A National Film Board of Canada production, in collaboration with Unis TV
What if one of your loved ones was a member of a powerful secret society?
Founded in 1926 to defend the interests of French Canadians, the Ordre de Jacques-Cartier had more than 72,000 members. Over nearly 40 years, this secret society infiltrated the machinery of the state and the private sector, as well as associations and media.
Having learned that his father was a commander in the Order, filmmaker Phil Comeau launches a fascinating investigation into the group, raising the curtain on the shadowy men who belonged to the Order and the causes for which they fought.
In The Secret Order, former members of the organization step out of the shadows for the first time, witnesses tell their stories and experts offer context and explanation. We also get to see an initiation ceremony, brought to life by captivating reconstructed sequences.
By retracing his own father’s secret journey, Phil Comeau shines a spotlight on the Ordre de Jacques-Cartier and paints a gripping portrait of the social and political struggles faced by Canadian francophone-minority communities during the 20th century.
What if one of your loved ones belonged to a powerful secret society? Thousands of Canadian francophones may not realize there’s a chance their fathers or grandfathers belonged to a wide-ranging brotherhood whose ranks included prime ministers, bankers and the heads of powerful companies, along with teachers, mechanics and travelling salesmen.
It may be forgotten today, but at one time the Ordre de Jacques-Cartier, commonly known as “La Patente,” had more than 72,000 initiates in 800 cities and towns across the country. Between 1926 and 1965, this highly secretive organization infiltrated every area of Canadian society and forged the fate of French-language communities.
Two days before his death, a father reveals to his son that he was a commander in the Order. The son is filmmaker Phil Comeau, who is stunned by the news. Searching for answers, he criss-crosses the Maritimes and travels to Quebec and Ontario looking for concrete information about the Order—and, more importantly, for witnesses. Eventually, he finds several, and gets them to speak with him. For the first time, these men and their loved ones agree to raise the curtain on the Ordre de Jacques-Cartier and the causes for which it fought.
During interviews with Comeau, shadowy men share secrets, witnesses share their stories and historians offer context and explanation.
Throughout the mid-20th-century, francophone Catholics and anglophone Protestants found themselves perennially at odds with each other. French Canadians were sidelined by the powerful Freemasons, the Orange Order and even the Ku Klux Klan. English was the country’s only official language, and francophones were generally excluded from the federal public service. In the Maritimes, French was forbidden in schools. Outside of predominantly francophone areas, speaking the language in public was frowned upon.
In 1926, a small but determined group consisting of Québécois, Franco-Ontarians and one Acadian decided to found a secret society with the aim of defending the interests of French Canadians.
In The Secret Order, one after the other, former commanders of the organization remember the night of their initiation. By following one of the Order’s archival manuals to the letter, Phil Comeau draws us into a fascinating historical reconstruction. We follow four 20-year-old men through underground passages, to a candlelit room festooned with standards. Here, the blindfolded young men undergo the five trials of the “journey to the land of the ancestors.” Nearly 60 years after the disbanding of the Order, its secret initiation ceremony is finally revealed through meticulous staging that faithfully re-creates the ritual, including the clothing and decor used during the ceremony.
Over the years, members of the Ordre de Jacques-Cartier would succeed in infiltrating the machinery of the state and the private sector, along with associations and media. This militant elite would spearhead the push for French-Canadian rights and francophone emancipation. Through its discreet influence, the federal public service would open to francophones, and the French language would come to appear on the Canadian dollar and postage stamps. In the Maritimes, the Acadian population would establish its own French-language education system, and strengthen the co-operative movement in order to develop its own economic and financial tools. In less than 50 years, “La Patente” achieved a stunning turnaround and beat back the threat of assimilation.
By retracing his father’s secret journey, Phil Comeau shines a spotlight on the Ordre de Jacques-Cartier and paints a gripping portrait of the social and political struggles faced by Canadian francophone-minority communities during the 20th century.
