Tag Archives: Québec History

Montreal at the Crossroads: 1758

A perspective of Montreal circa. 1758
A perspective of Montreal circa. 1758

If you’ll indulge me for a moment, let’s take a trip back in time.

The year is 1758 and the ‘Seven Years’ War‘ had entered its fourth year in North America. The conflict was the largest international conflagration since the Thirty Years’ War of the 17th century, and involved every ‘great power’ (with the exception of the Ottoman Empire) of the era. It was a contest between two grand coalitions, one led by Great Britain, the other by Bourbon France, and was fought throughout Europe, the Americas, West Africa and even as far afield as the Philippines. By its end, Britain would be the predominant global power, a position it would retain until the mid-20th century. But it would come at a cost for the British: within a decade of the war’s conclusion thirteen British colonies would rebel to form the United States, the nation that would ultimately replace Britain as the predominant world power a little under two centuries later. And even more importantly, some of the more immediate consequences of the Seven Years’ War would contribute to the French Revolution, arguably one of the most important events in human history. This in turn leads to the rise of Napoleon (and coming full circle here, we have Napoleon’s t-shirt. It’s at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the story behind why we have it is the subject of another article).

As it would happen, a key event in this geopolitical crisis would take place in Montreal. Pierre de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil-Cavagnial, the last Governor General of New France, would surrender the town and all of New France to the British on September 8th, 1760, a little under a year after the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. Though this moment has been characterized as a devastating blow for the nascent community, because the town of Montreal escaped the fate of Quebec City it quickly became the new seat of British military, economic and political power in what would just over a century later become Canada. In so doing, Governor Vaudreuil and the Chevalier de Lévis exercised sound judgement and common sense that not only saved the community, but would further guarantee the long-term survival of the French Canadian people, as the Old World’s ‘rules of war’ would be thoroughly respected: property rights and deeds were upheld; religion, customs, laws, language and culture were all retained and the British guaranteed the right of safe-passage back home for anyone who so desired. The French colonial administrators and military personnel packed-up and sailed back to France, leaving behind them a distinct society over a century in the making.

The map above is entitled ‘Plan of the Town and Fortifications of Montreal or Ville Marie in Canada‘ and dates back to January 30th, 1758. It was engraved by Thomas Jefferys, a London cartographer also known as the ‘Geographer to King George III’, and would have been used by the British as they prepared for a potential attack. This is Montreal at the time of the Conquest. Jean-Claude Marsan has indicated that this map was likely based off a previous French example, though in most respects it is an accurate depiction of what Montreal looked like.

At the time Montreal was one of the largest settlements in France’s North American possessions: the population of the town of Montreal in 1760 was roughly 5,000, with perhaps 8,300 in total living on-island (the island’s total population was about the same as Quebec City in 1758, though these population figures would have changed during the course of the conflict, especially after the Siege of Quebec). In all of New France there were but 65,000 inhabitants, this compared to an estimated 1.5 million people living in the English colonies along the Atlantic Coast. France’s loss of its North American possessions to the British is hardly surprising, given this severe population imbalance. In his seminal study of the evolution of Montreal’s urban environment, Marsan points out that the Bourbon monarchs of France spent about as much on their colonial efforts as they did on their recreation at Versailles, and indebted the community of Montreal to pay for its own defences.

In 1758, Montreal was a metropolis by French North American standards, though it wasn’t particularly impressive when compared to British American cities like Boston (with an estimated population of 16,000 in 1742) or Philadelphia (13,000 the same year). Montreal was still chiefly a fortified frontier town, but given its position at the confluence of the Outaouais and Saint Lawrence rivers, not to mention its geographic attributes, was of remarkable strategic importance.

Model of Montreal around 1760 (not my own work)
Model of Montreal around 1760 (not my own work)

At the very end of the Ancien Régime period of Montreal’s early history, the 8,300 or so citizens who lived on-island would have occupied some familiar territory. There would have been several other smaller settlements dotted around the island, including Sault-au-Récollets (at the Back River), Pointe-Claire, Lachine, Senneville (along with its fort) and Pointe-aux-Trembles, as well as the Sulpician Fort, the towers of which remain standing at the top of Fort Street on the grounds of the Grand Seminary. The main settlement where the majority of the population lived would have occupied much of what we today call Old Montreal. The town pictured above would have run west to east from McGill to Saint-Hubert running from the northern wall (along today’s Saint-Antoine) down to the riverfront. There would have been just five roads leading out of the fortified town, each with small clusters of houses lining the streets outside the walls. The roadway heading northwest (and perpendicular to the river) is none other than The Main, Boul. Saint-Laurent, arguably Montreal’s most storied street.

