Under the hot sun of New Mexico, Marc-Adélard converses with Willie Pinto, a medicine man.
Dr. Alexander H. Leighton, of Cornell University, came to see Father Lévesque, dean of the Social Sciences Faculty (at Laval University) at his office located in the heart of Old Quebec in the spring of 1950. His intention was to find out about the possibility of hiring two French-speaking Professors who had carried out empirical research in the past. Within the framework of a long-term research programme, bearing on the cultural production of psychiatric disorders among 20,000 inhabitants of Stirling County, they would be invested with the responsibility of carrying fieldwork among Saint Malo Acadians in Southwestern Nova Scotia. The dean took note with great interest of such a request and had no difficulty in convincing the late Émile Gosselin, then responsible for the teaching of "Research Methods", to join the Leighton research team. But there was no other professor available to join him in the field. Professor Gosselin was then asked to find a graduate student with a first university degree.
I had the good fortune to be one of the students registered in Émile's course on observational techniques during the 1949-50 academic year. Gosselin knew about my farm families study carried out in the 1949 summer in Kamouraska County (Tremblay 1949-50). I had discussed with him, at times, about some of the problems associated with the analysis of quantitative data. As a result, he thought that I had the required skills to accompany him. Besides, he had met with Dr. Leighton during his Quebec visit and found out from him the kinds of tasks that the Laval researchers would be expected to take on. The prospect of going in Acadia filled me with an amazing feeling. Imagine the fact that an apprentice-sociologist in the process of writing his master thesis, who had only a two months and a half fieldwork experience on a bicycle in Kamouraska County, was becoming, almost by magic, a member of a research team of one of the American Universities of the prestigious Ivy League. What a lucky strike! That chance and other contextual circumstances flowing from it were to change completely my existence. With a time lapse of forty years, it is that story that I am about to let you know.
At about the time I accepted the proposal to carry fieldwork among the French Shore, I had just got married. Jacqueline, my spouse, and myself were spending the best of our days in building, transcribing and typing the statistical tables related to farms, farm families and to agricultural income according to the family cycle of Kamouraska county farmers. I had applied for a scholarship from the Quebec Agricultural Research Council with the hope of registering in the rural sociology doctoral program at Michigan State University, in East Lansing, under the supervision of Dr. Charles Loomis (Loomis, 1936 and 1939). With this in mind, I followed a reading course on rural sociology led by Father Gilles-Marie Bélanger, with the expectation of becoming familiar with the leading works of American rural sociologists, the current publications of the Food and Agriculture Organization of The United Nations (FAO) as well as American, Canadian and Quebec published works on farming and rural economy.
The Arrival at Saint Mary's Bay (The French Shore)
We departed from Quebec on June 7, 1950 by train and boat in order to reach the community of Church Point. It was a thirty-six hour trip without undue surprise. The full of our energy was centered on a sole objective, that is, getting first to our destination in the best shape possible and then, after a brief rest, driving to the Smith's Cove summer residence of the team leader in order to attend a two-day session related to our fieldwork.
An American Seminar
On Monday morning we went to Smith's Cove with the aim of attending a two-day Seminar bearing on fieldwork and giving us the opportunity to becoming full members of the research team. I felt a bit uneasy upon finding out that my colloquial English had little resemblance with the English spoken by our American University colleagues. Moreover the syncretic conceptualizations of our planned fieldwork programme (a mixture of agricultural, economic and sociological concepts) stood out by their lack of concreteness which our colleagues readily attributed to our imperfect knowledge of the Shakespearian language.
The Scenario and the Actors
It was during that first team meeting that I had to take a decision of cardinal importance in regard to my professional career. In the course of speaking with Leighton during the late afternoon cocktail, I told him, upon his request, of what I was planning to do in the fall. I had just received from Professor Loomis a letter in which he told me that I was accepted as a doctoral student in rural sociology at his university in september 1950 with a research assistanship. Upon learning this, Alex (that was how Cornellians addressed him) became surprised. After a short pause, he told me right away : "Give me forty-eight hours before answering Loomis's letter. I shall try to get Cornell to match that offer and you would then be in a position to undertake your doctoral studies in anthropology in Ithaca".Leighton's offer appeared sound to me despite the fact that he knew very little, if anything, about my research skills! An affirmative answer was shortly received and from thereon my university training was completely changed. Retrospectively, I am still asking myself today how such a deeply planned project since 1942 (Tremblay 1974) had been so profoundly modified under the impulse of a fortuitous talk? I leave the explaining answer to psychoanalysts!
1. A full French version of this text appears in La passion de l'échange : terrains d'anthropologues du Québec, edited by Serge Genest, Gaëtan Morin Éditeur (Chicoutimi) 1985 : 16-51.