With the participation of
Louis-Philippe Albert, Hébert Arseneault, Louise Blanchard, Lucien Boudreau, Jeannine Boudreau-Finn, Marthe Caron, Gérald Carroll, Euclide Chiasson, Alice Cocunubova, Jeanne-Mance Cormier, Aldelbert Dugas, Louise Imbeault, Antoine Landry, Mathias Landry, Sylvain Lanteigne, Édouard LeBlanc, François Leblanc, Clarence Lebreton, Edmond Paulin, Antoine Richard, Guy Richard, Denise Robillard, Lorio Roy, Bernard Savoie, Louise Savoie, Pierrette Savoie, Bernard Thériault, Léon Thériault
André Roy, Gabriel Robichaud, Raphaël Butler, Jean-Philippe Raîche, Ludger Beaulieu, Émilien Cormier, Félix Basque, Gabriel Vincent Deslauriers, Mathieu Chouinard, Christian Kit Goguen, Philip André Collette, Ghislain Basque, Luc Doucet, Rosaire L’Italien, Sébastien Poirier, Maël Bisson
Marcel Allard, Lee Cormier, Michel Cyr, Jules Desrosiers, Frédéric Dion, Éloi Doucet, André Frenette, Bernard Galarneau, Pascal Haché, Philippe Landry, René Légère, Jean-Marie Nadeau, Daniel Pitre, Denis Rioux, Claude Sivret
Director, scriptwriter, researcher and narrator
Directors of Photography
Location Sound Recorder
Additional Location Sound Recorders
Narration Recording Director
1st Assistant Director
2nd Assistant Director
3rd Assistant Director
1st Assistant Cameraman
2nd Assistant Cameraman
François Pierre Breau
Best Boy Grip
Best Boy Gaffer
Hair and Make-up Assistant
Audition Camera Operator
J.W. Jessy Forsyth
Subtitles and Close Captioning
Archival, Research and Rights Clearance
Emma Brunet, LaNégo
Jairo Buitrago Ciro
Protagonists and Extras Consultant
© 2022 National Film Board of Canada (SOCAN)
National Film Board of Canada
Last record of membership in the L’Ordre de Jacques Cartier “72,742 members”, p93, 1964 1965.
University of Ottawa, Centre for Research on French Canadian Culture, Collection Ordre de Jacque s Cartier (C3), C3 19 16 093b
Register of members of the l’Ordre de Jacques Cartier, matricule #1,
p.1, 19 26 1927.
University of Ottawa, Centre for Research on French Canadian Culture, Collection Ordre de Jacque s Cartier (C3) C3 19 10 001
Founders 1952. University of Ottawa, Centre for Research on French Canadian Culture, Collection Ordre de Jacques Cart ier (C3 ), Ph3 3 12B
Les Biographies françaises d’Amérique / BAnQ Collection
Ronald Desmarais / Gaby
Collection Antoine Desilets / BAnQ
Collection Harvey Majo / BAnQ
Albert Dumas / BAnQ Collection
Yves Beauchamps, Archives La Presse
Library and Archives Canada / C-019195
Gaston Vincent, President of the Association canadienne française d’éducation d’Ontario ( ACFÉO), [ca 1957].
University of Ottawa, Centre for Research on French Canadian Culture, Fonds Association canadienne française de l’Ontario (C2), C2J4 _3-012
Aimé Arvisais, President of ACFÉÉO, [ca 1960]. University of Ottawa, Centre for Research on French Canadian Culture, Association canadienn-française de l’Ontario (C2) fonds, C2J4_3-013
Collection of photographs from the newspaper
Collection of photographs from the newspaper L’Évangéline – E 39041 Centre d’études acadiennes Anselme-Chiasson
Louis J. Robichaud Holdings – P573-71
Louis J. Robichaud –– Centre d’études acadiennes Anselme-Chiasson
The Superstructure of Montreal Harbour bridge over the St. Lawrence River, Quebec / BAnQ
Armour Landry / BAnQ
Register of members of the Order of Jacques Cartier, matricule #37300 to 37338, page 1, 1954-1955.