Montreal street plan by Francois Dollier de Casson, 1672
Montreal street plan by Francois Dollier de Casson, 1672

The two main east-west arteries, Rue Saint-Paul and Rue Notre-Dame, haven’t changed since they were laid out by François Dollier de Casson in 1672, as were the smaller intersecting north-south streets, like Rue Saint-Francis-Xavier, Saint-Sulpice, Saint-Jean and Saint-Pierre. The wall that surrounded Montreal in 1758 would have been constructed in 1717 by the famed military engineer Gaspard Chaussegros de Léry, and it’s within the confines of these protective walls that Montreal began to grow in earnest.

The 1758 map details the city’s most important buildings, some of which exist to this day. First and foremost is the Sulpician Seminary on Place d’Armes, whose construction dates back to 1687. The seminary’s clock, installed in 1701, as well as its gardens, are the oldest of their kind on the continent. The second oldest extant building pictured here is the central section of the former Grey Nuns’ Hospital, called the Freres Charron General Hospital at the time. This building, located outside the protective walls but south of the Rivière Saint-Pierre, would have served the town’s poorest citizens as well as acting like a kind of asylum for the lame and insane.

Place d'Armes - 1828, with the Parish Church and Notre-Dame Basilica standing side-by-side.
Place d’Armes – 1828, with the Parish Church and Notre-Dame Basilica standing side-by-side.

Montreal’s other important buildings in 1758 would have included the parish church of Notre-Dame, located in the middle of Place d’Armes and adjacent to the Sulpician Seminary. Notre-Dame Basilica would replace the parish church in 1829, with the church’s bell tower razed upon the completion of the basilica’s bell towers in 1843. Across Rue Saint-Sulpice was the convent of the Congregation Notre-Dame and the Hotel-Dieu, the town’s principal hospital, which they ran. The Hotel-Dieu was established on that site in 1688, and would have burned and been rebuilt three times by 1758.

Plan of the Chateau Vaudreuil; this would later become Place Jacques-Cartier
Plan of the Chateau Vaudreuil; this would later become Place Jacques-Cartier

Further east (and identified by the letter C) is the Chateau Vaudreuil, also designed by Chaussegros de Léry, which served as Governor General Vaudreuil’s official residence and was destroyed by fire in 1803. Subsequently, the land was bought by local merchants and turned over to the city on the grounds it became a public market. Place Jacques-Cartier has stood on the site ever since. Just north, at the intersection of Rue Notre-Dame, stood the Jesuit Church, Convent and Gardens, with the church located at what is now Place Vauquelin, and Montreal City Hall occupying what was once the Jesuit’s gardens. A little further east and we come across a interesting note: ‘a small chapel burnt down’. The chapel that burned was the very first erected in the colony at the behest of Marguerite Bourgeoys in 1655. That chapel burned in 1754, four years before this map was made. The Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel that stands on the very same location today dates back to 1771.

Artist's rendering of the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours chapel, circa 1680 - credit: Omar Bakar
Artist’s rendering of the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours chapel, circa 1680 – credit: Omar Bakar

At the far eastern edge of the town (at the letter E) stood a ‘cavalier’, which is a type of fort built inside a fort and on much higher ground, though as is indicated in the legend, it lacked a parapet. This is where Montreal’s few artillery pieces would have been located: close to the river’s edge and the eastern gate, defending the town’s arsenal and boat yard.

And if you’ve read this far you’re in for a treat: here’s the above map superimposed over a contemporary satellite image. Use the fader in the top-right corner (under link to this page) to transition between the images.

