Canadian First Communion


Figure 1.--This Canadian boy is taking his First Communion outfitted in a short pants suit which he wears with dark long stockings. The photograph looks tonhave been taken in the late 1920s.

Canada has a large French-speaking population in Quebec which is mostly Catholic. The French monarchy did not allow Hugenoughts (Protestants) in New France. (Only in wht is now the United States were mebers of non-estblished churches allowed in the New World.) There are also French Canadians in other provinces, mostly the Maritimes. And there are non-rench Catholic, primarily a result of late-19th century European immigration. As in France and other Catholic countries, First Communion was a major event in a boys' life. The Church was a major fiorce, especially in Quebec. This is less true today in our more secular society, but First Communiion is still important. While many boys may have disliked the dressing up, most saw it as an important step in growing up. They as all children also liked the attention devoted to them. The Church was an important rallying point for French Canadians--thus First Communion had important natioanl-ethnic connotations perhaps lacking in many other countries. HBC has only limited information on Canadian First Communion suits at this time.

Background: French Canada

Canada was of course founded as a French colony in the 16th century. The original French colony was centered on the fur trade, but in the 18th century, the French and English struggled over control of North America. The French loss of Quebec in the French and Indian War (7 Years War) sealed the future of Canada and in fact North America as an English-speaking cultural area. The French in Canada were relegated a second-class role and until after World War II were generally dscriminated against, in large measure explaining current Quebec demands for independence. (See the main Canadian page for greater details.) The French in Quebec maintained their cultural and longuistic identity and this has included differences in clothing trends, French Canadians being more influenced by France than English-Canadians. First Communion outfits thus had some significance--being one of the most important events in the life of most French Canadian boys. Most of the available First Communion images from Canada appear to be French boys from Quebec. Québec and France are following the same rituals because a lot of members of religious community came in Québec after the Waldeck-Rousseau Law in 1905 . It is not for nothing that Québec was called the "Priests' Province" until 1960.

Other Canadian Catholics

Of course French Canadians are not the only Canadian Catholics. Ither Catholics emmigrated to Canada during the 19th and early 20th century. I am not entirely sure about the emmigration regulations. We believe that the largest Catholiv emmigrant group was Irish. There were also some Italians and small numbers of other nationalities. We believe that most non-English speaking immigrants learned English rather than French, even those that settled in Quebec, but here more information is needed.

Chronology

First Communion suits changed considerably over time. Kneepants suits were popular in the late 19th century, although the tradition of a new suit for first communiion was just beginning to become established. We note one boy wearing an elaborate lace collr with his suit, probably in the early 20th century. It is not worn with a Fauntleroy suit, but a regular suit. All of the images we nmote have the decorative sllece ribbon, but we do not yet have any 19th century image, so we are not positive when boys began to wear these. Knicker suits became increasingly common in the early 20th century, but by the 1920s were being replaced with short pants suits. We note a lot of Canadian boys appear to have worn long black stockings with kneepants, knickers, and short pants for First Communion. This style continued into the 1950s, but was gradually replaced by long pants suits. One boy in the early 1950s wore a beret, dark suit, and long black stockings for First Communion.


Figure 2.--Note this French Canadian boy wears a short pants suit with long stockings in the 1950s.

Garments

We note a range of different garments were associated with First Communion suits in Canada. Some are similar to the first communion outfits worn in Ameriva, but there are differences, especially in the time-line. HBC has little information on the headwear worn for First Comunion. There almost certainly would have been headwear in the late-19th and early-20th century. However, as the portraits were almost always formal ones in studios, the boys are not wearing their headgear. And after World War I, headwear began to decline in popularity. The only image HBC has at this time is a boy in the early 1950s wearing a beret. How common it was for French Candian boys to wear berets and to wear them for dress occasions, HBC is unsure of at this time. Boys tended to wear standard suits for First Communion--usually dark suits. We see mostly single-breasted jackets, but our sample is very limited so we are not entirely sure about the type of jackets. We do not notice sailor suits being worn to any extent. We are not sure about the color of the suits, but think they were mostly black or dark blue. Many American boys in the 20th century wore white suits. I'm not sure if Canadian boys also wore white suits. We tend to see mostly dark suits in the images we have archived so far. Girls wore white dresses as were standard in America, but I do not yet know if boys wore white suits. HBC is not sure what kind of shirts were worn. As far as we can tell they were mostly white shirts. Wrist ruffles were not worn, but collars are unknown as they have been covered by large white bows. Large collar bows were popular rather ties. The commemorative sleeve bows were also worn. They both wear the white ribbons around the left arms known as "brassards". They also wear "insignia", a flower and white satin strip of cloth with fringe (like a short stole) with religious symbols, fastened to their lapels. HBC does not have sufficient information at this time to assess what kind of suit pants were common. We are not sure about the 19th century. Knee pnts seem common in the 1900s and knickers in the 1910s. Some boys may have worn knickers in the 20s, bit short pants seem the nost common during the 1920s-50s. We are not yet sure about the 60s. mages from the 1920s-50s show that short pants were worn. Again HBC does not have adequate information for any definitive assessment. Our initial impression is that the boys wore black long stockings anbd the girls white long stockings. The long stockings were worn for formality rather than knee socks, alt least through the 30s or even the 40s. We are less sure about the 50s. Available images show boys wearing long stockings with knee pants, knickers, and short pants. We do not know if boys wore white stockings or knee socks swith wehite suits like American boys. Boys commonly wear black lace up shoes, at least by the 1920s. Girls wore junior wedding dresses with fancy headwear and white long stockings

Personal Experiences

We are developing information about specific First Communion celebrations in Canada. Here we will add accounts provided by HBC readers. Other views of First Communion celebrations are available in the chronology section.

Michel Coron: My First Communion

My First Communion took place April 1944, well before Vatican II. It was conducted at my boarding school . It was a boarding school for boys and girls. When remembering that time when we were 7 years old, the learning of the little cathechism was more something like rote learning. The most impressing was the list of sins to memorize and the fear of hell . We were not so sure to be saved by Christ Jesus and even innocent, we felt guilty. And the way to feel better was this coming day of First Communion. Oh the Great day !







HBC






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Created: October 2, 2000
Last edited: 3:42 PM 4/18/2013