Léo Major: an unsung Quebec war hero

Despite his many military exploits, the French-Canadian hero Léo Major remains an unsung historical figure.

Little by little, historians, politicians, and even the Mercerie Roger, located in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, tried in their own way to underline his memory. Like his colleagues in the National Assembly, the MNA for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Alexandre Leduc, supported the motion tabled by the Parti Québécois (PQ) on November 11, so that a symbolic place be named in honor of Léo Major, who died in 2008.

It was thanks to a friend that he learned of the character’s existence a few years ago, because despite his history lessons at UQAM, he had never heard of it.

“I can’t explain to myself why he is not better known, why there isn’t a Quebec series or film about his life. It’s a great mystery, ”he laments.

It was precisely to help promote Léo Major that the owner of La Haberdashery Roger, Alexandre Robin, designed a t-shirt with his effigy in the early 2010. He too discovered this character thanks to a friend.

“At first, we are incredulous when we are told that he liberated a city in the Netherlands on his own,” says Robin.

The city in question, Zwolle, named a street Leo majorlaan to pay tribute to the military.

“Léo’s t-shirt is the most popular outside of Quebec. I have people in Alberta who order me, ”he adds.

A discreet man

The author of the book Leo Major, a resilient hero (Éditions Hurtubise, 2019), Luc Lépine, considers that there are three elements that explain this ignorance.

“First, he was an individual who was very discreet. He did not speak much of his exploits in the public square. Even his wife didn’t know about it until 1970. ” Luc Lépine, military historian

Then, he points out that in Quebec, we are not very inclined to promote our soldiers. We tend to focus on opposition to conscription.

Léo Major, on the other hand, voluntarily enlisted in the army, a more profitable job at the time than working in a factory for 9 cents an hour.

“Third, Leo Major was a bit difficult,” he says. So he might have had some problems with the military authorities ”.

One might think that these problems were caused by his sovereignist commitment, but Luc Lépine questions this rumor about him. While it is true that his wife was a member of the PQ, Luc Lépine does not believe that Léo Major was a separatist. This thesis is based, among other things, on the testimony of his daughter, Hélène Major, who thinks rather that her father was a federalist.

Raised on Frontenac Street in Montreal, Léo Major has been twice awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM). Rumor has it that he turned down a third because he didn’t like the officer who wanted to hand him over. Once again, and thanks to a letter written by the hand of the Quebec soldier, Luc Lépine offers another version of the story: “He would have preferred to go on leave to Belgium for a drink rather than to receive a military medal”.

In 2018, Souvenir Park in Longueuil was renamed Léo-Major Park. It was the first time that a city in Quebec and Canada paid tribute to this French-Canadian soldier. Regarding the recent PQ motion, Mr. Lépine proposes that a highway be named in his honor.


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