The Motto of Quebec: “Je me souviens”

par Deschênes, Gaston

The province of Quebec’s coat of arms adorns the facade of Quebec’s National Assembly

There was a time in the mid-20th century when Quebec schoolchildren capped off their weekly “flag salute” with a resounding “Je me souviens!” In those days, the provincial government emblazoned buildings, official communications and publications with its coat of arms, which bears the same motto. The Quiet Revolution spelled the end of the flag salute and saw the government replace the coat of arms first with the fleur-de-lis and then with a miniature Quebec's flag. But the motto returned to prominence in 1978 when the Lévesque government chose it to replace the La belle province slogan on the province’s license plates. Quebecois are thus daily reminded of their official motto—though they may not know its origins or understand its meaning.


Article disponible en français : La devise québécoise «Je me souviens»

A Lost Heritage 

Close-up of a Quebec license plate

The licence plate motto was changed in the late 1970s without public debate, as if the new slogan were an obvious choice. But many Quebecois were left wondering just what it was they were meant to remember? A Montreal Star vox pop showed widely varying interpretations including the Conquest, a response to the Durham report, even the Parti Québecois’ 1976 electoral victory. The government undoubtedly helped sow this confusion by failing to provide official documentation about the motto. After all, who could recall its history and origins as an inscription on the pediment of the Parliament Building a century earlier? Yet this is where its true meaning lies.



Eugène-Étienne Taché

The man behind the motto was Eugène-Étienne Taché, architect of Quebec’s Parliament Building. Taché’s father, Étienne-Paschal Taché, had been a premier of the Province of Canada, a regional Patriote leader at the time of the 1837 rebellions and a Father of Confederation. The son, a surveyor by training and deputy minister of Crown lands, was a deeply cultured man with a passion for architecture. He had come to public notice with a set of triumphal arches designed for the bicentennial of the diocese of Quebec City. These arches so impressed his fellow citizens and government officials that Taché—a self-taught architect with no formal trainingwas assigned to design the new Parliament Building! 

Taché took inspiration from the Louvre, especially the 1852–1857 addition, which became a leading example of Second Empire style. He was also inspired by the Louvre’s status as a civil palace and its secular statuary. When he suggested decorating the Parliament Building façade with images commemorating eminent figures from Quebec history, he found a receptive audience among government officials, who wanted to strengthen Quebec’s identity with symbolic references to its long history and status as a founding nation. When the first stone was laid in 1884, Quebec lieutenant-governor Théodore Robitaille had this response to those who questioned Quebecois’ attachment to their institutions and autonomy: “Go and visit the public buildings in the capital, and you will see that the people of Quebec wish to preserve this self-government won after a century of struggle and conflict.” 

The Province of Quebec’s Coat of Arms, 1929

Taché chose to adorn the main entrance with the coat of arms assigned by Queen Victoria in 1868. Underneath, he added a motto of his own invention: Je me souviens. It is really as simple as that. Once approved by the government his plans were appended to the building contract notarized in 1883.

No explicit written explanation of the origins or meaning of Je me souviens survives. Taché probably did not feel the need to explain as his message was so simple and the motto’s meaning so obvious—in context. In a report to the deputy-minister of Public Works in April 1883, Taché outlined “all the memories” he wished to evoke with the façade’s ornamentation. This passage leaves no doubt as to the meaning of Je me souviens. Taché wanted to create a Pantheon to commemorate the heroes of Quebec’s history; his motto urges Quebecois to remember. 


The Motto’s Meaning 

Sir Thomas Chapais (1858–1946)

From its discreet beginning on the façade of the Parliament Building, the motto was incorporated into the provincial coat of arms as of the late 19th century (without the government seeking royal assent). In 1939 an order-in-council officially included the motto in the heraldic description of the coat of arms.

Quebecois were quick to adopt Taché’s motto, as demonstrated by an 1895 speech by Thomas Chapais, historian, politician and member of the legislative council: 

The province of Quebec has a motto of which it is proud, and which it likes to engrave on the pediments of its monuments and palaces. This motto has only three words—Je me souviens—yet in their simple brevity, these three words rival the most eloquent of speeches. Yes, we remember. We remember the past and its lessons, the past and its misfortunes, the past and its glory. 