The links between the fortified frontier outpost of 1758 and the modern metropolis of today are at times difficult to discern. We know the city is old because there are parts that look and feel old, but the superficial antique aesthetic is misleading. Much of Old Montreal only dates back to the mid-late 19th century and some of the best-preserved examples of local Ancien Régime architecture are located, in some cases, a fair distance from the original settlement. One of the principle reasons why so little is leftover from the French colonial period is in part due to the numerous fires that swept through and destroyed parts of the town (and some of the more important buildings) throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries. It’s ironic that the protective walls that surrounded the town exacerbated the danger of large fires given the increase of population density within its walls. It also didn’t help that timber was the still the preferred construction material well into the mid-late 18th century.

By 1758 the danger of fire was far more threatening than attack by the Iroquois, and so small villages had begun to appear outside the town walls along the established ‘chemins du roy’. These roadways, much like the street grid of Old Montreal, are the most important and enduring elements of Montreal’s first urban planners. Life outside the protective walls would have had some serious benefits, namely a breath of fresh air. As the colonial era town lacked a sewage system, waste of all kinds were simply thrown into the street. Moreover, there was a fair bit of agriculture and all manner of farm animals inside the gates, often free to move about as they pleased. So the urban-suburban rivalry of Montreal is about as old as the city itself. In 1758, about 40% of the island’s population lived outside the walls.

Montreal in 1758 would have been positively medieval; the basic layout of the fortified town mimicked examples in the Southwest of France and on the English borders with Wales and Scotland from roughly four or five centuries earlier. The basic housing design, examples of which have survived in the form of traditional Quebecois architecture, are also medieval in nature, similar examples being found in Normandy. One particular element of the town’s early design was that it had two principle open spaces – one in front of the parish church (today’s Place d’Armes) and another, a market place, closer to the river and with its own gate (today called Place Royale). Here we find another urban design element that has survived to this day: the lower town, closer to the river, is the most densely populated and would have been home to the town’s merchant class. The upper part featured the town’s major religious buildings, all of which featured stately gardens. This layout also recalls that Montreal was initially conceived as a religious mission, and so those buildings occupied the higher ground of the Coteau Saint-Louis. The grade separation of the classes for the most part remains intact; the wealthiest neighbourhoods of modern Montreal are at the base of Mount Royal, the working class neighbourhoods are still ‘down the hill’ and located within proximity of the river.

Some things really never change. Individual buildings dating back to the heroic colonial era may be in short supply, but the impression of the village illustrated above is our most enduring link to Europe. You can still see the Montreal of 1758, you just have to know where – and where not – to look. Or perhaps ‘how not to look’ as it’s more often than not the spaces between the buildings, the roads and squares, that provide the greatest wealth of clues to the town that once was. This is where we discover that the roots of Old Montreal in Old Europe, and an urban aesthetic which reaches back nearly a millennium.

Montreal: a modern medieval city…


Author’s note: thanks to Alan Hustak for some corrections. First, technically Montreal never surrendered, but rather capitulated what with the overwhelming odds stacked against the town and its people in 1760. Doing so allowed the terms of surrender to be negotiated and as such facilitated Montreal’s successful, peaceful transition from one empire to another. In addition, Montreal was not the largest settlement in New France at the time, as I incorrectly stated in this article’s first draft. The population of Quebec City would have been roughly 9,000, and Trois-Rivières at about 8,000, with Montreal’s town population at 5,000 and the island’s population at roughly 8,300. These figures would have been precise up to around the time of the Seven Years’ War, though likely changed after the Battle of the Plains of Abraham and the Siege of Quebec.

Kyoto, not Kippahs

Before anything else, something funny.

Rick Mercer, as per usual, nails it. The Parti Québécois is completely delusional.

I’m not completely sold on the divorce analogy, unless Confederation is a kind of political polygamy. Ours is not a nation of two solitudes. At least not anymore.

I think the proof lies in the fact that Canada is very much aware of the Québec provincial election, the key issues, the leaders etc. It’s in the papers, on the airwaves and on the nightly news.

I would argue Canada pays more attention to a Québec provincial election more than any other province, something which strikes me as odd given another referendum is unrealistic at this time and the economic and social direction of provinces like Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia are arguably far more significant on a national scale.

As long as the delusion that ‘sovereignty solves everything’ is maintained Québec cannot expect to develop in any meaningful way. We will continue treading water, expending energy and resources without going anywhere.

