The Montreal “casseroles” and the Queensborough chivarees

The “casserole” protests are taking place nightly in Montreal. (Image by Jérémie Battaglia ( via vimeo. Photo used by permission.)

If you’ve been following the news about the student unrest in Montreal, you’ll have heard that this past week a new twist emerged in the protests. Each night at 8 p.m., people all over the city emerge onto their porches, balconies and lawns, or head into the streets, and for half an hour or so bang on empty pots and pans (casseroles, in French) as a noisy but peaceful way of saying that they’re unhappy with the provincial government – over its stand on raising university tuition fees, but perhaps even more so over its emergency law that sets some rules for protest actions against the tuition increase. This is what it sounds like (or at least did, from our front balcony last night):

Casseroles in Outremont, May 25, 2012

The casserole protest was an idea born in the 1970s in Chile, when ordinary citizens unhappy about shortages of goods would beat on pots and pans to indicate that there was nothing in those pots and pans to cook. You can read about that here.

What’s the connection between all this and Queensborough, you ask? Well, as I was reading a story by the Montreal Gazette’s Jeff Heinrich about the casserole protest, I was struck by this sentence:

“There’s an even older tradition in New Brunswick called ‘le tintamarre’ (itself inspired by the medieval French custom of ‘le charivari’ – banging pots and pans as a wedding celebration).”

What Jeff, urban-type reporter that he is, might not know is that in parts of rural Canada – or Ontario, at least; or Queensborough, at the very least – the word “charivari” became “chivaree” and the old French tradition continued, at least into the early part of the second half of the 20th century.

I confess I was never part of or witness to a chivaree – no doubt because of my being a little kid – but growing up in Queensborough in the 1960s and early ’70s I frequently heard that one had taken place in the village and environs. My understanding of what would go down is this:

A newly married couple just returned from their honeymoon would be minding their own business in their own home. Under cover of darkness in the middle of the night – because that’s when the couple would be expected to be sleeping or, perhaps more to the point, enjoying “marital relations” – a group of friends and neighbours would arrive (perhaps in the back of one or more pickup trucks?) banging pots and pans and generally making as much noise as they possibly could. I confess I do not know what happened after the couple was rousted from their bed; were they taken away for a celebration somewhere? Did the celebration happen on the premises? Was there food and/or drink involved? Music? Costumes, even? Perhaps some readers will know more about that. What I do know is that a noisy and merry time was had by all, and everyone eventually went home happy, the newlyweds having been sufficiently disturbed/embarrassed/fêted.

And here’s a word to add to your vocabulary: a couple who had undergone the chivaree treatment were said to have been “chivareed.” You have to love that.

14 thoughts on “The Montreal “casseroles” and the Queensborough chivarees

  1. Hi Kathy and Raymond: As a “chivareed” couple who will this August celebrate our 50th anniv., I could write volumes about our chivaree, the only double one that I ever heard about. Neighbours, Ed and Monica Tobin were married about the same time and we were all roused from our beds, made to ride in a buggy pulled by a tractor and taken to a store in Eldorado where everyone enjoyed treats paid for by the two couples! I have even heard of bathtubs full of jello being discovered when couples arrived back home! In one case a couple did not want to come out to meet their tormenters and a board was placed over the chimney to smoke them out! (Did not happen in our area)
    Harold Harris had been a major culprit in chivaree hijinks, so he was fair game when he got married. Harold (with Pauline in tow) kept escaping the “chivaree-ers” until finally they picked Harold up one night where he was leading a 4-H meeting and took he and Pauline off in a seat on the loader of a tractor to the store in Queensborough. P.S. They had wired the seat in the loader to an electric fencer, so they gave Harold several “shock treatments” for his habit of escaping from the chivareer-ers. T’was all in good fun. If someone had a temper tantrum due to the treatment, they were forever labeled in the community
    P.P.S.: We have been renovating an old house for 50 years. Need any names of helpful contractors? Call Us….GnG

    • Gayle and Grant, I can’t tell you how delighted I was by this. What great first-person chivaree stories! I think these tales will have to be collected. A bathtub full of jello, yikes!!! And to think it is my first-grade teacher and her husband sharing the story – very cool! Early congratulations on your upcoming 50th anniversary – I know we will see you before then so will be able to offer them in person. We are looking forward to a visit to the O’Hara Mill sometime soon and hope we might see you there. I see that this past weekend was opening weekend; I’m sorry we missed that. As for picking your brains on contractors for renovations: you can be absolutely sure we will take you up on that excellent offer! Big hugs to you both.

  2. I remember Pauline and Harold’s chivaree and that loader!
    We all went back to Bobbie & McMurray’s stores for treats. I think we should bring back that custom but maybe change it to be for new people who join the community. It could be a Welcome Wagon Chivaree! What do you think of this idea?

  3. I’m thinking of Montreal (exciting at the best of times) and what an experience it must be to witness first-hand this student uprising. And the din – incredible to hear that audio clip! A good place for a couple of journalists to be, I would think.

    • For sure it’s interesting to be at the heart of a huge news story. But the constant unrest and the inability to see the way out of it can get wearying. Though now that the government and the students are talking again, one hopes … Meanwhile, the casseroles are being banged outside even as I type this.

    • Your pot and spoon would fit right in here in Montreal, Brenda! This evening as I was walking home from work the cacophony started up again. It’s a pretty festive kind of protest, I have to say.

  4. Pingback: Banging pots and pans | the noise curmudgeon

  5. Well this post brings back some childhood memories. I lived in Queensborough from 1970 to 1979 and recall a few chivarees. I don’t recall the couples chivareed (I had the social awareness of my eight year old who is in a class of students apparently without last names and having no fixed home addresses). I do recall lots of noise, a large truck or piece of farm equipment transporting the couple to the general stores, Bobbie’s and McMurray’s, with the rest of us in tow. The last chivaree that I am aware of in Queensborough was the late late 1980s, perhaps 1987, when my father and his second wife, Marie, were chivareed. By then I think McMurray’s was closed and the festivities were held at Bobbie’s. I was living in Montreal (reading the Gazette daily) and so was not part of this. In my mind’s eye I do picture Allan Ramsay’s truck doing the honours.

    • Oh, I fully expect it was Allan’s truck that did the honours, Bill! But I am surprised that in your growing-up-in-Queensborough years you had so much contact with, and knowledge of, the chivarees. Somehow or other we Sedgwick kids at the Manse were kept completely away from all of that. How did that happen?

      • Ok, “a few” introduces some vagueness and there is always the murkiness of childhood memories. So it is the low end of “a few” – once in the 1980s and a couple of times in the 1970s. The first time I am fairly certain was before I was in high school, pre-1975, so the Sedgwick’s should have been around – of course they may have been off Gelerting at the time. I am going to poll others in the Gough clan.

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