New Flophouse Address:

You will find all the posts, comments, and reading lists (old and some new ones I just published) here:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Quebec and the Anglophone Exodus

This was passed along by Tim who comes up with the most interesting links to stories I've never heard of.  Thank you, Tim.

The Montreal Gazette did a series on the anglophone exodus from the province of Quebec in the 1970's.  This was a tense period in Canadian history where the the Question was about Quebec's future in Canada.  Many tempers flared during this time and the rhetoric around the political debate got pretty hot.  It even assumed an international dimension when De Gaulle decided to subtly insert himself in the whole business.  What De Gaulle had to say (and he was guilty of this many times in his political career and Mitterand was just as bad) was ambiguous enough to infuriate, frighten, provoke and comfort those who listened to it depending on what side he or she was on.

Language politics and identity are still on the table and matters of debate in that province and elsewhere in Canada.   There is an entire chapter in the book Language, Nation and State:  Identity Politics in a Multilingual Age edited by the great Tony Judt and Denis Lacorne devoted to this topic.  This is one to read before one dips one's toes in these waters because it not only talks about Canada but many other places where language and identity are issues.  Like, for example, France, which is on the wrong side of EU rules for respecting minority languages.

The anglophone exodus provoked a lot of anger at the time.  Perhaps it still does.  Some of the comments I read in response to the videos were pretty judgmental.  I wasn't there when it happened and I'm sure not going to express an uninformed opinion about it here.  I do think, however, that the videos are worth watching.  These are people expressing their feelings and answering the question, "Why did you leave?"  You may not agree with them and maybe what they have to say will make you angry if you are a French-Canadian.  All I can say is that you (and I) are not them.  It's also important, I think, to listen all the way to the end because how they felt back in the 1970's is not necessarily what they feel today.

So, if you are going to watch it, I'd ask that you withhold judgement until the end of the third video and then exercise your powers of empathy.  What would you have done in their place under those circumstances?

Enjoy the story.


Blaze said...

Thanks Victoria. I remember when DeGaulle made his famous "Vive Le Quebec Libre" speech during Expo 67 (My high school French teacher in Pennsylvania taught us about it. I didn't learn it from American media).

When I moved to Montreal in September 1969, Montreal was still on a phenomenal high from Expo and Trudeauamania, which saw a very sauve, hip Pierre Trudeau become Canada's Prime Minster.

Young people were hyped up with hope and enthusiasm for their future and the future of Canada. This was so different to me from US, where young men were drafted to fight and die in Vietnam and young people were in rebellion against the US government.

I must say, however, I was attending an English school in Montreal and my roommates, boyfriend and most of my friends were anglophones. One of my roommates, who had grown up in Quebec, was fluently bilingual. She learned her French, however, not while growing up in Quebec, but from having lived in Switzerland for a year!

When I was out with her, I was always amazed at how she conduct conversations in French with francophones and they would speak to her in English. It wasn't because her French was lacking, but rather it seemed a mutual respect which was part of the culture then. (Of course, when they spoke to me in English, it WAS because my French was so bad!)

Things really shifted a year later in October, 1970 which became known in Canadian history as the October Crisis. I was living in New York City by then, but went to Montreal to see my boyfriend and was stunned to see military troops throughout Montreal.

It's sad to say, but French-English issues remain a source of some tension in Canada and Quebec today.

I agree with the man who said "Even those who leave, (Montreal) is in your blood." I was only there for a year over 40 years ago, but Montreal still has a special place in my heart, even though I haven't even visited in years.

It's great to hear Montreal has vibrancy and multiculturalism today amidst many recent controversies.

P. Moore said...

I watched those videos yesterday after Tim posted the links. I remember those days well. I came to Canada in early1968 and Charles de Gaulle's infamous speech at the Montreal city hall in July 1967 was still a topic of many conversations.

Those were much different times. The FLQ (Front de libération du Québec) was active in the 60s and early 70s, leading to the October crisis in 1970. The FLQ was considered by some as revolutionaries and by many others as terrorists. Some of their prominent members allegedly had connections with the PLO (again some people's freedom fighters, but terrorists to others). In any event they were not adverse to using or advocating violence to achieve their goals. They were pretty much crushed by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's response to their actions in October 1970.

From there The Parti Québécois (PQ), which was founded in 1968, gained strength and was finally elected in 1976 (the year I became a Canadian citizen). The PQ was and remains a party dedicated to the sovereignty of Quebec.

I believe it was in this environment of considerable change and uncertainty that those Anglophones moved to other parts of Canada. They were feeling fearful. Similarly, many business moved their head offices out of Montreal. I recall the high profile move of Sun Life's head office to Toronto.

There is the other side of the story as well. I remember speaking to many Francophone Quebecers in those days. Most were quite polite but rather firm in expressing their views. While they were clearly the majority in the province, economically, they felt like the minority. Large corporations and banks, etc., with offices in Montreal, operated in English. Unilingual English speakers were generally economically better off than bilingual Quebecers, let alone unilingual French speakers. Clearly they had a beef.

Today, the environment is much different and more harmonious. While not perfect, Francophones live more as the majority they are, but whenever I visit Montreal, I do not feel any real problem being an Anglophone. I quite like visiting the place (not so much in the winter). While the PQ is in government, they are a minority and need the support of other parties to remain. I think the prospects of Quebec separation get dimmer by the day. It does not seem necessary these days since the French culture is pretty secure in Quebec, yet political separation would likely be economic suicide. Quebecers seems to have pretty much struck the balance they are looking for. That is not to say that they. like anywhere else don't have their problems to deal with.

As for resentment on either the Anglophone or Francophone side, I believe that has mostly faded away. I suppose you can't carry a grudge forever.

Blaze said...

