La Commission des Cadrans solaires du Québec
42 avenue de la Brunante,
Outremont, Québec, H3T 1R4, Canada
tél. (514)341-3997; fax (514)341-3997*
secretary-general: André E. Bouchard, Ph.D.,

"Vive la différence",
the French tradition of sundials in North America

by André E. BOUCHARD, Ph.D.
secretary-general of the Québec Sundial Society

The North American Sundial Society
2nd Annual Conference, September 27-28, 1996
at the
Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology
at Victoria College in the University of Toronto
Toronto, Canada

Last year, in Washington D.C., I had the opportunity to describe the activities of the Québec Sundial Society and to show some slides from our registry. This time, in Toronto, I would like to make a follow-up to our sister society, the North American Sundial Society.

Our Society (La Commission des Cadrans solaires du Québec) has fifty-nine members. Its NewsLetter (Le GNOMONISTE) is published four times a year. The Catalog contains 240 sundials, including 67 from different museums. We had our third annual conference, in June 15, 1996, at Laval University (Québec City) where we inaugurated our Web site on the Internet ( ).

But let's talk about the "difference", included in the title of my communication. We will see that we have one strong tradition in Québec, and that our heritage is also a mixture of other experiences.

"Vive la différence", especially for a few reasons:

- Québec has a population of 7.5 million people, and about 80% of them are French speaking persons... we consider ourselves different, by our language, our culture and our civil system of justice. If Canada will celebrate, next year, its 130 years-old birthday, Québec has a longer history. Some of its cities were founded in the 17th Century (for examples, Québec City 1608, Trois-Rivières (Three-Rivers) 1634, and Montréal 1642 ), when the territory was called Nouvelle-France (New France), including all the valley of the Mississipi River. Our History Books recall also the sailor Jacques Cartier as the discoverer of Canada, on July 24, 1534, and taking possession of this territory, in Gaspé, in the name of the King of France (François the First).

- We also share an other important heritage. We became a British Colony in 1760, after the defeat of the French army by General Wolfe, on the Plains of Abrahams (in Québec City). And after trials and errors of different political structures, the Confederation of Canada was established in 1867... and you know the rest of our partnership in the Federation...

- Yes, we consider ourselves different; but we are living in North America with a French culture, doing business in English with the rest of Canada, with the USA and with the world. We have a long history of democracy, a social-democrat government, a modern and bilingual system of education, an integrated health system, and we do have a bias towards the new technologies...

- But if you come in Québec, you will feel one difference among others. Speaking of sundials and of Gnomonics, you could see the results from our traditions and heritage, rooted in many experiences. One of them is the French tradition of the sundialists. If we don't take care of this tradition, who will?

- Let's take the two following sundials (Seminary of Québec) and (Ursulines Convent in Trois-Rivières). Many of their components are similar, if not pure imitations, with the sundial of the Sorbonne, the old and famous University of Paris.

a) their type and structure are the same (vertical sundials, rectangle with an arc of circle);

Type and structure
Crescent of moon
Motto and Analemma

b) their mottoes are alike:

DIES SICUT UMBRA (Trois-Rivières),

using the same quotation from a Book of the Bible: I, Chronicles, chapter 29, verse 15:
...we are in front of you like some strangers as were our fathers, our days on the earth fly by like shadow, and there is no hope....

c) they all have a crescent of the moon from where start the lines of hours;

d) and two out of three sundials have an analemma, illustrating the equation of time on the line of 12h.

e) and all the three sundials have roman numbers.

Is it a coincidence? Let me give you my own interpretation. The first sundialists were European, until the end of the French Regime (1763). After that period, our local sundialists were learned and educated people, mainly members of the clergy. They were the only ones who could travel, go to Europe, especially to Rome and Paris. Therefore, the imitation of the Sorbonne's sundial was highly possible, because of the lack of links with France, and of the impossible way of controlling that information.

What could be considered as original information, was a remake of a parisian sundial. There's no need for scandal. The old knowledge from the Gnomonics was scarce among people from this side of the Atlantic Ocean... And they had to take their inspiration somewhere.

Québec City (1773)

017-QBEC-001 | Région : Québec | Type : Fixe | Catégorie : Vertical déclinant | Provenance : Québec | Visibilité : Publique | Apparence : Peint | Cadranier : S/O | Ville : Québec | Adresse : Petit Séminaire | Latitude : 46º 49' N | Longitude : 71º 14' O | Année : 1773 | Siècle : 18 | Devise : DIES NOSTRI QUASI UMBRA | Note : cour intérieure

Vertical sundial on the wall of the Seminary in Québec City (1773), by an unknown author, probably a priest teaching astronomy and physics at the Seminary

Trois-Rivières (1860)

050-MAUR-001 | Région : Mauricie | Type : Fixe | Catégorie : Vertical déclinant | Provenance : Québec | Visibilité : Publique | Apparence : Peint | Liste des matériaux : Bois | Cadranier : Caron, Charles-Olivier | Ville : Trois-Rivières | Adresse : Couvent des Ursulines | Latitude : 46º 21' N | Longitude : 72º 33' O | Année : 1860 | Siècle : 19 | Devise : DIES NOSTRI QUASI UMBRA | CoupDeCoeur : 2001-04-21

Vertical sundial on the wall of the Ursulines Convent in Trois-Rivières, by Mgr Charles-Olivier Caron, a Roman Catholic Bishop in Trois-Rivières.

Photos: André E. Bouchard

L'université de la Sorbonne, in Paris, France (1676), sundial by Jean PICARD, priest and astronomer, member of the Academy of Sciences, in France.

We have the responsibility to keep alive the French tradition of sundials and sundialists in North America. And we accept it with pride and honor. But we are conscious of OUR other traditions... and we also want to take care of them. Many of the sundials of our listing were made in european countries, in USA or in other parts of Canada.

We have a French tradition, but it is not the only one. And we must accept it!. Let's me finish this topic with an example.

Who invented the meridian of the equation of time, the analemma?

Our French tradition by its numerous authors of Gnomonics (Deparcieux (1741); Rivard (1742); Delambre (1819); Gotteland and Camus (1993)), has established that the analemma was invented in 1730, by the French astronomer Grandjean de Fouchy . Is it the final argument? I doubt it very much... And I am not alone for doing so!

Ms. Gotteland continues her researches on that topic, and she revealed, in 1993, that there was no evidence that Grandjean de Fouchy has ever published a paper about his "invention". More, Mr Hagen, from the Dutch Sundial Society, told her that he found three portable sundials, with an analemma, and all of them were made before 1730:

- one armillary sphere on a painting from the Fine Arts Museum of Amsterdam;

- one table sundial, in the Greenwich Maritime Museum; let's recall that its sundialist is Mr. Vogler, who deceased in 1725;

- and one horizontal sundial, kept in the Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam, with analemmas on each line of the hours. That sundial was carved in 1719 by David Coster...(eleven years before the supposed invention of 1730)

According to Ms. Gotteland, de Fouchy would have been the first one, in France, to use the analemma on his sundials, but he did not invent it!

Yes, "vive la différence ", but let's keep open ours minds and our hearts to the other traditions of sundials that we have in Québec, and in North America...

André E. Bouchard, Ph.D.