory also served as entertainment for the settlers. The arrival of a new governor, the highest-ranking official in the colony, was one such occasion. The new governor in his finery would lead a procession of attendants to the cathedral in Quebec City. The pomp and splendour, so different from settlers’ everyday lives, created a spectacle many would rush to see.
He also points to the unveiling of a bust of Louis XIV in Quebec City’s Place Royale in 1686 — a replica of which still exists today — as an important civic ceremony and an example of the representation of the king in his distant colony.
Coates was awarded a Canada Research Chair in Social Sciences and Humanities to examine Canadian utopian visions of society in an international context. He notes that contemporary ideas about identity, race and gender in colonized countries like Canada are shaped as much by the colonial society as the colonizing states.