This is not the time for more consultations, more studies, more constitutional debates. We need action. Steps must be taken to ensure we reduce CO2 emissions and protect our environment.

We need a provincial government that is going to prioritize Kyoto, not Kippahs.

Steps must be taken to address government waste. We are the highest taxed Canadians, and yet our debt and deficit continue to grow. Austerity isn’t helping because we haven’t addressed the root cause of our inefficiencies, and cuts to social services like education and healthcare are both unpopular and ultimately unsuccessful. The imbalance between high taxation and a low return on services and ballooning costs all point to a fundamentally mismanaged state.

There are only two concerns for any government these days – the environment and the economy.

Unless we take immediate steps to address and correct environmental degradation and economic inequity at every level of government there is no hope for any of us.

Think about how Mercer opens his rant – he talks about complacence.

Civilizations fall, and when they do, the whole Earth shakes.

A NASA-funded study has made the point as clear as day – unless political action is taken the world-over to address the key environmental and economic problems of our time we’re condemning our species to extinction.

The environment and the economy is all our provincial election should be about. Successful programs to cut carbon emissions and develop well-functioning social-safety nets are already the norm in some Scandinavian nations, and if there truly is a sovereign way of thinking in our province then we ought to be free of the bondage of nationalism, so that we can address the crucial issues that effect all of humanity.

Cutting our carbon emissions to Kyoto standards (or better) and ensuring a more egalitarian distribution of wealth in our province has the potential to be copied and improved upon by other provinces. If Québec chooses to lead, the other provinces will follow – this is a fundamental truth about Canadian political evolution.

Québec leads.

Which is why I’m so fundamentally disappointed in our current election. There is a palpable poverty of politics in our province. We pollute our political discourse with hate and fear and become so emotionally exhausted we have no time or patience to pursue vital social interests.

It’s terrifying really. How much longer do we really have to continue beating this dead horse?

For all the PQ’s talk of the ‘future of Québec’ it seems they are ignorant of the potential future of the world.

The people know what the real issues are, but are blinded by the manufactured existential crisis of sovereignty. It prevents union, it conjures up unnecessary divisions. It holds us back – all of us, regardless of race, religion or language.

It delegitimizes us and as long as it remains the focal point of our provincial elections will only continue to delegitimize us.

We have all the potential to effect positive change Canada wide.

But in order to do so we must first recognize that those who play upon societal divisions for political gain have no one’s interest at heart but their own.

So who will be the first to enter into the political discourse, the Parti Québécois is fundamentally illegitimate.

An Incomprehensible Display of Political Incompetence: Amir Khadir Must Resign

The slovenly and unkempt Paul Rose, attempting to demonstrate his solidarity with the world's oppressed.
The slovenly and unkempt Paul Rose, attempting to demonstrate his solidarity with the world’s oppressed.

Earlier today perennial last-place contestant Québec Solidaire issued a statement pertaining to the death of the convicted terrorist, felon and murderer Paul Rose.

Further still, MNA Amir Khadir insinuated that he will table a motion before the National Assembly that something be done to recognize Rose’s efforts – as an activist and militant separatist, Rose was also involved in several parties that would eventually become Québec Solidaire, a party I once honeslty thought I’d support. According to Khadir, it’s all about paying tribute to those who helped shape Québec’s identity and history.

Right – this sounds curiously similar to Southerners who parade around Klan memorabilia and Confederate flags as innocent tokens of ‘a spirit of independence’.

The FLQ, a terrorist organization that sought to secure Québec independence through armed insurrection, bombings, robberies, kidnappings and, eventually the murder of Pierre Laporte, has been given a similar treatment by modern day separatists, so fuelled by piss-poor revisionist history they refuse to put the issue plainly.

Too many times they have asserted that Laporte simply died, that his kidnapping and beatings at the hands of a gang of illiterate thugs had no impact on his demise, that he suffocated on his own crucifix, that he had tried to escape and got cut up so badly he bled out.

And now Québec Solidaire is going a step further in what can only be described as the worst kind of political opportunism, seeking to pick up a little more support at the expense of the vastly unpopular Parti Québécois.

As if it wasn’t bad enough that Québec Solidaire would call for tributes for a man convicted of murder, there’s the bigger issue in that QS is by extension advocating violence as a legitimate method of either forcing a political issue to the fore or of accomplishing a political goal of one kind or another.