Despite the fact Canada is now diverse racially, culturally, religiously, ethnically and even linguistically, many still think of the Two Solitudes between French and English Canada.

When Michaelle Jean became Governor General of Canada in 2005, she said "the time of the two solitude had finished."

Yet, last year the Globe and Mail wrote: "We’ve entered an era of indifference where the “two solitudes” are more separate than ever. It’s like a couple that has drifted so far apart the partners don’t even feel the need to quarrel."

That article was written about six months before Quebec elected a minority separatist government.

The reaction throughout most of Canada and even in Quebec was mainly ho-hum (except for the shooting at the PQ party celebration).

I think the author of the Globe article was correct. Many Canadians and Quebecois are simply weary and worn out from the debate.

(The term Two Solitudes comes from a classic Canadian book by Hugh MacLennan, which I'm embarrassed to admit I've never read. Perhaps I will make it a summer reading project.)

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Blaze, That's a great migration story. I've been thinking of two things recently. One is to see if I can gather some migration stories for the Flophouse and perhaps put together a book of essays about migrants from one developed country to another. Why we left our home countries, our first impressions of our host countries, why we stayed or moved on. Stuff like that.

Last time I was in Montreal I met two African-Americans on a picket line and we talked. They had their own reasons for leaving the US. Very interesting guys.

Montreal is such a great city today. It feels, as P. Moore said, pretty harmonious. Since I speak both French and English I just let the people I meet pick the language they prefer and I respond with the same.

@P. Moore, Thanks for providing more context. The economists would have us think that we are all rational actors but so many of our decisions are based on gut feeling. I heard fear when I watched the videos.

My daughter passed on an interesting story. One of her professors at McGill (an anglophone) said that the ones who stayed and learned French did very well and so have their children. Knowing French and English means that they have all kinds of options including moving to France or French-speaking Africa or any place where French is spoken or to any of the anglosphere countries. He said (and I don't know if this is true) that native French-speaking Quebeckers are not as bi-lingual as their English-speaking compatriots and so they are more limited. As I said I don't know if that is true or not but I did encounter young French-speakers from outside of Montreal who effectively did not speak English.

Is there any truth to that?

P. Moore said...

My experience is that it is quite true that there are a lot of people in Quebec from outside the Montreal area and Quebec City, near the border and Gatineau who do not have occasion to use English much and therefore do not speak much English at all. Many are young people, but more so they are over say 40 or so, I think. With the wide use of the Internet, it is getting harder to 'avoid' English.

Blaze said...

@Victoria: A few years ago, Sarkozy stirred up a hornest's nest on the issue of Quebec sovereignty.

In 2008, when Michaelle Jean visited France, Sarkozy departed from the traditional French stance of non-interference.

"You know we are very close to Quebec, but I'll tell you we also love Canada very much," Sarkozy told Governor General Michaëlle Jean as they paid homage to fallen Canadian soldiers from World War II on Victory in Day in Europe.

France has traditionally had a policy of "non-interference but not indifference" toward the issue of Quebec sovereignty, though French leaders have occasionally strayed into awkward territory by appearing to endorse Quebec independence.

Sarkozy seemed intent on pushing the pendulum the other way, saying France doesn't want to choose between Canada and Quebec.

"Our friendships and our loyalties do not oppose one another. We bring them together so each can understand what we have in common,'' he said.

"We will turn toward the future so the future of Canada and France will be the future of two countries that are not only allies, but two friends."

Those words seem diplomatic to me, but they set off a firestorm among some in Quebec.

Then, in 2009, Sarkozy was at it again, saying:

"Do you really believe that the world, with the unprecedented crisis that it is going through, needs division, needs hatred?" he asked.

"Those who do not understand that, I don't think they have understood the message of the Francophonie, the universal values we hold in Quebec as in France — the rejection of bigotry, the rejection of division, the rejection of self-confinement, the refusal to define one's identity through fierce opposition to another."

Again, regardless of what one thinks of Sarkozy, those words seem conciliatory and diplomatic to me, but again some in Quebec were outraged.

Last year, Hollande returned France to a "ni-ni" approach to Quebec independence:

Even that caused some controversy:

I was intrigued by your comment on another thread that professors at McGill teach in English, but students can submit papers in either English or French. I was not aware of that as I though McGill was an English university.

However, I think that is an outstanding example of how English and French can co-exist and cooperate in Quebec.

Anonymous said...

My daughter passed on an interesting story. One of her professors at McGill (an anglophone) said that the ones who stayed and learned French did very well and so have their children. Knowing French and English means that they have all kinds of options including moving to France or French-speaking Africa or any place where French is spoken or to any of the anglosphere countries. He said (and I don't know if this is true) that native French-speaking Quebeckers are not as bi-lingual as their English-speaking compatriots and so they are more limited. As I said I don't know if that is true or not but I did encounter young French-speakers from outside of Montreal who effectively did not speak English.

I would have to disagree with this somewhat. I was part of the generation of young anglophones born in the 80s who were taught the importance of bilingualism. Despite this, all my friends from university have left Quebec, as did many of my friends from high school. The reality is that there were better economic opportunities elsewhere. Those who stay are the ones who managed to find something worthwhile.

Bill 101 prohibits Francophones from sending their kids to English schools. That factor in combination with poor second language instruction in the province might account for differences in bilingualism.

And to the final point - all students throughout Quebec can submit papers in French or English. I attended a graduate school interview at a french uni and was told that most of the readings are in English too.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Thank you, Anonymous, for the comment.

You wrote "Bill 101 prohibits Francophones from sending their kids to English schools."

Just out of curiosity what do they do with children who are bi-lingual before they go to school? Are they considered Francophones first or Anglophones?

Américain au Québec said...

My perspective :

An American in Québec