Bonne fête à la charte de la langue française!

May 31, 2017 § 1 Comment

Bill 101 is 40 years old this year.  For those of you who don’t know, Bill 101 (or Loi 101, en français) is the Quebec language charter. It is officially known as La charte de la langue française (or French-Language Charter).  It essentially establishes French as the lingua franca of Quebec.  For the most part, the Bill was aimed at Montreal, the metropolis of Quebec.  Just a bit under half of Quebec lives in Montreal and its surrounding areas, and this has been the case for much of Quebec’s modern history.  Montreal is also where the Anglo population of Quebec has become concentrated.

When Bill 101 was passed by the Parti québécois government of René Levésque in 1977, there was a mass panic on the part of Anglophones, and they streamed out of Montreal and Quebec, primarily going up the 401 highway to Toronto.  My family was part of this.  But we ultimately carried on further, to the West Coast, ultimately settling in Vancouver. At one point in the 1980s, apparently Toronto was more like Anglo Montreal than Montreal.

Meanwhile, back in the metropole, nasty linguistic battles dominated the late 1980s.  This included actual violence on the streets.  But there were also a series of court decisions, many of which struck down key sections of Bill 101.  This, in turn, emboldened a bunch of bigots within the larger Anglo community, who complained of everything, from claiming Quebec wasn’t a democracy to, amongst some of the more whacked out ones, that the Anglos were the victim of ethnocide (I wish I was kidding).

But, in the 30 years since, much has changed in Montreal.  The city settled into an equilibrium.  And I would posit that was due to the economy.  Montreal experienced a generation-long economic downturn from the 1970s to the 1990s.  In the mid-90s, after the Second Referendum on Quebec sovereignty failed in 1995 (the first was in 1980), the economy picked up.  New construction popped up everywhere around the city centre, cranes came to dominate the skyline.  And then it seeped out into the neighbourhoods.  By the late 90s/early 2000s, Montreal was the fastest growing city in Canada.  It has since long since slowed down, and Montreal had a lot of ground to catch up on, in relation to Canada’s other two major cities, Toronto and Vancouver.  But the economic recovery did a lot to stifle not just separatism, but also the more radical Anglo response.

aislin-bill-101

2013 editorial cartoon from the Montreal Gazette.

Last week, the Montreal Gazette published an editorial on the 40th anniversary of Bill 101.  It was a shocker, as the newspaper was central to the more paranoid Anglo point-of-view, even as late as the mid-2000s.  But, perhaps I should not have been surprised, as it was written by eminent Montreal lawyer, Julius Grey.  He is one of the rare Montrealers respected on all sides.  At any rate, Grey (who was also the lawyer in some of the cases that led to sections of Bill 101 being invalidated), celebrates the success of the Charte de la langue française.  It has, argues Grey correctly, led to a situation where, in Montreal, both French and English are thriving.  He also notes that there is much more integration now in Montreal than was the case in the 1970s, from intermarriage to social interaction, and economic equality between French and English.  Moreover, immigrants have by-and-large learned French and integrated, to a greater or lesser degree, into francophone culture.  Many immigrants have also learned English.

But the interesting part of Grey’s argument is this:

On the English side, dubious assertions of discrimination abound. It is important for all citizens to be treated equally, but often the problem lies in the mastering of French. The English minority has become far more bilingual than before, but many overestimate their proficiency in French, and particularly when it comes to grammar and written French. By contrast, francophones tend to underestimate their English.

In other words, speaking French is an essential to life in Montreal.  And Anglos, I think, are more prone to over-estimating their French-language skills for the simple fact that it’s common knowledge one needs to speak the language.

Grey goes onto make an excellent suggestion:

These difficulties could be eased by the creation of a new school system, accessible to all Quebecers, functioning two-thirds in French and one-third in English. Some English and French schools would exist for those who do not wish to or cannot study in both languages, although most parents would probably prefer the bilingual schools.

However, this would never fly.  The one-third English does not bely the demographics of the city (let alone the province, and I really don’t see the point of learning English in Trois-Pistoles).  The urban area of Montreal is around 4 million (the population of Quebec as a whole is around 8.2 million).  There are a shade under 600,000 Anglos in the Montreal region, largely centred in the West Island and southern and western off-island suburbs.  That means Anglos are around 15% of the population of Montreal.  The idea that Montreal is bilingual is given lie by these numbers.

Nonetheless, there is merit to this argument of an English-language curriculum in Quebec’s public schools (including in Trois-Pistoles).  Like it or not, English is the lingua franca of the wider world, and global commerce tends to be conducted in that language.  There is also the fact of the wide and vast English-language culture that exists around the globe.  One of the things I enjoy about my own partial literacy in French (one that has certainly been damaged by not living in Montreal anymore) is the access to francophone culture, not just from Montreal and Quebec, but the wider francopohonie).

For any group of people or individual, there is a lot to be learned from bilingualism (or, multi-linguality).  In Montreal (and Quebec as a whole), it could ensure that the city’s economic recovery in the past two decades continues.  Along with this economic recovery has been a cultural renaissance in the city, in terms of music, film, literature, and visual arts.  It is a wonderful thing to see Montreal’s recovery.  And I want it to continue.