Does it give anyone else the willies QS polled so high amongst student activists? The very same militant students, in fact, who refuse to negotiate and who are equally unwilling to even try and keep their ranks calm during their monthly protest marches.

What shall we do as a society when the next FLQ rears its ugly head? Will Amir Khadir be responsible for a kidnapped education minister?


I’m a combination of too tired and too mortified to make much sense here. I honestly cannot believe any self-respecting individual, a doctor and father no less, could possibly have anything positive to say about this horrible man. For the record, I believe in rehabilitation, and I’m more than willing to accept that people can change fort he better. But that requires remorse, something Paul Rose never showed.

We should remind ourselves that René Lévesque set the stage for peaceful political negotiations by coming out, during the height of the October Crisis, and joining his arch-rival Pierre Trudeau in savagely denouncing the FLQ for what it was – a group of uneducated schmucks, petty criminals, who killed and maimed janitors, maids, night watchmen and other working class types before finally killing Laporte. Lévesque made his point clear – he didn’t want to lead a new country if that country couldn’t come into existence without violence. He set a high moral standard most of Québec society agreed with.

After all, Laporte may not have been the most popular politician according to the fringe separatist/anarcho-syndicalist/Marxist-Leninist types who composed the FLQ back in 1970, but he didn’t deserve to die in such a way.

When they kidnapped him from outside his modest suburban home, he was playing football with his adopted son. Paul Rose organized the Chenier Cell’s kidnapping operation.

What a monster eh?

I wonder if Mr. Khadir has ever feared being kidnapped by political extremists while enjoying quality time with his children? I shouldn’t think so.

Politicians and activists get kidnapped and killed in his native Iran. He moved here the year after the October Crisis, so perhaps we should give him the benefit of the doubt – politicians aren’t typically terribly knowledgeable about e=historical events, even if they were alive while they happened. Fuzzy memories…


I’m calling on Mr. Khadir to renounce violence as a means to achieve political goals and resign, immediately. Obviously there’s little hope he’ll do the right thing, but what the hell – it needs to be said, he has no right to represent any Québécois.

It’s grossly hypocritical, inconsistent and so devoid of logic, rational thinking or even a basic understanding of Québec social and cultural norms you’d think these statements came from a recent Republican immigrant from the most inbred counties of West Virginia.

But no, Mr. Khadir is a self-styled progressive, doctor, and seems to be interested in running an independent country. This is what an apparently educated man thinks.

I’m at a total loss. People wonder why I have no interest in being a politician…

Québec Solidaire is dead to me as long as this clown retains his seat.

The OQLF – Still Ridiculous After All These Years

The OQLF is a joke.

There is simply no threat to the stability and sanctity of the French language in Montréal, Québec or Canada, nor is there any doubt whatsoever of the predominance of the French language in the public sphere of Montréal. English has been chiseled off the façades of our heritage buildings, bilingual signs covered up and monolingual ‘À Vendre’ and ‘À Louer’ signs are now far too predominant on our city streets.

It’s quite frankly a crime, a deceit of profound public irresponsibility, to campaign and dictate social policy based on the fabricated notion not only that the language of the majority of Québecois and Montréalais would be threatened with extinction, to the point of cultural genocide, but further that a small minority of English speakers are somehow holding Québec back from it’s place in the sun.

There are at present some seven million speakers of Canadian French, representing about 22% of the national population (it should be noted as well, somewhat astoundingly, that there are several small pockets of those proficient in our variety of French in the Northeastern United States), of which roughly 6.2 million speak the Québec variety as mother tongue. How many more have at least basic knowledge of conversational French, or who understand it perfectly while being unable to speak it (for whatever reason) likely puts the total number of people familiar with the language and it’s socio-cultural implications far higher.

There are at present some 661,000 Anglo-Québecois, with about one million calling it their first official language, out of a total population of eight million Québécois. Roughly 40% of the Québec population is bilingual to one degree or another in both Official Languages, while 53% of Québécois are monolingual Francophones.

The largest the Anglophone population ever got in this province was just under 800,000 people, in 1971, when they represented 13% of the population. Today the Anglo-Québécois community represents about 8% of the Québec population. It has been growing, modestly, since 2001, after an equally steady thirty-year decline immediately prior to that.