University of Ottawa, Centre for Research on French Canadian Culture, Fonds Ordre de Jacques Cartier (C3), Cartier (C3), C3-19-14-001
Place Resurgo Place
New Brunswick Museum –– Musée du Nouveau-Brunswick, www.nbm-mnb.ca, 1989.83.388
Newspaper L’Évangéline – 26 juillet 1928 – Centre d’études acadiennes Anselme-Chiasson
Albert M. Sormany funds – 25-44-9 Bulletin KKK – Centre d’études acadiennes Anselme-Chiasson
Newspaperper L’Évangeline – 11 octobre 1961 – Centre d’études acadiennes Anselme-Chiasson
Newspaper L’Évangeline –– 20 décembre 1962 – Centre d’études acadiennes Anselmee-Chiasson
Musée Acadien de Caraquet, collection avgeeks/Pond5
Karen Cowled / Alamy Stock Photo
Francis Vachon / Alamy Stock Photo
© Canada Post, 1927, image courtesy of Corgi Times/Adminware Corporation
National Currency Collection, Bank of Canada
Collection of photographs from the newspaper L’Évangéline -E-37242 – Centre d’études acadiennes Anselme-Chiasson
Collection of photographs from the newspaper L’Évangéline – E-39040– Centre d’études acadiennes Anselme-Chiasson
Collection of photographs from the newspaper L’Évangéline – E25876 – Centre d’études acadiennes Anselme-Chiasson
Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, MC2073, Fonds Télé-Acadie, objet V7311
Yvon Cormier, private collection
Collection of photographs from the newspaper L’Évangéline – E17362 – Centre d’études acadiennes Anselme-Chiasson
Collection of photographs from the newspaper L’Évangéline – E11045 – Centre d’études acadiennes Anselme-Chiasson
L’Émerillon (Ottawa), 1948, Journal l’Ordre de Jacques Cartier, University of Ottawa, Centre for Research on French Canadian Culture. Periodical Collection, PER80V17N4
Newspaper L’Évangeline – 28 juin 1960 – Centre d’études acadiennes Anselme-Chiasson
Newspaper L’Évangeline –– 13 juillet 1960 – Centre d’études acadiennes Anselme-Chiasson
Newspaper L’Évangeline 17 novembre 1965 Centre d’études acadiennes Anselme-Chiasson
The Daily Gleaner
Logo of the Shediac Temperance Society (New Brunswick), 1841 – 1.54-33 Placide Gaudet fonds
Collection of photographs from the newspaper L’Évangéline – E15607 – Centre d’études acadiennes Anselme-Chiasson
Daniel Aucoin, drone footage – Université de Moncton
Special thanks to
Ancienne Fédération des Caisses populaires acadiennes, Caraquet
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Edmundston
Centre culturel de Caraquet
Centre d’études acadiennes Anselme-Chiasson, Université de Moncton
Centre de recherche en civilisation canadienne-française
City of Caraquet
City of Dieppe
City of Grand Falls
City of Moncton
Club plein air, Caraquet
Comité du port de Caraquet
Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre, Moncton
École Évangéline, Abrams-Village
École Polyvalente Louis-J.-Robichaud, Shediac
Grand-Pré National Historic Site
Greater Moncton Chamber of Commerce
Groupe Fari, Campbellton
Le Richelieu, Meteghan River
Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick, Fredericton
Moncton Masonic Temple
Musée acadien de Caraquet
Musée acadien de l’Université de Moncton
Naval Museum of Quebec
Old Orangists Hall
Ordre de Jacques-Cartier Syndic – Mathias Pagé
Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Parish Church, Wellington
Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral, Moncton
Pays de la Sagouine
Sainte-Anne-du-Bocage Sanctuary, Caraquet
Saint-Jacques-le-Majeur Church, Scoudouc – Rosella Melanson
Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens Catholic Church, Caraquet
Scouts Local, Grand Falls
St Mary’s Church, Church Point
St Thomas Church, Memramcook – Père Emery Brien
The Ashford Group
UNI Corporation financière
Université de Moncton, Campus d’Edmundston
Université de Moncton, Campus de Moncton
Université Sainte-Anne, Pointe-de-l’Église
Verger Belliveau, Memramcook
Village of Petit-Rocher
Village of Saint-Antoine
Senior Production Coordinator
Video Technical Support
Produced with the collaboration of
With the financial participation of the Canada Media Fund
Unis TV contents team
Director of contents
Chief of original programming
Principal Coordinator of contents
THE SECRET ORDER
French Program Quebec, Canadian Francophonie and Acadian Documentary Studio
A production of The National Film Board of Canada © 2022