Mis-Remembering the Patriotes

May 22, 2017 § 2 Comments

 

Today is the Journée nationale des Patriotes in Quebec.  The date commemorates the 1837 Patriote Rebellion in what was then Lower Canada, when a rebellion against the British Empire erupted in first, Saint-Denis, and then other nearby locales in November and December of that year.  And while it started off well for the Patriotes, it did not end well, with the British routing them and then ransacking the village of Saint-Eustache before martial law was imposed on Montreal.

But the rebellion only tells a part of the story of the Parti patriote.  The Patriotes, led by Louis-Joseph Papineau, were a group of middle-class radicals, largely based in the urban centres of Lower Canada (Quebec).  They took their inspiration from the French Revolution, and from the wave of liberal radicalism across the Western world, from France to the United States.  They were frustrated with the corrupt politics of the Governor and his cadre.

From the early 1830s on, they formed the majority of the colonial legislature, which met in the capital of Quebec.  The Patriotes sought, essentially, responsible government.  They demanded accountability from the legislature and the governor.  And they demanded economic development for the disenfranchised, disgruntled French Canadian majority of Lower Canada, as well as the working-class, predominately Irish, in Montreal and Quebec.

In other words, the Patriotes were not a French Canadian nationalist movement.  I read an article in the Montreal Gazette yesterday that encapsulated my frustration with the memory of the Patriotes and 1837.  The article was a discussion about what to call today in Quebec.  The journalist noted that in the Montreal suburb of Baie d’Urfé, the citizens wish to call it La journee nationale des Patriotes/Victoria Day.  This is not, obviously, an actual translation.  The article then tours around the West Island and some off-island suburbs of Montreal that have a large Anglo population.  The results are more of the same.  And then there’s the title of the article, “Our Annual May Long Weekend Is Here. But What Should We Call It?”  This, of course, is typical West Island Anglo code for their exclusion from the nation/province of Quebec, at least officially.

This is also a mis-remembering of the Patriotes.  And not just by the West Island Anglos, but by almost every single Quebecer, whatever their background.  And it is one that is rooted in our education system, not just in Quebec, but nationally.  I learned, in school in British Columbia, that the Patriotes were only interested in French Canadians and were nationalists.  When I taught in Quebec, my students had learned the same thing.  I remember reading Allan Greer’s excellent book, The Patriots and the People, in grad school and being surprised at what I read.

Greer, in addition to noting the multi-ethnic background of the Patriotes, also is the one who made the argument that what 1837 was was a failed revolution in Quebec.  That had the Patriotes succeeded, Quebec would’ve looked politically more like France or the United States.  Indeed, it is in the aftermath of 1837 that the Catholic Church in Quebec came to be so powerful, as it became a member of the state in the province/nation, and gained great political, moral, economic, social, and cultural power over Catholic Quebecers, both English- and French- speaking, until the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s.

To return to the multi-ethnicity of the Parti patriote and its supporters, Papineau’s lieutenant was Edmund Bailey O’Callaghan, who was the member of the legislature for Montreal West.  O’Callaghan succeeded the radical Dr. Daniel Tracey as the MLA for Montreal West and the right-hand seat at Papineau’s table.  Both were Irishmen.  Tracey died treating his compatriots in the fever shacks on Pointe-Saint-Charles during the cholera epidemic of 1832.  Montreal West was the riding that contained Griffintown and other Irish neighbourhoods in what was then the west end of Montreal (now it’s the sud-ouest).  The Griffintown Irish were radicals.  They kept voting for Tracey and O’Callaghan over the wishes of their more genteel compatriots.

And then, there is the simple fact of the Brothers Nelson, Robert and Wolfred.  They were the sons of English immigrants and members of the Anglo Protestant Lower Canadian bourgeoisie who were also major players within the Patriote movement.  Wolfred led the rebels at the first battle of the Rebellion, at Saint-Denis on 23 November.  This was the battle the Patriotes won.  Robert, meanwhile, was amongst a group of Patriotes who were arrested and then freed in the autumn of 1837, which caused him to flee to the United States, where he was further radicalized.  He led the 1838 Rebellion, which fizzled out pretty quickly.  Both Nelsons survived the rebellions.  Wolfred went on to become the Mayor of Montreal in the 1850s. Papineau, for his part, returned to the legislature after being granted amnesty in the 1840s.

Indeed, the major impetus for the formation of the St. Patrick’s Society of Montreal on 17 March 1834 was exactly this: the radical nature of the Griffintown Irish was hurting the larger ambitions of the Irish-Catholic middle class of the city.  In those days, Montreal was not all that sectarian or linguistically divided.  It was class that cleaved the city.  Thus, the middle-class Anglo-Protestants, French Canadians and Irish all formed a community within the larger city, give or take the radicals.  And they stood in opposition to and apart from the working classes, who tended to be more radical.  Thus, the St. Patrick’s Society was created to separate the middle class Irish from these radicals.  The Society was originally non-sectarian, it had both Catholics and Protestants within its ranks.  It was not until the sectarian era of the 1850s that the Protestants were ousted.

It does all of us a dis-service to so clearly mis-remember the Patriotes.  While Papineau is commemorated on streets, schools, highways, buildings, and a métro station in Montreal, the Nelsons, Tracey, and O’Callaghan are not.  They have been removed from the officially sanctioned story of the Patriotes, let alone the 1837-8 Rebellions.  Meanwhile, the Anglo community of Quebec seems to prefer to forget about the existence of these men entirely, to say nothing of the ancestors of many of us who voted for Tracey and O’Callaghan in Griffintown.  Remembering the Patriotes for what and who they were would help with the divide in Montreal and Quebec.

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