Political instability in Québec since 1970 has resulted in a net out-migration of 400,000 people, of which 285,000 compose the Anglo-Québécois Diaspora.

In Québec, Bill 101 has so far mandated that all immigrant students be educated in French regardless of mother tongue or at-home language proficiency. All businesses with more than fifty employees must conduct all official business in French. Government services are to be first and foremost in French, though with limited English services for communities where the Anglophone minority is prevalent. And all this to guarantee the supremacy of the French language in Québec.

It worked. There is simply no question French has been guaranteed forevermore in Québec. The Anglophone community is no threat – they’re no longer in control of everything and sitting on all the money. In fact the most successful among us split some time ago, taking their money with them.

There’s no question whatsoever that Québec is a French province, a robust and still far-too homogeneous nation of Francophones on the not-entirely Anglophone and increasingly inter-cultural North American continent. I’m glad it worked – I’ve benefitted from it personally. I am the product of cultural integration, bilingual by choice, mixed by birth. I know why Bill 101 was important, why it’s still relevant, and how it has positively impacted parts of Québec society.

But the party that was never supposed to be more than a movement to secure constitutional talks with the federal government (another success for Lévesque – he helped push repatriation and the Charter more than any other premier, even if he didn’t sign it, he succeeded in making Canada more sovereign – federalists owe him that much) has fallen on bludgeoning an already dead horse. A non-issue conjured to life like a modern-day Golem to scare the Anglophones out of Québec (again).

Now the PQ says Bill 101 needs to be strengthened. It needs teeth. At a time when we have to cut healthcare and education spending (resulting, as expected, in a raise in tuition despite all the campaigning to the contrary), it pushes for more OQLF inspectors (something the PLQ was planning on doing principally to mollify the soft-nationalist vote) and sets them lose amongst the small-business classes, a challenge to civic harmony if i ever dared imagine one, and hopelessly inept at containing bad PR as witnessed recently by the appropriately named pastagate – the suffix ‘gate’ so overused and meaningless it now appears to be entirely fitting when covering anything to do with the over-zealous law school drop-outs and philosophy minors who constitute the rank and file of the tongue troopers.

It’s a kind of political theatre. The appearance of actually doing something to fix a problem that doesn’t actually exist.

If Québec French was actually threatened with disappearance ‘within a generation’, as the PQ and other linguistic-supremacists sometimes imply, UNESCO would have a local office working round the clock to create a full record of the language and would have provided funds for local French-language schools. If that seems ridiculous I’m glad – it is. Such a thing would happen if there were fewer than 10,000 local speakers. Canadian French is a growing language that ranks roughly among languages such as Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Xhosa, and Haitian Creole in terms of number of native speakers. These languages, much like Canadian French, can sustain themselves, and are not about to disappear.

The video above is from 1998 and features commentary by the incomparable Mordecai Richler. Richler first brought the world’s attention to our idiotic and obviously punitive linguistic laws back in the 1980s and 1990s in some articles he had written for the New Yorker, irking the separatists to the point where he is typically today lambasted as ‘anti-Québécois’ in the same manner that he might have accused some elements of the separatist elites of being anti-Semites.

It never ceases to amaze me how the mere mention of his name in certain circles will produce a torrent of denouncement from people who, by their own admission, have never read any of his books and thus for that matter can’t give you any examples of the apparently rampant ‘Québec bashing’ strewn throughout his prose.

As a fan of Richler’s, I haven’t found it either.

In any event – just a few thoughts on a festering, oozing sore. Enjoy the video, it seems clear to me Morley Safer found the whole thing rather amusing, least of all because of Louise Beaudoin’s near-hysterical defence of Bill 101’s excesses (such as the language cops). It’s quaint seeing how a recently neutered PQ government, such as it was in 1998, returned to using the OQLF to give itself the appearance of legitimacy. Fifteen years later and we’re in just about the same situation.


Final thoughts – why doesn’t the OQLF do anything to support Francophone communities elsewhere in Canada? Why do they send language inspectors after small-business owners and restauranteurs when, by virtue of their own protocols and operating principles, they refrain from adopting a standardization of the French language in Québec? Curiously, I suspect the answer is in fact that they want Québec French to be as mutually intelligible and malleable as possible, and thus refraining from standardization will facilitate integration with French-speaking immigrants. Ergo, linguistic integration, but only as long as you don’t speak any English.