There are no records of public discussion of the motto’s significance, and Taché’s contemporaries did not question its meaning. Written mentions display consistent interpretations into the 1970s even though the government never once provided an official interpretation. Like Chapais, many writers invoke only general historical memories. In English Canada interpretations were similarly vague: “[the] ancient lineage, traditions and memories of all the past” [sic] (Association of Ontario Land Surveyors, 1934) or “the glory of the Ancien Régime (Colombo’s Canadian Quotations, first edition, 1974). (NOTE 1)


The Other Motto 

A Licence to remember: Je me souviens

After Je me souviens took its place on Quebec licence plates, another interpretation of the motto gained currency. This interpretation, which was already circulating by word of mouth in certain quarters, garnered further prominence, thanks largely to a 1978 open letter Taché’s granddaughter published in the Montreal Star. She claimed Je me souviens was the first part of a longer motto:   “Je me souviens / Que né sous le lys / Je croîs sous la rose” (I remember / That born under the lily / I grow under the rose). 

This explanation worked its way into at least one dictionary of quotations (Colombo’s Canadian Quotations) and into government information banks. The English-language media latched on to it with special enthusiasm: journalists from the Globe and Mail and Montreal Gazette couldn’t pass up the chance to play up the political overtones and delight in the irony of license plates that reminded Quebecois they had flourished under the rose of England!

However, it is now clear that the “poem” from which this “complete motto” was purportedly derived never existed. It was rather the conflation of two distinct mottos written by the same person. Taché conceived the second motto—whose exact wording is “Née dans les lis, je grandis dans les roses (Born in the lilies, I grow in the roses)—for a monument that was never built; he later used it for the medal of Quebec’s tercentenary in 1908. 

One of the most interesting observations on this topic comes from David Ross McCord (1844–1930), who discussed the two mottos in his Historical Notebook around 1900: 

However mistaken may be the looking towards France as a disintegrating factor operating against the unification of the nation – it may be perhaps pardonable – no one can gainsay the beauty and simplicity of Eugene Taché’s words “Je me souviens.” He and Siméon Lesage have done more than any two other Canadians towards elevating the architectural taste in the Province. Is Taché not also the author of the other motto – the sentiment to which we will all drink a toast: "Née dans les lis, je croîs dans les roses." There is no disintegration there. 

This passage from the founder of the McCord Museum proves beyond doubt that there the two mottos are distinct, with completely different meaning. How, then, did they come to be combined, at some point between 1900 and 1978, giving rise to interpretations so far removed from Taché’s intended meaning? The matter remains a mystery.

A Simple, Inclusive Motto 

The Quebec Coat of Arms on the pediment of the National Assembly, Quebec City

The story of Quebec’s motto is remarkably simple. The motto was born of the personal initiative of the architect of the Quebec’s Parliament Building. It simply exhorts Quebecois of all backgrounds to remember their history. Those who have tried to co-opt Taché’s words as a call for revenge or fodder for the constitutional debate were surely unaware that it is inscribed for the ages on the façade of the Parliament Building, beneath the statues of Wolfe and Montcalm.


Gaston Deschênes, Historian




1. Colombo's Canadian Quotations, first ed., 1974. 



Albert, Madeleine et Gaston Deschênes, « Une devise centenaire : Je me souviens », Bulletin de la Bibliothèque de l'Assemblée nationale, 14, 2 (avril 1984) : 21-30.

Deschênes, G., « Le sens original de la devise du Québec : commentaire sur l'analyse de Jacques Rouillard », Bulletin d'histoire politique, 14, 2 (hiver 2006) : 257-261.

Deschênes, G., « Un dernier commentaire sur la devise du Québec ? », Bulletin d'histoire politique, 16, 1 (automne 2007) : 325-326.

Deschênes, Gaston, « La devise Je me souviens », dans Le Parlement de Québec, histoire, anecdotes et légendes, Sainte-Foy, Multimondes, 2005 : 300-315.

Rouillard, J., « Réplique à Gaston Deschênes : La devise du Québec », Bulletin d'histoire politique, 13, 2 (hiver 2007) : 233-237.

Rouillard, Jacques, « L'énigme de la devise du Québec: à quel souvenir fait-elle référence?», Bulletin d'histoire politique, 13, 2 (hiver 2005) : 127-145.


Additional DocumentsSome documents require an additional plugin to be consulted

Document PDF

Back to the top

© All rights reserved, 2007
Encylcopedia of French Cultural
Heritage in North America

Government of Canada