Anyways, I have to cut this short. Presentement, je prend un cours de français et je dois terminer mes devoirs. Cet semaine je re-lis ‘Les Aurores Montréales’ de Monique Proulx, un livre assez impréssionante comme collage de petits vignettes des vies de divers Montréalais dans les années 90. Un analyze socio-culturelle assez profond – un livre clé pour comprendre la société et l’histoire récent de Montréal.

Fortune Favours the Bold

Belmont School demolition – 1978 (Rue Guy & Wrexham)

Recent statements by PQ education minister Marie Malavoy concerning the elimination of basic English language instruction and the introduction of ‘Sovereignist education’ are cause for concern. It is yet another example of the PQ’s reckless handling of the public education system and a threat to social stability of the Francophone community. What the PQ is proposing is a twisted blend of propaganda, revisionist history and enforced monolingualism. They are proposing entrenched, self-perpetuating racial tension, inter-ethnic conflict and general ignorance.

Québec has a high dropout rate. There’s no denying it. Among Francophone males, the rate is nearly 40%, one of the highest rates in the developed world. This is a self-perpetuating national tragedy, one that no doubt plays a central role in our province’s declining fortunes and the increasing influence of criminal gangs and organized crime. Broad, inter-generational ignorance is a social pathology, and it is a perpetual failure of our province’s many governments that this situation isn’t under control, to say nothing of eliminating it outright. How can we dare to be so lackadaisical?

How are we to compete on an international level, perhaps even as an independent country, when 30% of province’s early twenty-somethings are without a secondary education? What future do they have in an information and intellectual-capital economy?

Malavoy’s desire to use the public school system as a political tool to teach a highly-inaccurate revisionist history will go over the heads of young male students like a lead balloon, to say nothing of the well-documented and excessive punishments handed down on students in the French schools caught speaking English. It’s idiotic to think overt anti-intellectualism, such as this is, will stimulate interest in academic pursuits. This is purposely divisive and out of touch with our contemporary needs.

Policies such as these only serve to perpetuate the following negative trends: Francophones of the middle and upper classes continue moving their children into private schools (where their children will likely learn both languages and be exposed to many cultures) while the poor are left with overcrowded schools with government-sponsored monolingualism and nationalist propaganda. I attended a conference on inter-culturalism back in March where one of the speakers, a local journalist and head of a non-profit organization, gave a talk on the issue of increasingly racial intolerance in Francophone public schools. No kidding! Immigrant kids are being told a) not to speak English and b) that Franco-Québécois society and culture is threatened by immigration, foreigners and people who don’t speak French as a primary language. Is it any wonder the dropout rate is so high?

As though limiting CEGEP access for Francophones and Allophones wasn’t ridiculous enough, now this. Sometimes I really wonder what these apparent ‘leaders’ are thinking. How the hell does this help anything?

It saddens me that the PQ cannot evolve past a Balkan mentality concerning cultural and national interests. It is an unnecessary siege mentality, one designed for short-term electoral gains while leaving long-term uncertainty and instability. It’s dangerous.

This does not affect the Anglophone community of Québec, but it may be very wise to use the opportunity for a potential gain. So that the PQ is hoisted by its own petard.

What if Québec’s Anglophone school boards united (in a sense) and decided that all students would henceforth graduate as fully bilingual? A simple extension of existing French-immersion programs to the entirety of the system; a requirement, a badge of honour, for the children of the Anglo-Québécois community.

If we did so, would this not mean Francophone and Allophone students would be able to attend ‘Anglophone’ schools? If a program were created to ensure 100% fluency in two languages for all students, surely many Francophone parents would be free to send their children to ‘Anglo’ schools – Anglo would, in the future, be a misnomer.

It is entirely possible to teach both English and French beginning at a very early age, and the earlier we start, the higher the likelihood of total fluency in adulthood. The more a child is presented with opportunities to speak both, the more they will. Bilingualism broadens horizons and sews the seeds of self-criticality – imagine the potential of a future generation of school children fluent in English and French? When every Québécois could choose to be a translator as a ‘fallback’ job post-graduation? Imagine the economic potential of a province educated to that degree?

It can be done, and our community can help make it happen.

If we demonstrate that we can achieve full bilingualism within our own community, we may be able to relieve the French school boards of one of their more pressing problems – overcrowding. Further, it would serve to help re-populate Anglophone schools on the verge of collapse due to low enrolment, while further potentially luring more middle and upper-class students back into the public system.

But a project such as this is a big undertaking and requires a concerted effort to realize it. It would require bravery and determination from our community. It would necessitate we speak up.

Our community’s future in Québec is dependent on cultural integration. We must show that we can survive and prosper as a community of bilingual or multi-lingual, multi-cultural “Anglophones”, and as such we demonstrate how cultural integration is an essential element of our province’s well-being and progress. We must prove beyond a doubt to the Francophone majority that dual-language fluency (with a social and cultural preference for French) is the best way to improve our economic potential and secure the status of the French language forevermore.

Integration is the key, the core of our being, and we must stand united and demand ever greater degrees of integration amongst the many diverse peoples of this province. We must ensure that our shared values are translatable, relatable, beyond mere ethno-nationalism.

It’s for this reason that we have a responsibility to try and resist and/or mitigate the potential damage done by Ms. Malavoy’s unsettling plan.

Upon Reflection…

As you might imagine I was pretty shaken up over what happened on September 4th.

The PQ victory doesn’t bother me, Richard Bain does.

Watching it all unfold live on Radio-Canada with Patrice Roy completely flabbergasted at what he had just witnessed, the near instantaneous transition of a boisterous crowd into total silence and the steady stream of updates over Twitter all packed a wallop I hadn’t expected to experience. I felt ill the next day at work. It was awful. Inasmuch as I love the adrenaline rush of watching news happen live in real time, in retrospect the sensory overload and crush of negative emotions was more than I was ready for. It really, truly hurt to see such things happen, in my city, my province.

I find it odd that I never expected it – this city has a bad history when it comes to mad gunmen. Perhaps it is the tradeoff for having such a generally low homicide rate – crime here isn’t rampant, it’s momentarily terrifying, and maybe that keeps us in check.

You can tell I didn’t grow up to experience the October Crisis. The Oka Crisis may have been on Mars for all I knew as a five year old.

This was new in a very precise way – an Anglophone shot two men in an attempt to assassinate the duly elected premier of Québec and possibly kill many PQ supporters and a good chunk of the organization in one swift blow. His motivation is not know – he may be a paranoid schizophrenic, a psychopath, or just a rage-head fuming over rejected plans to enlarge his hunting resort. But regardless of his mental state, he thought he was striking the first blow in an armed insurrection of Anglophones in Québec. To what end is unclear. What he thought he’d accomplish still a mystery.

I cringe thinking about what might have been. From the looks of things Denis Blanchette and Dave Courage, lighting technicians enjoying a smoke behind Metropolis, were in the wrong place at the right time. It seems as though they confronted Bain before he had a chance to get into the venue. His Chinese knock-off AK-47 jammed after a single round was fired, but it would tear through them both. Despite having other weapons in his nearby van, not to mention a pistol in his bathrobe, Bain retreated some to light the rear of the venue on fire. He would be subdued by Montréal police shortly thereafter. It could have been so much worse. Blanchette and Courage prevented a disaster of mind-boggling proportions.

There’s no question they are heroes in my book, but heroes through victimhood.

If it seems odd to you that I’m publishing this now, perhaps that says something too. I find it incredible how quickly we move on from something like this. Then again, what are we to do but move on. All I can hope is that we will all think before speaking in the future, and ask ourselves whether or not we’re individually stocking the fires of inter-ethnic discord and aggressive rhetoric, and what we can do as individuals to mitigate this problem. Violent language is far from harmless, as we saw with this latest electoral campaign. The campaign was vicious and people were too. And look what happened.

We can’t ever forget that we exist in a society, and we’re a society that swore off violence many years ago. Our differences, our problems – these will all be solved with the law we have.

After-thought: if you see any of that awful ‘Free Bain’ graffiti, write ‘Bath Libre’ directly underneath it. I will.